Last night (2/18/2019) I was honored to have been asked to give a presentation to the SD Portrait Club; the program director asked if I could talk to them about color – color theory, color management, etc. That is a very large topic scope and actually takes up a complete semester’s class. So, I tried to create a “Cliff Notes/Readers Digest” version for them. I sometimes hate doing that since some important material always is going to get squeezed out or fall through the cracks, but in venues like these it is a necessary risk.
The presentation was on the evening of the President’s Day holiday and it was bitterly cold and damp, plus the heat was off in the Old Balboa Park Firehouse where many of the photo clubs hold their meetings. But despite all of that it was a lively group with some excellent questions, especially as to how all that techy stuff still played into the world where many editing software advertisers seem to claim that you can ignore it all and fix everything at the edit phase “in post.”
First I set about trying to totally disabuse them of that thought and let them know how crippled they have rendered their editing possibilities with a poorly color managed or set up shot by showing them how the RAW conversion software’s ability to “correct” the file is limited by how far off they are in the first place AND their own skill and eye and trying to return a poorly shot image to a solid starting point for the real editing phase. Just like film, a sensor may be “panchromatic,” meaning it is sensitive to all colors, it is not EVENLY sensitive to all colors. Global correction to the file, even if within the limits of the software, do not and cannot address those discrete color biases and uneven sensor responses and sensitivites. Those can only be solved with very careful exposure settings AND with proper camera profiling that allows for color specific corrections.
So we first talked about the basics of Color Temperature and Color Balance where it always starts (as it did in the analog realm) before getting into the weeds with Color Management, i.e. calibration and profiling so that one can have a seamless transition from capture to edit to output and/or printing. I also got their attention when I talked about the environmental influences of editing coming from color contamination in the room or even from reflection of their clothes on the screen. When absolute accurate color is mandated, as it often is in the commercial realm (and in portraiture where the client’s skin color needs to be accurate and not look like they’ve been underwater for several weeks), those issues become important in a sneaky way. If the photographer or end user doesn’t care then, of course, it doesn’t matter. But in the professional world, it is likely your competitor will care and if the client can see the difference your position just dropped a notch or two… or ten.
We talked a bit about the various Color Spaces (sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto, L*A*B, CMYK) and why it is crtitical for maximum quality output to use the best you have available for work and then know how to properly convert the file to a more crippled color space when or if mandated by the needs of the output format.
Then we talked about Color Psychology, and how the human system will respond to color automatically and why that can be incredibly important in allowing you to use it to help make your interpretation of your subject all the more clear to the audience. Color alone has a powerful effect on the emotional response of the viewer and the artist needs to understand and control it like any of his “tools.”
Then finally, we talked about color compatibility when it came to things like wardrobe and wardrobe interaction with the location or background. I showed them how to pick colors from various color “Schemes” sometimes used in the fashion world to put together various ensembles to go with a subject’s basic skin tone and coloring.
All in all it was a highly condensed but fun evening and already I’ve gotten a few “Thank you” emails for it. I love being able to “give back” some of the stuff pounded into my brain over these many years of practice and image making. I’ve always contended that teaching is as much an art form as any other and the “rush” that comes from seeing a “student” light up as they “get it” is the equivalent to that from a well wrought piece of art. So here’s my thanks to the members of that club for their attendance and participation.