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Thursday, 06 March 2008

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Mike,

Not quite there with the after shot. You forgot to add a huge amount of brown, sorry 'warm-up' to the image...

Digital photography is not to blame for this trend. Why were films like Velvia (or the even more extreme Japan-only Fortia SP) so popular among landscape photographers? Precisely because of their over-the-top saturation, not any notion of color fidelity.

I think perhaps the problem is similar to, "Why are movies unrealistic?" Documenting reality is a good use of photography. However, I'm not sure that people want to consume what reality looks like as much as what they consider aesthetically pleasing and stylized. I happen to love high-contrast black and white photography, even though the world is usually much grayer than such photos portray. I suppose it's the difference between "Bose" and "audiophile", but that analogy has some flaws. Or maybe not... Bose fans probably often like what they hear, but someaudiophiles tend to hear the 'time smearing' caused by their power cables. (That's an exaggeration for a point.)

I think that in addition to wanting to see what things should look like, people tend to assume that "better and bigger" is important. An image should be more sharp, larger, more pixels, etc. Kind of a left-brain rationality in a world where progression forward means not falling behind.

Color has an emotional weight that pixels do not, and so "better color" is something that gets turned into "color that pops".

You: "Why is inaccuracy in color rendering simply a given, while a little blurring of fine detail resolution or a touch of noise in the shadows are so adamantly not tolerated?"

In my opinion there isn't a contradiction here, they both actually speak to the same issue/problem: so many photographers have nothing else to say photographically except to make a "pretty picture" with impact. I call it Calendar Art.

IMO, people with little or no background in "Art" find these kinds of shots with high dynamic range and tack sharpness very likeable because
a) they intuitively understand the subject matter and
b) they can sense the impact of the 2 techniques and thus can finally have an emotional reaction to something being presented as "Art". This of course runs counter to most people's reaction to modern art (I don't get it... what's it about... no I don't have an emotional reaction to this "Art", I don't even know what I'm seeing..." or some permutation of that like "my kids can do better than this").

With this analysis both "tack sharpness" and so called High Dynamic Range images are part of the same toolkit. They're perfect for the so called democratisation of photography through Flickr and photoblogs, etc. Without having anything to say, a photographer can use these two tools (HDR and sharpness) to create images which seem to have an "Artistic" quality yet are understandable and elicit an emotional reaction. Technicolor didn't make for better films but it was much easier to market than Wild Strawberries for the same reason.

I think the equivalent of these two techniques in the artworld is the revival of 8x10 photography among so called serious artists. I've heard Joel Meyerowitz (and I really respect Meyerowitz) say something to the order of "...if you want your photos to have real impact, you have to work in large format" No wonder Robert Frank has moved to a remote area in Canada.

Eric

Just a theory, but I had a thought back twenty-some years ago when super-saturated slide films were introduced, Fuji Velvia leading the way, and color negative films with hyped up saturation also appeared. It occurred to me that people wanted their color photographs to look like the most important visual experience in their lives--the TV screen. "Accurate" color became what things looked like on the tube, not what you could observe out in the world with your own eyes.

Digital capture allows for very subtle color interpretation, but it sure isn't what most people use it to do.

I think it's at least partly because the brain is so good at normalizing color -- we've got built-in auto balancing. This means that looking at color objectively takes both intentionality and practice. Meanwhile, sharpness and detail are easy to latch onto, and noise looks unnatural to anyone.

I believe the problem is with "real color as we see it" in the first place. We don't have a built-in spectrometer in our heads. Our eyes sense information and the brain cooks it. And it cooks it quite a bit. Among other things it adjusts hue and saturation and it is totaly off as far as wavelenght is considered. Not to mention you can "see" magenta, which does not really exist in real world. And you can't tell the "yellow yellow" from the "red-green yellow" etc.
So its a scam in real life and photography too.

I think it's the Velvia effect, compounded by the ease of simply jacking up the saturation of digital images. Back in the days of film, some emulsions were marketed as more "realistic". They were thoroughly pummeled in the market by the Velvia juggernaut. Everybody loves those neon lavender/coral sunsets, that glowing green foliage.

I personally can't stand the current "aesthetic" (if you can call it that) of neon digital color you see at one website after another. It just strikes me as gaudy or tacky. Stephen Johnson is an articulate advocate of using digital tools to represent the beauty of nature the way it truly is, rather than tarting it up with digital rouge and lipstick.

Many of us got comfortable dealing with the color flaws and biases of various slide films. Digital has its own quirks and variables, but it's probably easier to get a fairly accurate color palette out of digital than film.

She's Funny That Way, wasn't that the name of a blues song beautifully picked by Rev. Gary Davis?

OK to desaturate (B/W) but not to saturate?

You missed the captions. First, "This is your world." Second, "This is your world on Photoshop."

"OK to desaturate (B/W) but not to saturate?"

You tell me.

Mike J.

I don't think there is much mystery here. At least in the United States we are surrounded by over saturated hyped advertising images everywhere you look. It's a natural influence on the way people view the world. True color fidelity is not about the information captured on film or sensor it's about the perception of the individual viewing the image. I don't think most people think of photographs as straight documentary representations of reality. As we all know photographs are not reality.

My feeling is that digital is changing our visual vocabulary and understanding faster than we can comprehend. The unrealistic representation of the world with b&w and color film was something we got used to over a fairly lengthy period of time. Film photography is limited by chemistry and physics, digital on the other hand is a construct, that up to this point, has tried to mimic film photography. Any day now, or perhaps already, the collective memory of film photography will fade, and digital will take off in some direction that at this point is hard to imagine. I keep thinking that these questions of sharpness, saturation etc. are not so much technical questions as philosophical concepts, which most photographers and the viewing public don't even begin to understand.

I feel it isn't so much the camera as it is the settings with which the camera processes the RAW file to jpg. And should the camera fail to oversaturate the raw file, there is always Photoshop. Colorperception, I think, is to subjective and not technical and measurable enough to get the measurebaters really started. Also the limited dynamic range in most digicams might make colors look 'hard' due to a lack of subtlety in tonal transitions.

Two books come to (my) mind when thinking about beautiful colors: Stephen Shore's Uncommon Places and William Eggleston's guide. I have often tried to recreate those subtle colors with my digital camera and photoshop but haven't nailed it yet. Any suggestions anybody?

If your world really looks as dull and "un-colorful" as your top photograph, I feel sorry for you. The real world may not be as bright and garish as you see in some galleries (mine included), but your top example is just as wrong in the other direction.

