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Sunday, 07 September 2008


I am one of the minority that likes the first version better. To me it looks like it was as it came out of the camera.

The corrected version gets rid of most of the green skin tones for the woman, but it absolutely eviserates the background and throws the composition out of balance. And the ball in the hands goes from "an inner mounting flame" in the first version to "an ackwardly held ball" in the second.

Are we too wedded to what we are supposed to see, versus what is? (People aren't green!) The other lesson is that it is difficult to make large color correction changes in post and have it look good.


I think most of us preferred the bottom photo because of the more natural skin tones. Had we been there taking the photo, our eyes would probably have adjusted to remove the cast, something film or a sensor would not normally do. Henry likes the additional yellow in the foliage and the apple. Why not mask those areas in the color adjustment layer.

Here's an interesting question. Does our brain adjust the scene globally, or does it just adjust for those very specific cases it understands, like skin tone? I don't think our brain would mind a bit of extra yellow in foliage, so maybe we would remember the scene that way. And as a painter, I might paint it that way.


I voted for the top one because I prefer images that reference colors throughout the image, an attention to color...foreground to background..playing with depth/flattening of the image, creating relationships through and across an image. Painters do it all the time because they are much more concerned with color and use of color..not accuracy of color..use of color as a formal and emotional element. Use of color as it relates to composition is a very powerful tool and Photoshop gives you the tools to explore that like never before.

When I printed my own C prints I made dodging tools with little filter packs in them so I could selectively add specific color shifts to certain areas.

I picked the first image because I felt that the photographer was aware of some color issues..IMO, in a slightly haphazard, or, simple way.

I'm not a big fan of spot on color.. most of time those images beg for black and white. Mike knows what I'm talking about and when I saw the neutralized image that was my first thought..if you're gonna do that then go black and white.

As for the top image..perhaps a little heavy on the green in the foreground and I probably would have tried to shift that to a color that interacted with the green/warmish cast in other areas of the pic..a compliment, split compliment, or some sort of triad. There are quite few color relationships in this image...eyes, ball, background/foreground..some cyans back there, the greens influencing...

whatever, I think it's important for photogs to become more tuned into actual use of color and I saw that in the first image.

I voted for your version too. But not because of your color correction. I actually liked the color of her face much more in the original photo. It's far too cool for me in the second image. But.... when you performed the correction you tamed down the obnoxious bright background that really distracted my eye from the subject. My decision in the vote was a quick comparison. After voting I realized I liked the facial color much more in the first image.

Mike --

While I voted for the Mike version of the two photos, there's actually something I like about each version.

I like the greenish cast of the original, which does seem a part of the environment, reflections and filtering of light, and it leaves the background greenery appropriately rich. The revised, Mike version feels a little too magenta in the skin tones, too.

But the top, original photo is oversaturated for my taste -- the apple looks like it's glowing from within, and the red on the woman's left hand and nose is emphasized, which I find unnatural and distracting.

So my choice might be a correction that falls in between those two.

what we are trying to do in photography is not what the light was really like. We don't know what it was really like - we cannot know. Is it what the actual color temperature was at the time, or what our brains make of it? The lady with the green color cast does look kind of odd in the picture, but that is because we are looking at it in a different frame of reference (color-wise) than in the original location. The question is if our brain would have noticed the green-ness there and then.

As to painters putting a color cast into their pictures - I think that as a painter you choose the colors carefully, so they make sense, look good in that painting. You can enhance the mood - influence the viewer in subtle ways. Photo editing tools that allow localized manipulation allow us to do the same thing now.

When I saw the original on Henry's website (http://www.pbase.com/hhmrogers/image/70970330) I want to change my choice to Henry's version. The larger original version of the image look less saturated and green (no more Hulk Hogan eyes). It may just be my eyes or the different background color of the websites (beige (?) versus white) or is there something like a saturation compression because of the smaller size?

