Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Color Secrets

Exploring with the wide end of the focal spectrum opens up a world of creative compositional possibilities

Color SecretsNature photography has a long tradition of use of strong color. Kodachrome, then Velvia, were chosen for their high-quality sharpness and tonality—and for their color. Both boosted natural colors, intensifying and typically warming them up.

With the transition to digital, I've found a lot of photographers who want lively, bright colors with their nature images, but aren't getting them. I've seen pros struggle with this, too. Students in my workshops often have the same challenges.

Many photographers then resort to two controls in Photoshop: Brightness/Contrast for the contrast and Hue/Saturation for the color. Both can lead to poor results that give digital a bad name.

I have three simple secrets to better color. To get the best results, you need to follow them in the order given and always use the first two. The third is optional and depends on the photo.

1 Set blacks and whites appropriate to the image.
2 Adjust midtones for overall brightness in the image.
3 Use Hue/Saturation for color, but only color by color.

Color Secrets

To download a high resolution version of this photo, click here!

You can accomplish these steps quickly, and the first two can be done with either RAW- or JPEG-shot images. The techniques work in all image-adjustment programs that let you see where the blacks and whites are in your photograph. Note that the only adjustment here that's designed specifically to change color is Hue/Saturation, and I suggest that its use might be optional, at times.

We'll look at these adjustment secrets one at a time. Ideally, you should use them as adjustment layers so no pixels are actually changed. Adjustment layers let you readjust any layer as needed with no effect on image quality. But you can do these adjustments directly to the photo if you aren't using layers yet.


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