"but your top example is just as wrong in the other direction"

How would you know? I was there; you weren't.

Mike J.

"How would you know? I was there; you weren't."

I'm with you on this, but I do have a question: did you take a print out into the yard for a quick comparison, or were you remembering the colours of the scene?

Maybe people just need a unit to measure (and compare) colour accuracy.

Like lw/ph, distortion percentages, pixels of lateral chromatic aberration, stops of vignetting.

Some "qualified" "praise" of colour accuracy on an internet forum by some "guru" might also help.

Cheers,
Schmuell

I like the analogy to the TV. I found it interesting that when I purchased my first flat panel TV last month that I discovered it had 3 image settings; vivid, standard, and movie. Vivid has alot of initial impact.
The movie setting is much more subtle and pleasing when you are in a contemplative mood. Which has me thinking about how TV and movie videography has become phrenic and designed for what I call jack hammer stimulation. I feel that the vivid setting on the TV monitor and the way alot of digital color looks has a similar effect. It is designed for maximum sensory impact and quickly move on for more stimulation. Not for contemplation or thought provoking more like a drug fix.

Our eyes register colours in relation with the surrounding ones, and artists for a long time have realised this.

This picture (http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?cgroupid=999999961&workid=1312&searchid=9571&tabview=image) by Bonnard, surely one of the masters of colour features, what appears to be a red and white table cloth, yet study the picture and white is probably the only colour not on the cloth. There are greys, blues of various dull shades, but given their relationship with the red we see them as white, and furthermore, bright

Interesting as always Mike. I am of the "do not care about noise and like natural colours" school. Recently, however, I have been developing a web site to advertise a holiday house for rent. I have built some galleries and made a conscious decision to go "poppy" with the pictures as they will bring more instant gratification. A few that are more subtle (mostly on last page) are more natural but that is me failing to give in to my commercial instincts. See http://andrewh.smugmug.com/gallery/4439708_3LSRp/1/260914968_QPBUV

Mmm.. I think it is down to: at whom are the pictures are targetted? In my case it is customers who are not in the least bit interested in the artistic merit of my pictures (What artisitc merit you may ask :-) )

Andrew

Happy, carefree people(tourists & landscape photogs) who are comfortable in life prefer saturated color. Emotionally withdrawn and uncomfortable people attempting to make art prefer de-saturated color.

"Normal" color is for people who spend too much time worrying about being misunderstood and lumped in the "wrong" color group. That and corporate head shots.

:-)

You must hate infrared photography.. (he said jokingly)

"So why do people care so much about technical "accuracy" in some areas and not at all in others?"

I also feel the need to point out that without a spectrometer (notice I didn't say "colorimeter" ;o) we just can't assess color with any accuracy.
Our brain is so efficient to drift the white point anywhere in a few seconds...

Add to that the variability among individuals (specially in the trichromacy area, where some people may respond differently to the trichrome "imitation" of a given color on a monitor), and I find the 2nd picture a tad over the top, but globally rather more realistic (unless there was a fair amount of fog? sir yes sir, I wasn't there) than the first one.

I'd guess it would print a bit better too, losing maybe the right amount of saturation, but that's another story! No, we're not supposed to publish soft-proofed versions of our images.

Ken White "I don't think there is much mystery here. At least in the United States we are surrounded by over saturated hyped advertising images everywhere you look. "

I think there is a kernel of truth there. Certainly my "European " eyes can spot an American magasine from across the room and if I google for a product can generally tell the American sites from their appearance.

But is the question not one of do you want photo-realism or photo art? Gaugin, van Gogh et al certainly liked their vivid colours.

I think the people who picky picky at image detail have little real interest in the aesthetics of the actual image.

I'm not defending over saturation or using films like Velvia in the wrong conditions but some research suggests that Velvia more represents how we remember things than more 'realistic' films.

It turns out we have an inbuilt tendency to recollect colours as more saturated than they really were. And we also tend to remember 'ideal' colours for things that we know the colour of - e.g. we know the sky is blue and we know blue is quite saturated so if we remember the sky being blue it will be a saturated blue even if it wasn't that saturated in real life.

I think the Fuji engineers had used some of this research (as well as the fact we *like* saturated colours) when developing Velvia..

Here are some interesting articles

Choosing highest saturation for color name
http://www.humboldt1.com/~cr2/colors.htm

Article About Memory Color
http://www.isisimaging.com/MemoryColorPaper.pdf

Accuracy of Hue and Saturation recall
http://www.perceptionweb.com/abstract.cgi?id=v96l1008

It's precisely because people are always looking at the world through their eyes that they have the desire to re-interpret it. It's called storytelling, participatory dishonesty. Even the total novice who does nothing more than crank the saturation on their soccer pictures is trying to tell you a little something about themselves, however gauche you may find it.

The real liars are the photographers who add and subtract elements from a scene and, when asked, deny that they did so.

I think the internet is partly to blame for the Disneyland color that seems to be the rage at the moment. Had you posted your exmaple shots at PBase or Flickr, the first would have gotten comments along the lines of "Dull colors," and the second, "WOW! Great Color!"

It's amazing to go through looking at autumn galleries and look at colors so saturated that there's no detail at all left. Yet, those shots are still the ones that get lots of positive comments. I can't help but think of the line from the Barenaked Ladies song, "Brian Wilson":

"Ring a bell and I'll salivate. How'd you like that?"

Is this all a big Pavlovian experiment on photographers?

Mike,

The top one looks like late summer in the upper midwest. Then my reaction was to say "poor doggy, what a short leash."

Probably some form of dyslexia, an inability to stay focused on the topic at hand.

Personally, I prize accuracy, look for it in reviews; but that also has to do with what I'm taking the photos for. Color accuracy is important for photos of paintings and frames. That attitude does extend to the occasional "objet d'art" photo I produce.

Meanwhile, poor doggy.

Bron

Well, I am one of the fans of strong color, saturation an contrast. For me, these characteristics indirectly evoke the feelings I had when looking at those landscapes. Our eyes perceive much more detail, shape, depth, not to mention the synergy with the other senses, creating a much more intense experience when we are looking at the "real" scene.

The brain can't interpret a photo the same way it interprets the real thing; most of the sensory cues are gone. It will then look bland compared with the memory of the event. In the end, I think it is a matter of the photographic goal: a faithful reproduction of the image vs. a faithful reproduction of the feeling.