What we need are neutral gray lens caps! Then we would always have a standard for light balance with the camera. I have a mini-gray card in my camera case, but for some reason, I can never remember it is there until I get home and wished I had put a gray card in the picture.:-)

Dear Mike,

Ummm, a grey card isn't going to tell you how the light really looked. All it's going to do is provide a gray reference for the scene, and that doesn't provide any kind of non-relative information about the lighting.

Without even being there or using a grey card, I can tell you exactly what will happen. Put a grey card into the scene positioned so that it is receiving the same illumination the woman's face. Then if you photograph that card with the same settings that were used for the photograph of the woman, it will have a yellow-green tint. Conversely, if you use the grey card to determine the exposure settings for photographing the woman, the grey card will come out neutral and the woman's skin tones will come out much more "natural" looking.

The card is merely a color-balancing tool. It doesn't tell you anything about external, objective reality.

Truth is that a global correction to this photograph is never going to be satisfactory, because the illumination is different in different parts of the scene. In the traditional darkroom, a custom printer would have done some dodging or burning in with color filters on the woman to correct her color without altering the tone and color in the background. There are, of course, many ways to do the same thing on the computer.

Local correction, that's the ticket to making this photo look the way you want.

What that look happens to be is an exercise left to the printer and photographer.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

I quite like the greener version, while it does make the skin tones less immediately accessible, I like a bit of mystery in my photographs, and the green cast speaks to the unspoken green light and the foliage that almost certainly filtered the light into that color. It alludes to, rather than simply describing, a sense of place, and I prefer the less direct approach.


If I put a neutral target in a picture, I dont think it will tell me what the colors of the scene really are. It gives me an opportunity to see the colors of the things in my picture if I neutralize the target in my RAW software, but in doing so I will remove the influence of the color of the light on the scene. And that will then remove the feeling the light brings to the picture.
If one simply were to put the camera's white balance to 'daylight', the camera would show more or less the colors as they were, casts caused by low standing sun and filtering by leaves included.

I use a neutral target only for reproduction and portraits, when I am not interested in the color of the light and the atmosphere it brings along.

Our eyes do a bit of white balance adjusting for us. Likely many have done the experiment of staring for a minute or two at something green that fills your visible field, then looking at something white and noticing that it appears to have a magenta cast. So if we are working in a setting of open shade over green turf, then we're likely not aware of the green cast of the reflected light. Therefor it seems that correcting it out, either during exposure or post-processing, would result in an image more representing what was perceived. My approach in this case, and I'm guessing it might be Mikes's also, once knowing the source of the green cast, would be to correct the skin tones and leave the rest of the image alone.

If the option was there, I would have voted "I like them equally the same." As it was, I had to find some trivial difference to decide on.

For me, it was the hair and hands that made the decision. Overall, I liked the original better, but decided the woman was the focus so should have the most natural lighting. I took the liberty to play with the picture in Capture NX2 (less than 2 minutes worth), just for practice and came up with this which splits the middle: http://picasaweb.google.com/OmarsPicasaPics/Misc#5243361626386506002

I think you're both right. The altered skin tones are much better, but Mike's version did affect the background too much. I made a version using a layer mask to confine most of the correction to her face. I think this better addresses both Henry's and Mike's comments.
See http://juddpage.com/topphoto.htm

"If I put a neutral target in a picture, I dont think it will tell me what the colors of the scene really are."

Well, strictly speaking it's a "color correcting tool," as Ctein says. It gives us a calibrated value which we can match in software. But it suggests a "neutral" color correction value that doesn't have to take into account memory or subjective effects.

Mike J.

Not bad, but you still have the problem that the colors in the background don't exist in nature, which is the main thing that bothers me about the Henry's original.

Mike J.

I voted for your version, although a bit reluctantly. Reading this post led me to fiddle a bit on my own, and I ended up converting both images to BW. My conclusion: it's the increased sharpness in Mike's version that bothers me. While I really hate the green cast in the original, the sharpening on the second picture was unwarranted, imo, and that's partly where the sensual quality of the image was lost.

I voted for the original (the green one) and not because of the colour but because the woman looks a little more appealing because she is more rounded and three dimensional in the original - at least to my eye.

