About the question below: the picture is a portrait of a public performer taken by Henry Rogers. After I posted the fascinating "Forgotten Camera" by Henry Rogers (and his grandfather!) the other day, I went to Henry's website to look around. Lots of nice stuff. Something grabbed me about that portrait of his, but something also seemed not quite right about it, so I performed a few quick corrections on it just for fun. (I've mentioned before that I sometimes do this, I think just as a recreation—I just like to "see" with photographs rather than imagine.) The version on top is the one from Henry's website, the one on the bottom is the result of my fooling around with it.
Meanwhile I'd been having a friendly conversation with Henry, so I ventured to show him my version (I don't usually do that—"mind your own business" being a good rule of thumb when mucking about with other peoples' pictures). I thought Henry's response was very interesting, and I repeat it below in full, with his permission of course:
I like your version very much. The skin tones are lovely and I almost wish I had altered the colour balance like that myself, but:
In scenes such as this, with lots of sunlight through green vegetation and with extra light coming off a river (this picture was on the South Bank of the Thames in Central London between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges), by the time the light falls on anything it has acquired a slight yellow-green cast. I sometimes do remove casts like this and sometimes I don't.
In this case the advantages of removing it is that the skin tones then look very natural. The disadvantage is that the vegetation becomes a bit grey and the apple seems less vivid. I keep on looking at the two versions and I think I see two different personalities in the performer. In your version there is a remoteness which is intriguing. In mine I persuade myself that I see more sensuality but you may well think I'm fooling myself.
I've thought about this quite a lot. A couple of years ago there was an exhibition at the Tate Gallery of Constable's huge pictures, many of them sunlit riverside scenes in Suffolk. I looked very carefully to see what he had done with his colours in comparable lighting. I couldn't help noticing that in some cases he had chosen to use a yellowish cast himself. As all the paintings appeared to have been cleaned within fairly recent times it wasn't just a case of discoloured varnish. Which is why I came to the conclusion that there really is a cast in such scenes, not just an effect created by emulsions and scanners or by sensors.
The big question is what, as observers, do we expect to see when looking at a finished picture? We don't necessarily expect to see a literal record and even if we did we might not always 'believe' it. So changing what is actually there into what 'seems' more natural may help belief.
So I'm still not sure which version I prefer and thank you very much for taking the trouble to talk about this.
The camera itself would have been venerable enough for a place in 'Forgotten Cameras'. It's a 1953 Kiev 3 bought, very inexpensively, from the Ukraine via Ebay. It cost very little and only needed a good clean by someone I know who is a Contax enthusiast. The exposure meter, which still works though I don't rely on it, is calibrated in DIN not GOST so I rather fancy it might have been in a crate of bits shipped from Germany when the USSR production line was set up. It is a great tribute to the quality of the original design by Zeiss engineers and also, I think, to the newly trained mechanics in Kiev, that such a complex piece of mechanism should still be working well over 50 years later.
I see that most respondents to the poll question prefer my (Mike's) version—the one on the bottom—but I'm still not sure I do myself! Usually—just speaking personally now—when I see an obvious color-cast and/or too much saturation, locking in the color to something closer to what I consider "right" will have the effect of transforming the picture, making it look much more coherent and natural. But it didn't, quite, in this case. And perhaps Henry's comments shed some light on the reason why.
And finally, at the same time as all this discussion was taking place, my friend Michael Tapes sent me his new advertisement for the keychain version of the WhiBal neutral reference tool (upper left on this page). Professional photographers, especially studio advertising guys, use "gray cards" much more than amateurs do, just in general. What's a shame is that amateurs don't use them more often as learning tools. In this case, it would have been very interesting if Henry had made an exposure under that "sunlight through green vegetation and light coming off the river" with a gray reference, because then we'd know how the light really looked. Note that it doesn't need to be a version of that exact picture—you can determine the color correction for any given lighting situation from one shot and apply it to other shots taken under the same lighting. In this case I think it would have been very instructive to both of us to have an objective record of what the light for this portrait really did look like—it would have told us whether the light really was as greenish as Henry remembers, and whether my interpretation is correct or merely over-corrected.
While I'm just not the type to carry a large gray card or white balance around with me, I'm also very jealous of my keychain—I don't like to carry a great lump of trinkets in my pocket as a regular thing. Aside from a bare minimum of my most-used keys, I carry on my keychain a tiny but amazingly powerful LED flashlight (very useful) and a very small but high-quality Swiss Army pocketknife (its predecessor having been confiscated by the airlines). That's all. But I'm going to add a keychain WhiBal, I think. It's on the way. I don't use either the flashlight or the pocket knife very often, but when I do need them, they come in very handy. I imagine the keychain WhiBal will be the same.
I closed the comments to the poll post below because I didn't want some readers suggesting to other readers how they ought to vote. But the comments are open to this post if you'd like to add your 2¢.
Henry's an awfully good sport to let me bollix up his picture and post it for the world to see, so thanks again to him.