I might be somewhat older than those talking about the "Velvia Effect: to me it is the "Kodachrome Effect". And that started long before color television. People like photos of the world as it might be in their mind. But move off color for a moment-what about high key or low key photographs, or very dark and somber images. I think the archives are full of photos that "represent and interpret" the scene being photographed. I visited an art museum last week with a very good show of impressionistic paintings by most of the masters of that form. They were highly criticized in their day.

An over-saturated world is not just the preferred habitat of many photographers.

Year on year tv presenters, newsreaders etc are taking on an increasingly cartoonish quality. The default output seems to be blindingly white teeth, bright orange complexions and studio sets which seem to be in some most gaudy and garish competition.

The tv sets themselves seem to be no better. I had occasion to buy a new tv recently and had to spend a considerable length of time toning the 'factory' settings of saturation, contrast and brightness down to a level that vaguely resembles a world that I recognise.

For years, our mantra as photographers has been to 'wait for the light' when shooting in the natural environment.
Other than photojournalists who are bound to the pulse of action before their lens, this dictate has served us well in terms of dramatic light direction, light quality, light's color hues, saturation, etc..
Using your two example photos, the first non-enhanced image would not have drawn my interest at the time of day you created it. However, a little later in the afternoon when the sun had dropped low enough on the horizon to have picked up another 30 points of yellow and given the surrounding foliage that vibrant 'pop'... well, now we have the possibility of a more resonant image.
In this modern era of immediate gratification and little patience, the Saturation and Vibrance sliders in Photoshop/Lightroom have given every photographer the ability to become 'Master of the Universe', and the world can forevermore be pictured during 'best light' TOD, regardless of hands on a clock.
The genie is out of the bottle, and the course of postmodern image-making will follow its own path 'into the sunset'.

The second picture may not be true to life but I prefer it to the first, just my opinion others may differ.The whole theory of beauty in nature is a human construct nature is not concerned with beauty.The digital camera and the computor plus photoshop has enabled people to take/manipulate/exhibit their photos to a woldwide audience and judging by the results most people prefer the world a little more colourful than nature's version maybe this is not a bad thing?

I wrote my full answer here (below). I sent a TrackBack, but it hasn't gone through, so I'm commenting.

http://nslog.com/2008/03/06/saturation_and_accuracy_in_photography

The only "true" basis for comparison we have is our memory of the scene. Just as we're allowed to adjust the white balance of a scene to more "accurately" reflect our memory of that scene, I say we're allowed (to a point) to adjust the saturation of a scene.

I also think the point about Black and White is valid. We don't see in black and white, so if adding saturation makes something less accurate, then so does de-saturating. And what about using filters? Clearly those creat "inaccurate" images, too, because the camera couldn't have darkened those skies without that graduated neutral density filter or seen through those reflections without that polarizing filter.

Our eyes and brains are wonderful machines. They make the world look better. They adjust local contrast. They saturate. They adjust to changes in light temperature. Our memory is the "truth." Making images match that is not making them less accurate, but more so.

I have 3.5 thoughts on this:

My first is that the creation of artistic photographs has often pushed the materials beyond what they really looked like if processed straight. Ansel Adams used the zone system to compress and expand contrast ranges dramatically for effect, often to bring out the feeling he was experiencing at the time of exposure from the scene. In some cases it made the photos much less realistic (the black skies in "Moonrise over Hernandez" or "Monolith" comes to mind) but much more powerful at the same time. I don't fault him for that since I have seen his alternative prints without the dramatic effect and they are much less compelling, less artistic, etc...

My second thought is that sometimes (ironically perhaps in this conversation)the people pushing the color to unnatural levels are trying to mimic some version of ideal light, such as the warmer light that comes when the sun is low in the sky that often makes colors look much more vibrant. Judging from the photos above, that light might not ever hit those trees in that way if they are surrounded by even more trees...but under the right circumstances, they might. Returning to Ansel Adams again, his shots of Aspen trees that have been widely seen used darkroom techniques to raise the brightness of the leaves and the lighter side of the tree trunks. Is that what our eyes would have seen? No, but it sure works to bring an impact to the photos.

Finally, I wonder if people would have such a problem with this color boost if it wasn't so easy to do. Using my above two examples, the vast majority could not take photos and have them look like Ansel's because his skills in the darkroom allowed him to do things that were beyond most people who dropped their film off at the drug store and pick up the prints a couple days later. But, today nearly anyone with even a basic knowledge of photoshop could perform a few simple steps to convert to black and white and boost contrast, or perhaps just boost color to give a different, more powerful feel to a photo. Do they look less natural - yes, but do they look more interesting? sometimes...

And that maybe brings us back to many others comments. The beauty of the world is vast, but not everyone has the opportunity to sit and wait for the perfect light, or the talent to create it straight out of the camera. Does that make it cheating or bad that they are using some artistic prerogative in the computer? Not to me, as long as they still have something of interest to say with the photo.

To me...
We don't turn to art to see the world, we turn to art to feel something.

I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that resolution can be easily measured or estimated but colour fidelity is much more difficult to quantify. So you can say: 'this is better because it has 20% more lppm' but you cannot say 'the color fidelity index is 20% higher on this'.
This quite apart from the fact that maybe people just prefer over-saturated colours and there's nothing wrong with that.

I think it comes from resolution and noise being easy to measure. If you take a pic of a bird it's easy to look at the feathers and see if the barbs are clear. But, was the bird this shade of green or this more intense and saturated green?

Mike, although I don't disagree with your argument how can you be sure it's the same people carping as over saturating? In line with other posts I agree this is the logical extension of the Velvia + filtration paradigm - particularly prevalent in many conventional landscapes. Is this also a phenomenon because most people can detect sharpness and noise but with uncalibrated monitors are all experiencing slightly different viewing experiences? Or do they simply want to reproduce the hideous hues of plasma screens – is television/advertising influencing our general visual sophistication and appreciation?

In short: There is no 'accurate' colour [reproduction]. At least not in any meaningful way.

Sure, you can physically measure the colours in the scene and then adjust the photo file until the values are as close a fit as possible - for monitor as well as printing. But that's not how we perceive colours. It's even less how we use colour [or any other characteristic of an image or sound spectrum]. We go for effect. That can be surreal but need not be.

The really unfortunate development is that many people seem to think blinding 70s pop-art colour is always good. Well, this differentiates the true craftsmen and artist from the hobbyist and holidayist: Using a technique to elicit an effect.*

*A linguistic explanation is in order: 'Effect' as I use it here means the emotion elicited by the viewer [or listener]. In the vernacular 'effect' often means the technique as applied to a photo etc. The latter is probable better called 'special effect'.