It's difficult to be definitive from one photo but she seems to have quite flat cheekbones in profile and I think the darker shadows near her ear in the original have the effect of adding depth and pushing the middle section of her face forward. And the extra 'rouge' effect of the colour helps as well.

Whatever it is, she looks a little more three dimensional in the original to me.

Anyone else think the same?

I voted for the original version (without knowing of course) for the exact reason Henry gave.

Meanwhile (while I have been a sucker for neutral colors) I see that it often strips the original mood of the scene. There is no "right" way a priori of course, it always depends. But sometimes it is a pity that "artsy" people often reject color casts as unnatural - they aren't in my opinion. I encountered this reaction myself a couple of times.

Btw, I see also a red-green composition in the original which is gone in the altered version.

However, another thread that reminds me why I love TOP, and it's about photography, not gear! Thank God ;-))

best always

"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. "

Why not have it both ways - and create yet a third personality in the process? {;-)

While the original skin tone may be true to the light in which the image was created, absent the context, it looks unnatural and a bit sickly to me.

On the other hand, Mike's version looks too magenta to me. I also agree with Henry about what it does to the background color. It also manages somehow to make the grain in the skin and the - to me - distracting bokeh in the left background more pronounced. I voted for the original, as the lesser of two weevils.

I offer an alternative that blurs the bokeh, retains the background color, proposes yet another color balance for the skin, removes grain in her skin and sharpens her eyes. I guess you might call it a portraitist perspective.




The Toulouse-Lautrec in me says No 1; the Dad in me says No 2.

Not really knowing the purpose of the image, I let my inner Dad rule and voted for image 2. She seems like somone nice and I wanted her to appear as such.

Now that I see she is part of a performance group, I'd lean towards a T-L interpretation and punch up the greens and oranges a bit. For me, the current greenish cast is a wee bit too subtle for her sharp angular form. Pushing it would increase the authenticity of her pose and add strength to her role in the series. The result would be more show like... as in Batman ...mysterious.


Hi Mike,

This has been a fascinating post that I've enjoyed very much! I cast my vote toward your version simply because any seemingly "unnatural" color tint in skin tone bothers me. I think we all have mental records of various skin tones and what we expect to see.

I did enjoy reading Henry's reasoning behind not removing the color cast and, like you, find myself wishing there was a gray reference shot available so that we all could know what the "real" original lighting was like. That said, after reading Henry's response I went back to study the two versions, once again. I must say that I disagree with his reasoning regarding the background. The subject of this image is the woman and the gaze upon her face. Since our eyes are drawn to color and saturation I find the background in Henry's version draws too much attention to itself; I much prefer the more muted background of your version. For fact, when I first looked at these two images I didn't even notice the background in your version!

I could argue the apple either way. Again, the apple is not the primary subject, but I suppose a little more color (closer to Henry's version) wouldn't hurt anything. I'd really have to try it and see to be sure.

Either way this has been an interesting topic in that it clearly shows that each of us have our own interpretations and that "right/wrong" really doesn't play into the equation.

Even if the light looks that way, I don't care for the first version. It's not only too green, like an inkjet print that's been exposed to too much UV for too long, it's too saturated for my taste. Maybe the light looks that way on Velvia, but no light looks like Velvia.

I like the neutral skin tones and the muted background colors of the second version. Shooting color in shade like that, I'd usually use a color correction filter.

For me it's mostly the hair.

The skin tone in the original version really doesn't bother me that much, but the green hair has got to go (with apologies to the punk crowd and mature ladies who wander around wearing purple hair).

As someone else mentioned, I find the background in the original version a bit distracting too. In addition to that, the color of the foliage in the background doesn't look natural to me at all, so I get the sense that the color balance is, in fact, off in some way.

Slight diversion ... I think it's great that the photographer has allowed his image to be mercilessly batted around in this way, but has anyone asked the lady in the picture what she thinks?


I originally voted for the 2nd more neutral version, then changed my mind: there's something about the first 'uncorrected' version that I prefer.

The first seems like an uncorrected colour slide; the second, like a digital version.

