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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Making Summer Color

In a season dominated by green, you can help the natural landscape with your camera, filters and the delicate use of Photoshop tools

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Making Summer Cooler Monks at sunset, Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, Cambodia. A Cokin Sunsoft filter added a warm cast and slightly diffused glow to the image. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon EF 100-400mm at 100mm, ISO 200, handheld with Image Stabilizer on
I now do most of these things digitally and have reduced my load of filters from 40 down to just five: 1) regular polarizer; 2) Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue color polarizer; 3) Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer; 4) extreme, solid, neutral-density filter to generate long exposures in midday light; and 5) Cokin Sunsoft filter, which offers slight warming and slight diffusion. The effects of these filters are difficult to replicate digitally.

Whether you work digitally or with filters, one of the most important things to remember when playing with color is that the effect works best when you try to enhance colors or moods that to some extent already exist in the scene. It’s difficult to make high noon look like sunset simply by putting an orange filter over the lens. Humans are visual creatures, and while many viewers may not be able to point out that the shadows are wrong for a sunset, they will be aware that something is off, and the image will just read wrong.


Digital offers much more control over how you use color, from specifically changing one single hue to selecting several colors and enhancing or desaturating them all with total control. Filters are a crude way to apply color as they’re unselective and apply their effect to the entire scene. Sometimes this can be useful, for example, if you’re trying to mimic the look of dusk or night. Placing a strong blue filter (80A) over the lens and underexposing by a stop will give a wash of blue to both highlights and shadows, echoing the colorcast often seen when shooting at those times of day.

Making Summer Cooler
Sumac, near Quebec City, Quebec. A Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue color polarizer was used to creatively intensify the colors in the scene. Pentax 645, Pentax 45mm, Fujichrome Velvia
However, even that effect has been replicated by using the color balance setting on digital cameras. By choosing the Tungsten setting in the White Balance options, the camera will purposefully give a dominant blue cast to the image (similar to the effect of an 80A filter). Conversely, you can set the camera white balance to the Shade setting (analogous to shooting on a clear day in open shade, when you’d normally get a blue cast to your images), and the camera will give a strong warm hue to the images.

These effects also can be done postshoot by using the White Balance controls in RAW processing software. The controls likely will show you the color temperature in Kelvin. The low numbers (2000-3200) are bluish and progress to a strong orange at the high end (5000-6000). It’s often fun just to play with these controls, working visually to see what creative effect they have on an image.


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