Most digital cameras today, it seems, can produce very accurate colors, given the appropriate settings. I take it this may not be the case with S5. What color representation people choose is another question. However, where color is essentailly a variable givens todays technology, resolution, is not. Certainly, if a given camera has a tendency to reproduce greens for blues, it would not be toleratated. ch

When I first started shooting RAW, I got bland images. Undersaturated and poor contrast. Coming from JPG, it seemed like a lot of work to get a satisfactory result.

It took several months of trial and error before I was able to get to a place where my RAW interpretations felt superior to the default JPG.

During that time I began to learn restraint. I hadn't initially realized that Lightroom's defaults were purposefully bland. While at first this was disappointing, in time I was glad that it was that way.

When you have to coax saturation and contrast from your images, you begin to appreciate the subtlety, the interplay between the various elements. If I hadn't been forced to start from there, I may not have ever begun to learn the difference.

At the risk of sounding (even more?) pretentious, I'll say that appreciation of photographic subtlety is comparable to an appreciation of wine (or just about any other gourmet food or drink). At first, it's all pretty much the same. A novice will be able to recognize the difference between categories, perhaps, but all but the grossest of differences will be lost. Only after repeated exposure will your palate begin to expand.

Without a palate that recognizes nuance, what's "better" comes down to which is more flavorful, not that which is more well-balanced.

Technicolor; (originally) a three strip primary color recording on B&W film base and it's subsequence dye transfer, could actually capture and display a far more representational image of the "real" world than other technique, past or present. Kinda' like vinyl vs. CD, or tube vs. IC's, or "Mercury" vs. "Vanguard"... I had a friend, with the very best top-end equipment, who often monitored his mixes through cheap car speakers. In those cases he mixed mostly mariachi or pop music; he knew his audiences end environment.

The name of the game in theater, film, sound recording, photography, even the "Mystic Arts", has fundamentally been the "suspension of disbelief"... The closer you can get some (always) artificial and subjective product like, a photographic print to recreate a mythic reality, then the closer you are to communicating your own personal sense of "truth"... remember the days when you could get paper with enough silver to actually take your breath away... Wow!

Some say my prints have hyper-saturated color. As it turns out, I'm somewhat color-blind. To me, my prints are spot-on. I only note there's a difference from the norm when I take color-chart tests. But, probably, that's a different story :-)

Jack the color "ten yards north of realism", and what do you have? To me, color prints can only be a sub-standard (as in a REALLY sub-standard) representation of what I consider to be the "real" world... I'll let my imagination fill in the missing bits... the color information which may seem too saturated. And, I'll let my imagination fill in the in-betweens... of those colors which appear to me totally missing.

And, Dang-it! I love the soft pastel color of South Florida Deco turned brilliant Day-Glo on 'CSI-Miami'! Not "real" in any sense. But Dang! A bright fresh way of looking at it.

I think that photography has finally reached the same stage as art. We now have the tools to render reality anyway we wish. When Impressionism first appeared many people said what Mike has written about. But the color of an image is decided only by the artist or photographer. The other reason for color changing comes from workshops. The instructors always say that you have to add to the colors to make a realistic image. As for fuzziness, again not all artists try to have straight sharp lines. Why should we be any different.

I'm not sure this is all that important of an issue, to be honest. The basic problem is a combination of two things. First, most people don't really know, or think about, how to propery interpret the scene while they're shooting it. They're not thinking about that until it's on the screen, which leads to the second problem....Photoshop let's us do anything we want. It's the equivalent of pixel anarchy. Every many for himself, no rules. Of course people go overboard. Most of us cannot help ourselves.

As for shadow noise, that's a separate issue. Many of us, myself included, hate it for the simple reason that it's a foreign substance within our images. Artificial artifacts over which we have little control.

Both issues are control related. One where we have too much, the other where we have too little. We're a spoiled lot, we are.

Reality has some huge advantages against a photograph attempting to depict it. It fills your whole field of vision, as opposed being a tiny part of it. It's stereoscopic, not flat. Dynamic range is much bigger. The amount of detail is staggeringly superior. And you can interact with reality!
When you add in other sensory cues, like smells, sounds, temperature, etc, the battle gets even less fair.

To get anything near the emotional impact of reality, a photographer has to cheat. Composition, crop, lens choice, and, yes, color treatment, are some of the few tools we have at our disposal when we try to approximate the emotional impact. Nothing wrong with that.

My eyes have a higher dynamic range than the sensor in my camera. Therefore I sometimes use Photoshop to try and re-create what I think I saw.

WRT the pictures in this post...
For me, the subject has so much information that it demands that I visually scan the picture part by part and not simply step back and enjoy it as a whole. The second image appears to have some level of brightness/contrast adjustment to the benefit of such a viewing process. Perhaps if you desaturated it a little and offered that as the alternative (to focus on color only).

WRT the argument at hand...
I would agree with Eric. Color is difficult to talk about and understand. Resolution is easy.

What boggles my mind in the resolution discussions is where would you display full-resolution images that come from a 25Mpx camera? Am I the only person who doesn't live in a McMansion? A 16x20 with mat and frame kills an awful lot of wall space!

Jeff

This post was very funny to me (I hope that was intended, Mike), and at the same time brings up an interesting philosophical problem. I think one of the principal motives of photography is to impose our own private perspective on the world, and in an honest way. For example, when I was shooting the autumn colors last year, I knew that in the objective world the tree leaves were probably not quite as red, yellow, or orange as they were in my head, but in processing I wanted them look like I remembered them. Even then, I think the colors were pretty realistic. At the same time, there are those who crank up the color because it "looks cool" without thinking about why, and then there are the pictures that are so processed they look like video-games and you know that no sane, sober person actually perceived the scene that way. Everybody knows when a picture is "juiced," but is it possible to define that objectively? I think it's very hard to draw a precise line between individual perception and just plain fantasy.

I hope this isn't too convoluted.

Mike, Why do we take "art" photographs ? In this case, was it to show the autumn leaves, or the dog's dinky new red collar ? And how can one remember the tone details a day, let alone a year later ? So it comes down to the camera having a go at it, and you re-creating reality (whatever that is) as you want it.
Regards, Tudor.

I fully agree with Eric, of All Day Breakfast (above) when he says 'so many photographers have nothing else to say photographically except to make a "pretty picture" with impact.'