As a recent convert to film from digital, I'm enjoying the coloured light or cast I often get, compared to the more technically neutral white balance I get in PS.

I chose Mike's because I thought the greying effect worked to unify a composition that was pulled apart by high values in the foliage vs. the attraction of the woman's face and the apple. Then, however, Moose chipped in with his version, and after looking at all three, I decided I actually now liked Henry's version the best of the three. My perception of the photo is changing; it now seems to me something like the paintings done by the Blue Rider painters before WWI, where color was much of the purpose of the artwork. My attention has shifted from the strength of the woman's face to the relative strengths of the colors, with her face simply becoming another compositional element. This is *very* interesting.


Mike --

Are you going to give us the percentage outcome? I most likely could see it by voting, but frankly my choice would be "None of the Above."

Having done a lot of outdoor portraits this summer, I immediately recognized the color in the top photo. If it were my photo I would do some correction, at least to the skin tones, but not near so much as you did.

As to using a gray card, I find this kind of light can vary a lot even within a photo. Last week I managed to do one in which the young woman's face was natural but her cleavage was green. Not sure a gray card would have helped that one.

Does anyone else remember using Kodak's Flexichrome dyes for local color correction on prints?

"Are you going to give us the percentage outcome?"

Yes, you do see it by voting, but you're right, I should have given it for those who didn't vote: roughly 80-20 in favor of the lower version, shifting slightly in the favor of the upper photo since the comments started coming in.

Just FYI, with these Vizu polls you can easily vote to see the results and then remove your vote again.

Mike J.

Ahh… So is it accurate or is it attractive? Trust you to throw up the old audiophile dilemma Mike!
I agonise over colour and tonal decisions. However, to centre my own perceptive calibration, I always import my raw files at either my pre-determined 'daylight' setting, or if under incandescent, then the pre-set tungsten setting.
At shooting time I also shoot a Macbeth Colour Checker as a reference.
Most of the time I leave the colour setting at the import pre-set. That way, the photograph honours the colour of the scene: let the cast fall as it will. Essentially, it is an accurate representation of the scene providing camera, raw-processor and monitor are calibrated and profiled correctly.
However, some (especially professional) shoots require a more slavish approach to colour 'correctness'. Fashion ain't going to pay if the client's colour palette isn't honoured. So, I white balance and perhaps HSL balance to keep the client happy. Now the subject is 'colour-corrected' but the contextual colour is often wrong.
Many times though, I find myself tweaking the subject colour back towards the context colour. My guide on this is not choosing a colour that looks right or good though.
Instead, I know when I have the right and good colour when the picture takes on a three dimensional quality that simply sings compared to the 'right' and the 'good' versions.
In the examples shown, neither, in my opinion have that 3D quality. I've fudged a version myself which is closer to how I would have done it but without the benefit of working from a large raw file in a decent colour space. You can see it here:
With apologies to Henry for exploiting his fine photograph further.
All three photos will look wrong if your internet browser isn't colour compliant. Adobe's Safari has always been so. Firefox has recently added colour compliance but it is not the default. You can get instructions to make it ICC compliant from here:
And of course, you are calibrating and profiling your monitor correctly! Right? That's with a hardware profiler like the Spyder, i1Display, or similar.

I voted for the top one because it just seemed less ordinary than the more natural skin tones of the photo below. Ultimately, why should I care about a photo that merely resembles what I think the reality should be? The least I anticipate is a bit of the photographer's mind, a green cast though might (s)he have!

The thing is, I voted for the second version mainly because of the known problems with colour casts in some cameras. So the first photo looked like a technical error to me. :-)

OTOH, Mike, now that I think of it, your version looked quite colder and less appealing. Maybe if you had a bit more yellow...

In general, I'm not against natural colour casts. For instance, Michael Reichmann has an article about correcting white balance in RAW and JPEG. And he used a photo he shot late in the afternoon. While the principle is correct, I think he chose a wrong photo to show it. Why shoot late in the afternoon if you're going to neutralize the warm yellow cast? That's almost the sole reason to shoot at that time of day.

Maybe the readers' anesthetic perferences have something to do with, as Henrny put it, personality or age(?).