Like many others, I'm totally bored with all this hypersaturation and over processing. The vast majority of HDR images I see say nothing more than "I learned how to use the HDR tool." (There are, however, some cases of HDR being used very effectively, but most people overuse it and overdo it.)

Ditto with all this saturation and tone mapping. I use Paintshop Pro more than Photoshop, and it has a tone mapping tool called "Clarify." On the version I have, it scales from 1 (hardly any effect) to 20 (cranked). I occasionally use it at 2 or 3, just to create a bit of separation in areas that might be a bit muddy. Go beyond about 5 and you start seeing tone mapping artifacts and the "over processed" look coming in.

Yet I frequently see images that look like they've been cranked to 20. To the naive eye, the image pops, but that's an effect that gets old fast, and has been so over-used that even when it is used well I find myself being prejudiced against it.

So it goes with the democratization of photography. Everything becomes a bacon double cheeseburger.

While you have rendered well the gentle shade in your photograph, one could argue that it represents only a transitory reality of that scene. Should you have waited until the clouds went away, the scene would have been much more vividly lit, as evidenced by the sunlight patch around the car. The question then becomes: why are you so surprised that someone could be tempted to represent that alternate reality of the same scene? After all, for many if not most people, the ideal day is one of bright summer sunshine. Why would it surprise you that the casual photographer would intuitively want his shot to reflect such "ideal conditions"? It is only human. In fact, I'll even argue that it takes training to attempt, and often to appreciate, the opposite...

I'd also like to say that the lack of sharpness in the top image makes me want to clean my glasses, I can't help it. Not that I like the fake brightness of the other rendition, but there should be an acceptable in-between.

I think the only real crime in either photo interpretation is the dog being chained up to the tree. :)

Why many want photography to be "reality" is beyond me. It's never been about that, and never will be, color, extended color, altered color, tone mapped, or b&w, does not matter, too many other choices cloud the view to ever be reality.

Simply being there to make the picture alters the scene from what it is. So by taking a picture you've already altered reality. The dog knows this, why don't we?

Robert

Diatribes like these give digital photography a bad name.

I think you need to keep in mind that it's not "digital photography" that is making over-saturated/over-sharpened images, like that in your example: it's bad taste.

"Bad taste" is the culprit. blaming "digital photography" is like blaming "cars" for the fact that your neighbor has a ghetto honda civic. ...it's your neighbor's bad taste, not "automobiles" fault that he made something gaudy.

Come to think of it... perhaps the disconnect here (talking about the 'lively' discussion so far) is more fundamental than just dynamic range and saturation.

There seems to be a difference between people who believe photography must be, in principle, a perfect representation of reality before it can begin to have its own meaning, and people who don't. Mike, you seem to be in the first group. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying, but it's akin to being an audiophile, which, in your own very moderate way, you have made yourself known to be.

You are, mister Johnston, a realityphile.

And the people you appear to have offended (or at least irked) perhaps are not to the same extent. I understand their irritation. In your post, you seem to be implying that anything except the kind of photography you prefer is a silly, Play-Doh bastardization of this beautiful artform.

But perhaps its what gets to these people, just as much as Random Excellence gets you.

Is it therefore any less?

as an aside:

Your example annoys me. While i'm sure there are a few kids out there who just discovered photoshop making ridiculously over-sharpened/saturated images, you intentionally going over the top, and then posting it as an example of what's wrong with the world, just seems, i don't know how to explain it... it seems hackish.

You're using an imaginary situation as evidence to support your opinion. Doesn't that seem like cheating?

Why don't you find a well-received image that you think is over the top, then ask for that original, and use a REAL-WORLD example that supports your argument?

it seems like what you did is like that southpark episode where the anti-smoking people were going to kill a kid to prove that smoking kills.

I think you'll find that more commonly, the saturation isn't as over the top as you portray, and the many images that ARE like your example, are not well-received or important in any sense whatsoever, or regarded as "good" by the majority of people.... so that makes your argument much less relevant. IF you have real-world examples of your examples, that have real-world weight to them (people don't just write them off as "another kid who just discovered the saturation option") then that would lend some credence to your claim, and relevance to your point.

I like Matthew Miller's response: "...because the brain is so good at normalizing color -- we've got built-in auto balancing. This means that looking at color objectively takes both intentionality and practice."

Years ago I saw on PBS Nova a program about human color vision, including some very elegant experiments by Dr. Edwin Land (yes, the founder of Polaroid). We DO have built in auto-balancing. Matthew Miller has it exactly right with respect to "intentionality and practice." Seeing color in any kind of sophisticated way requires discipline and hard work.

A close friend of mine is a high realist painter. To say he agonizes over color accuracy is no exaggeration, even though he has been at it for 45 years. It's not just getting the paint right; it's understanding the color in the first place. Damn difficult.

"How would you know? I was there; you weren't."
I'll concede the point - you were there. The important word is "were". If the EXIF is correct, this photo was taken in late November, more than 3 months ago. What are you using to verify that the top picture is an accurate representation (color-wise) of the real world as it was then? Your memory?

Who cares if the print is not what the world really looked like. I am not documenting what the world really looks like, I am making pictures to put on the wall. I guess you could find a time when the world looks like a B& W print but you will have to stay up late or get up early. If it is kind of a dull color day but I like the possibilities of the tall trees contrasting with the small dog wearing a red collar, I take the shot and work it in photoshop. If my good memory of times and places and a background in fine art tells me after a lot of dodge, burn, shift, blur, stamp and stomp, that finally the print now really gives the feeling of what it was like in April in Durango, I got it. E

great conversation - and a valid one at that....As head of one camera club, member of another and head of a regional group, I see the 'calendar art' all the time. I also see great images that are classic in nature, however, the calendar images are far more comman. Too many images today say nothing. Nothing at all. Its getting so I dread another brightly color sunset showing up on the screen. But then I also hate the meaningless images so often offered up as 'art' in gallery or MFA shows. Is there no way to encourage today's photographers to make photographic 'art' as a representation of real life? I watched a film on Henri Cartier-Bresson last night and was enthralled once again, as always when I see his work. I am actually working to create that quality and visual story in my own work. I highly recommend the DVD (I bought it from Amazon for a good price - which I believe can be reached through this site).

"OK to desaturate (B/W) but not to saturate?"

OK to do whatever you want. I like saturated color. I like B&W. I am not trying to record the reality that everyone sees, but rather to emphasize interesting things which I see and which, perhaps, other people missed. If exaggerated (or desaturated) color helps me to do this, I am for it. Other people whose goals and tastes are different than mine will do things differently.