The green cast is not what bothered me much but the saturated colour did. Mike's version is more "homey", unassuming(Hey, I'm not saying that the other voters/Henry are otherwise) and "nemo-like" to me. I have found life busy and heavy enough for me not to prefer harder images.

To put it simply in the digital context, Henry's version reminds me of a straight-out Jpeg of a Panasonic LX while Mike's that of a Ricoh GX. Both have its own fans.

It is beyond question that Henry took a picture (and the several others) that attracts the readers' attention.


I showed the pair of images to my wife, and we both agreed that we preferred the lower one. After reading this discussion, I thought a bit more about why. I paid particular attention to the part of the discussion about the light coming through the leaves. As I was reading I was trying to remember the picture without going to look again, and I was sure that the luminous green was only in the background. Importantly, it wasn't above the subject's face. I think I must have felt sub-consciously that the green cast to the subject's face was not sufficiently motivated for it to look anything other than odd and sickly. And that's why I preferred the second rendering.

To generalize, I have found that a picture I took -- or at whose capture I was present -- allows me to be a lot more forgiving of any supposed technical faults, because I know what the conditions were, what difficulties the photographer had to overcome, and so on. But when I wasn't there, I can only assess the photo itself, without any possibility for excuses. Therefore the photo itself has to motivate any technical oddities that may remain for me to regard them other than as errors. There may be many ways to do that. In this particular case, I'd suggest that seeing the bright canopy of leaves above the subject would have made me more inclined to accept the green cast to her face.

Oh, Mike, I realized as I was walking towards my coffee that you too may well have had the same sub-conscious response to the colour-balance "problem". The green cast on the subject's face wasn't sufficiently motivated for you, so your response was that it was "not quite right".

(Sorry about leaving the punch-line to the second comment: carriage wit, dontcha know...)

Arrgh, already two truckloads and a half comments there, maybe I'm a bit late...

I choose your version reluctantly, mainly because of the greenish cast in hair which just tell us "this can't be true" (the concept of COLOR, ie reference color, as brought in 'Real World Color Management'), also because of these associated not-so-happy yellowish/greenish skin tones - but I also think it is way too much desaturated, and takes the mood out of it - the contrast between the apple and the trees makes me want a green tree in the background, not a grayish one.

Once at the stage of the bottom image, I'd simply push the Vibrance tool a tad to the right... keeps the skin tones in the ballpark and brings the other colors back.

I voted for the 2nd version - but probably for the wrong reasons. The fact that the 2nd version existed highlighted the "errors" in the first version - I think it is difficult for any of us who have struggled getting colour "just right" to accept an image "as is" when we know it could be corrected. And that's a shame, because on reflection, the first image has more impact and is perhaps a better representation of the occasion.

Interestingly, we seldom (never?) do this with paintings - we happily accept the artist's choice of colour. We may not like the palette chosen, but don't tend to say the artist got the colour "wrong" in a technical sense. I've never come across a review saying a painting needs "5% more red in the shadows"

I fear we are overly critical of colour casts in photos simply because its something we can change, and are therefore in danger of overlooking the artist's vision and intent.



Staying only with Henry's comments about "personality", and "sensuality", I kept finding myself drawn to the difference in the area of the neck, and shoulder bones. For me there is a difference here in the quality of the skin and the tonal information which seems to go with Henry's version and explanation. Yet I don't see this in the face! And I'm happy to let go of the "background".

Thanks to Adrian for putting me on to the Firefox setting change. I immediately noticed a huge difference to the background colour on this web site. Where it was almost tan (for lack of a better colour description) before, now it is bright yellow. I don't know what was desired. IE7 shows the tan colour on my system.

Colour management in browsers could almost be worthy of its own topic!

I like the first photo and I don't care if the light of the day reflected off of its surroundings and bounced color onto the woman's skin. That's what is real. I love the light of the ball in her hand bouncing red onto her fingertips. This is the stuff that makes a great photo. The first one made me feel like I was there at that particular time of day. The second one just looks like a photo of a pretty woman.

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