I think there is still this overriding thought that photography is supposed to be an exact mirror of reality. There are plenty of cases that would support that view in terms of photojournalism and documentary imagery, but sometimes... since reality is always around us, why not be open to interpretations of reality through exaggerated contrast, color or lack of color? This debate has railed along so long and never has come to any substantative conclusion, why continue it? We all have our own view of what photography means and represents, all is needed is the understanding that photography is an art that means different things to different people. Acceptance of differences doesn't mean you have to like the differences.

Mike, in case you haven't noticed (although I suspect you have), there is this competition going on. It's happening on Flickr and Pbase and all the other photo sharing sites out there and it's all about drawing attention to your photos and building up your viewership. The photo sharing sites are all too accommodating, encouraging this competition by providing stats on the number of people who have visited your photos, the number of people who have commented, favorited etc.

How do you get people to look at your photos when there are so many other photographers competing for eyeballs on these sites? Well, you might get a clue from some of the most popular galleries. You crank up the volume! Take that Lightroom vibrance slider and put the pedal to the metal. Push the saturation all the way to 11 and people will flock to your gallery and go "WOW - this guy lives in a whole different world than me. His pictures REALLY pop".

It isn't pretty, but that's reality. Competition pushes people over the top and the peacock with the biggest tail feathers wins.

Interestingly enough, I just saw a wonderful photo exhibition at the Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto by Larry Towell (see here: http://www.bulgergallery.com/dynamic/fr_exhibit_artist.asp?ExhibitID=173

This marvelous collection of photos relies on subtlety, beautiful black and white toning and a truly three dimensional feel that comes from a remarkable talent for composition. There isn't a photo that "pops" in the online sense, but if you look at any of these prints for more than a minute, there is a suction that draws you into the scene in a magical way.

Sadly, I don't think these photos would get much attention on Flickr or Pbase because they don't stand out from the crowd in the usual way. Fortunately, people like the Bulger gallery recognize talent and make it available for us mere mortal photographers to see it and buy it for our walls.

So true. I'm on the mailing list for happenings at Central Park here in New York City.

The lastest email contained a "photo of the week" in which a scene featuring Gapstow Bridge (a world famous landmark) has the most garish ("tweaked") colors imaginable.

What I found amazing, is that the shot was taken in the Autumn when the surrounding foliage is very colorful in its own right.

I'm quite often out during sunset. At that time, if the evening is clear and warm, colours often look very close to your second example. I've thought on more than one occasion that however high I might jack up colours while processing, I'd never get the kind of richness or saturation I see walking along the Thames on a clear day. Even boring, near-white buildings appear orange-gold and the reflections in their windows are straight out of an HD TV advert. The sorts of colours we see then are not unknown at other times - I remember having to stop the car and stare at the intensity of the blazing orange and red foliage a few times this last autumn, again when the weather was beautifully clear. The summer had been very wet and that, I'm told, led to the spectacular richness of the drying leaves' colours. I've generally given up on that kind of photography, because whatever I saw on the calibrated CRT screen at home would never come close to matching the range of warmth and saturation of what I'd seen in real life.

There is, as you point out, a tendency to make _all_ photos appear as if they were taken in the sort of light you see around sunset but that might reflect the importance of that time of day to humans. It's a time when even people who have no interest in colour theory appreciate the effect of our internal white balance taking a breather, allowing us to see the effect of all that golden light. We might just be programmed to react positively to it.

Interesting thoughts.

I think that sharpness and resolution seem to be readily quantifiable to everyone whereas color is not so easy to measure and therefore render as accurate. After all, it's well known that film and digital sensors are _not_ remotely close to accurate at all unless calibrated Even then, the most accurate way of portraying a scene would be with a spectrophotometer.

Of course, it all comes down to what we are trying to do and say with our photography that dictates our needs in terms of color, sharpness, fuzziness, print style, etc.

I do find your top image not quite "right" and the only reason I say this is because of the mini in the background. The red minis are very rich in color, probably not quite as rich as in your saturated image, but rich none the less (even in shade). Of course, like you say, I wasn't there so it's all a matter of supposition on my part.

Mike said: "It makes me wonder how many people ever bother to really look at the world—with their eyes, I mean—and then make some sort of honest attempt to make their pictures match what they see."

That's not my cup of tea. If I were limited to duplicating reality I would have never become interested in photography.

Ansel Adams said: "When I'm ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my minds eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I'm interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without."

Mike,

You know that photography has always been about "editing" or modifying the real world--through composition, selective focus, etc. Black and white is extremely edited in its own way--then there is lith, bromoil, etc.

The current fashion seems to be to shoot multiple shots at different exposures, use HDR, pump up the saturation, etc. But it is really nothing new--Galen Rowell pioneered the in-camera version with Velvia and extreme use of gradient filters. It's just a lot easier to do than it used to be, so lots of mediocre-to-bad photos get the treatment.

Mike, I think you're just trying to deflect attention away from your - frankly inadequate - oversharpening skills...

;-)

I think the current trend toward saturation and sharpness is a phase we're in. Velvia trained us to a super-saturated version of color, but it wasn't the first trip into the "hyperworld" (to steal from Brooks Jensen - and hello Joe Lipka).

Kodachrome gave us a totally different palette that almost is ingrained in us at a subconscious level that identifies the time period of the photo. And let's face it, how many go to Yosemite and leave with an un-Ansel-like photograph?

However, I think some of this current trend is a symptom of our one-upsmanship culture, and tech specs are the only sure, non-subjective way of playing the game. Maybe one day we'll pull up our pants, quit playing the whose got the biggest game and get back to the emotional content as the measuring...uhhh...stick.

I care ZERO about accurate color.

I'm not sure what "accurate color" even means outside of a specific context.

I can't understand why anyone outside the fields of art reproduction , scientific photography, and product photography would care either. And often they don't care either. In fact much of the photography I do would look simply awful with accurate color. Who is going to pay for "accurate" florescent lit schoolchildren or hospital rooms?

Usually my goal is to make a photograph that looks somewhat like what I remember seeing , and on the one hand I don't want night time street photos to look like they are only various shades of orange, but I also don't want dimly tungston lit scenes to look like they were taken in daylight, or to look dull red either.

I live for photographs that mix sunset light (yellow orange from one direction), skylight ( blueish from everywhere else ), mercury vapor ( pools of blue green ) low pressure sodium vapor ( orange ) and a few neon signs and traffic lights ( everything else )

I love how Lightroom lets you easily change the saturation hue and luminance of each individual color band. Great for desaturating the sodium vapor orange and making the color more realistic, since the color temperature settings certainly won't work by them selves

Edwin land demonstrated that the human visual system can infer green in an image composed of only red and white light.
Look around for articles about his retinex theory and experiments on color constancy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_constancy

Gerald C. Huth is also doing some very interesting work in this field
http://www.ghuth.com/

Many things get mixed up here.

Mike tried to point out the seeming contradiction between the quest for sharpness and no-noise, and neglection of color-accuracy on the other hand.

Correct me if I'm wrong but I think the top sample is not what Mike supposes to be the "right" color interpretation. There is no "right". It is just more accurate than the second sample. And the question is, when people go for sharpness why not for accurate color.

Anyway (artistic) photography is not about copying the real world. But many people don't even understand this. They run for things that can be easily measured and reproduced. As sharpness. And punchy colors. But accurate colors are another thing. As are subtle colors, like from Eggleston and Shore (as mentioned above). It is hard to get them on screen and even harder on print.

And I agree with Breakfast-Dude: most photogs don't have anything to say. Took me a long time to understand this, and still it is hard to _feel_ what I wanna say. One has to open the valves and let it flow, which is not that easy. Well, I didn't arrive yet, and propably never will, but at least I'm on the road ;-))

As far as accuracy goes, unless you are editing/printing the image right where it was taken, you're likely going to get it wrong. Partly this is the limitations of the medium, but I also agree that the mind "cooks" what it receives, not just sensory information, but events, meanings we attach. And it keeps simmering things, besides memory is notorious anyway. How you think it looked is probably off.

I think the last two comments simply point up how totally subjective color perception is. Two people can look at red and agree that it is red, but we have no way to certify that in fact it's the same red. How can I get into your head and know what you see?

A bw interpretation of a scene, a color interpretation of the same scene, an intense color interpretation of the same scene are all interpretations. I suppose in a disinterested way we can say that they are all valid. Or we can say, 'The black and white sucks, it's not real.' Or the lit up color one is bad, it's not real. For me, the exaggerated color approach winds up with just that: Wow look at the color! Now what?

-Mike, to me that sounds a bit like suggesting that someone doesn't need to worry about using quality paint, brushes and canvas because they are "only creating abstract art."

The end result might be that I create a surreal or over-saturated image, but I still want to start with the best quality that I can.

I think part of it is that cameras and lenses are tools and many people want to know about their tools and how/why they work. Because they aren't building these tools themselves (which is a relatively new human phenomenon [assuming that you agree that humans have been around for at least several hundred thousand years]) this becomes a way for them to learn about and "improve" their tools.

As others have pointed out: since when is the world in greyscale?

I think the over-saturated phenomenon comes down to: it stands out.
Example:

IIIIIIoIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Or:

[][][][][][][][][][2][][][]

I think we have evolved to notice certain things that stand out (like color[s]), so lots of people use it because they want their work to stand out. Not very different from high contrast black and white really. Simply put: contrast attracts. That is why more "successful" photographs are high contrast rather than low contrast: high contrast stands out.

I think this also goes into why galleries are rather bare (other than the artwork on display) and stark, so that ANY artwork will "stand out" and be noticed/appreciated/felt/contemplated (etc. etc.) without having to be high contrast or over-saturated.

-Scott Dommin, I don't know if I completely agree with you, but I sure got a good laugh; thanks!

Mike, "How would you know? I was there; you weren't."

Well... the same could be said for those over-sharpened, over-saturated and otherwise absurd HDR images.

My experience tells me that the "real colors" were somewhere in-between, but probably a little closer to the under rather than the over.

The top photo looks about right to me.

As has been stated previously, this "hypersaturation" trend has been going on for some time. Have you been into a store that sells TVs lately? The TV manufacturers and retailers know what people want and they jack up the contrast and colour for that "eye pleasing" pop on the showroom floor. The "standard" colour setting on our new LCD TV is hypersaturated. I've had to painstakingly dumb down the colour and saturation so that my retinas aren't damaged by the crazy-intense colours! ;-)

I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, it's in no small part that going from film to digital, I had very little experience with color; almost all of my pre-digital photography had been black and white. And I liked high contrast black and white at the time, so I figured: what's the color equivalent of that? Saturation! High saturation and high contrast, because then, nobody will notice the little ugly details.

Well since then, I've changed my mind about both color and black and white. I'm processing my digital black and white to be relatively low contrast, and to have a relatively long tonal range; and similarly, I'm (not always, but much of the time) processing my color to be more subtle -- more like Astia, maybe, than Velvia. I like my photos more this way -- to be low contrast, especially in the middle of the tone curve. But I find that my photos are much less of a hit, especially with my friends who are not photographers. They apparently don't have the "punch" that my older photos do.

I don't know quite where this is going or what I'm trying to say here. I don't think that I can speak for anybody but myself. But for me, I'm pretty sure that the issue of color accuracy comes down to experience, or lack thereof.

Glad you brought this up Mike, it's one of my favourite bugbears and the main reason I can't get on with Olympus DSLRs (Pentax on the other hand is much more subtle).
Television is a major culprit and it's rare that I see someone else's TV without shuddering at the way they have it adjusted.
Not so long ago here in the UK we only had 3 TV channels - BBC1, BBC2 and ITV (the commercial channel). ITV's colour was and still is oversaturated - ugh!
Oh I do miss my Agfa slide film.......end of rant.

Cheers, Robin

"Happy, carefree people(tourists & landscape photogs) who are comfortable in life prefer saturated color. Emotionally withdrawn and uncomfortable people attempting to make art prefer de-saturated color"

That's quite an assertion Charlie! Color as psychological diagnostic?!?

Mike J.

I used to wear polarizing sunglasses (prescription, no longer quite so reasonable with my plastic graduated bifocals), I loved Kodachrome II (but I'm still mad at Kodak for K25 - I like to think I have some artistic taste), I have treasured, dog-eared copies of Ernst Haas's "The Creation" and Dennis Stock's "Flower Show" (the latter shot with Olympus OMs, if I remember correctly, so there's some relevance for you, though I still won't buy a digital Olympus because they halted OM production, and I even bought my 500 F8 Reflex Zuiko because of "Flower Show"). I still admire the saturated colors in the occasional photograph in National Geographic.

AND I read this forum.

Where did my mother go wrong?!

"You must hate infrared photography.. (he said jokingly)"

Michiel,
See the essay, "Why I Hate Infrared" under the "Columns and Essays" tab at the right....

Mike J.

Interesting! But in this respect black and white and saturated colours are two perfectly symmetrical escape courses from the usual blandness of the world.
Maybe as a result of being slightly colour-blind, I often find reality to be disappointing in its tones, even to the naked eye. I certainly wish it was different. A washed-out blue sky gives me an urge to go black and white to remove the unpleasant feeling. I am sure the colours I associate with pleasant memories are completely off, transformed by the filter of optimism.

I understand Kodak did a lot of testing with color rendering of their photo paper, back in the day. It turned out that people always liked the more saturated version unless it was affecting skin-tone (and even then they liked things that made people look more bronzed). This was even if they had the original object right in front of them - people would still prefer the more saturated print to the more accurate one.

That said, photos still can't get colors as bright as some of the ones in nature. I've never managed to get digital to have colors as vivid as the green of fresh leaves on an elm or live oak in a field of dead brown grass. It's eye-searingly neon, and I just can't get that out of a photo. I've tried. I think it's out of gamut.

I don't think people should worry too much about the accuracy of color, unless it is necessary to match a group of prints or if fidelity is part of the specific topic of the photo.

In other words, these are aesthetic choices, and they are very subjective.

That said, if someone is going to go overboard on the saturation and color shifting, they should have a better reason than just "I know where the saturation button is." Unfortunately, there rarely seems to be another reason in evidence.

And that's the biggest problem with that kind of stuff. Not that it's "wrong" but that it is usually a poor and/or uninformed aesthetic decision.

For the record, I'll concede that the two example pictures are *both* exaggerated to heighten the difference between them. They're just illustrations.

Mike J.

Mike, Why do we take "art" photographs ? In this case, was it to show the autumn leaves, or the dog's dinky new red collar ? And how can one remember the tone details a day, let alone a year later ? So it comes down to the camera having a go at it, and you re-creating reality (whatever that is) as you want it.
Regards, Tudor.

Technically, image details can not be recovered to anywhere near the same extent as colour can so I see that as being a reason for the preoccupation with lense resolution. Detail can only be degraded (or shown more clearly with sharpening) whereas colour can be manipulated with changes in saturation and hue, both across the whole image or in localised sections. That way you can capture as much data about the scene while on location, before interpreting the data and transforming it into whatever you see fit during editing.

I'm still very much playing around with my photography and trying to find what feels right for me. While I do this, some of my photos are underplayed and some are very much over the top - usually I only notice this after the fact. I've played around a little with HDR and what I've found while walking around in the countryside is actually that when I concentrate and pay attention, nature is quite a lot closer to one of the overdone HDR images than I would imagine.

Perhaps my eyes are unusual but I feel like the top image is simply more subdued, colour-wise than most of the scenes I see around me everyday. That isn't a comment on whether it makes for a better photo or not, simply on its realism in comparison to what I feel like my world is like.

Wet Dreams in the Wet Darkroom

Perhaps we should take ourselves back to the days of the wet darkroom, where we can achieve the same effect as the alleged abuse of over saturation in digital imagery.

You could alter the chemistry of the colour developer when making prints. A change in pH or concentration of the developer would yield increased saturation and contrast.

You could buy a Durst enlarger with a pin register negative carrier, and proceed to make multiple sharp/unsharp positive/negative masks with Pan Masking film, Kodalith or any combination you could imagine, 3 color (RGB) exposures and you have saturation and contrast that goes to the moon.

Having been there, the Photoshop alternative is substantially easier to control. It's also a lot easier to breathe down here.

Ultimately, all Photoshop has done is take tools that were extremely difficult to master and limited to a few thousand individuals and made them available to anyone.

I am personally on the merry go round that takes me to visiting the saturation/contrast/detail enhancement camp again, but don't intend to live there forever.

An interesting and vividly saturated discussion.

Regards
Ray

I wish my digital camera came with at least three colour settings: "accurate", "normal", and "garish". (Oh wait, it's called "natural", "bright" and "vivid")

As an aside, popphoto's "certified" (by who?) test results have a color accuracy measure, and dpreview have their ColorChecker graphs.

BTW, love your second picture. It looks like you shot a plastic model kit in a well-lit department store. Maybe that's what the modern westerner aspires to.

Well, Mike, this is one of the few times that I disagree with you. I'll attribute the misstep to your post-Favre grieving.

And, once again, what wonderful, incisive comments so far! I add only that ... isn't it all, in the end, just about the picture / photo / image / 2D visual object? I don't care how it got there, for the most part. I just want to see the final product and judge THAT for myself.

Bismarck supposedly said, "There are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation.” Maybe photos, in this digital age, should be the third.

Reality is grossly overrated.

Wow, what a comments thread! Now, at the end of the day, I get to respond (again) but this no one will notice.

My inital comment, "OK to desaturate (B/W) but not to saturate", was perhaps a bit terse but, I think, valid. I certainly have made my share (some would say more) of overly saturated, overly contrasty, overly sharpend photos. I've used Velvia as well as Kodachrome and liked them both -- in their place. I even like HDR (well, sometimes)! I've done B/W -- both "real" and converted from color digital and like it a lot.

I agree with the comment by Jonathan, "OK to do whatever you want. I like saturated color. I like B&W." To this I would add, what is the goal? If someone wants "realistic" colors then make the colors realistic, etc., etc.

It amuses me to try to imagine the photographic scene of today if, long ago, the chemical and economical technology of the era had resulted in, say, a red and yellow (instead of B/W) photo. Would we now be attempting to convert to Red/Yellow?

For the most part I find the old digital velvia to be a fine thing. Just saw this, however ....

http://www.naturephotographers.net/articles0308/ab0308-1ss.html

Re Charlie H's comment:

>>Most digital cameras today, it seems, can produce very accurate colors, given the appropriate settings. I take it this may not be the case with S5.<<

There are ways of attaching a quantitative measure to the overall deviation from accuracy of a camera's color rendition, using a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker or similar as a standard. By such measures, all DSLRs, judged either by in-camera JPGs or by default conversions through the manufacturer's "official" raw converter, are inaccurate to some degree. I don't think the S5 is defective by that standard - it's probably in the middle of the pack somewhere. It's just that the S5's particular mix of deviations from accuracy happens to bother me. That's a purely subjective judgment, and others can and do disagree.

Ctein!!
Where are you???

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