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Tuesday, 22 March 2016


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Likeness: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/dilley-texas-home-to-the-nations-largest-immigration-detention-center/

Christopher Burkett is a terrifically skilled Cibachrome/Ilfochrome printer working from large & medium format transparency film whose video describes what he's after. He discusses using contrast masks and careful filtration to get an ever closer approximation of 'clarity', of what he perceives as "God's light on the land". He generally works with relatively low contrast light, which is a necessity for transparency film, but he has a very clear idea about what he's trying to accomplish with his prints. And they're gorgeous.

Digital capture and Photoshop throws everything in a blender, because it's all so malleable and contingent. Given the great advances in resolution, dynamic range and ISO sensitivity, not to mention excellent inkjet printers, most of the limits constraining color printing have been greatly reduced. So I think you really do have to contemplate exactly what you're trying to convey with color processing, or you'll end up with a kind of inconsistent ransom note collage.
For myself, I try to adhere to a reasonably restrained æsthetic from capture to print, something similar to what I was trying to wring out of transparency film back in the day, though digital capture makes it a lot easier. No yanking the saturation and clarity sliders to the right, and any HDR has to be invisible. The colors have to be honest and true to the actual light on the subject as best as I can manage.

The short answer to the question is YES.

I want the image to look the way I want it to look. At times that is reality while at others it is a departure from reality.

Photojournalism is reality. From there I can take off in any direction. Negative or chrome or digital file, it is mine to do with as I wish. In camera multiple exposures, long exposures going hours or extremely short exposures to capture things the eye can't see - it is all there for me at the trip of a shutter. It is there for me depending on my ability to operate the camera as a means to creativity.

For me it is still about the final print or showing. I determine how it will look with the various types of camera as a tool to be chosen so I can express what I envision.

With negative or digital file I can later change that expression using what I have captured as a point of departure.

I found the Cuba photos sort of hyper-pleasant. Almost a muzak rendition. The saturation doesn't look jammed to me, it looks more like loads of LR's vibrance control: Cramming as much color in without actually making anything fully saturated. Strong enough that you notice it but not willing to make a statement.

My post production standard is "memory of perception", which is certainly a fuzzy one, but these don't quite qualify. I kept thinking that I was looking at a photo of Cuba, not a bit of Cuba itself. Some very nice compositions though.

I have no shame, I'll link to my own work for how I like color to look :)

I don't know if I really feel like that's a fair dichotamy. My initial reaction is to say I want (my) photographs to be a likeness of reality. But I think that's oversimplifying.

I'm reminded of different distinction that Brooks Jenson draws in "Letting Go of the Camera" between photographs as windows and photographs as artifacts. That is, some photos (windows) you look "through" to the scene that the photographer is viewing (think pretty much any stock photo landscape). Whereas other photos you look "at". You're not seeing what the photographer was looking at so much as what the photographer created with what they were looking at.

The thing is though, a photograph doesn't have to transform reality to become an artifact. There's nothing manipulated or surreal or hyperreal about Paul Strand, or Fan Ho, or Robert Frank. Their photos aren't manipulations or transformations of reality. Just incredibly unique viewpoints on reality.

So while I want my own photos to be likenesses of reality, I don't want them to be simply windows to what was in front of me. Admitedly, I have a very long way to go from where I'm at to where I want to be though.

I didn't comment the other day, but I think the Times portfolio was much closer to "a likeness of reality" than the majority of photographs I see these days (I viewed them on a calibrated NEC monitor by the way). They are very close to the way my eyes see, in terms of dynamic range and color. They reminded me of the way modern television and motion picture cameras see, with a very wide but natural looking dynamic range, and richly fleshed out color that's not over-saturated. The saturation is right at the top edge of "just enough", but avoids going where most amateurs go, which is usually too much. Under-saturated is trendy these days too, and I must admit that's the direction I usually go with my own photos. The Times portfolio though, was right on the money. Beautiful color photography.

I think it was Peter Galassi, the former Curator of Photography at the MoMA in NYC, who said: Photography always transforms what it describes. The art of photography is to control that transformation.

Oh my! Suspect unlike others I take usually only one subject, trains, or in broader terms images of objects on steel wheels on steel rails (which includes rubber tyres on concrete as per the Montreal and Paris subways/underground).

Bottom line "likeness of reality". Or in another way if you saw the train sitting on or passing your position you'd know by the colour and the shape exactly what it is you're viewing.

And yes, I do take photographs of other items that interest me, however trains and railways are more or less at the top of the list.

ooooh. This is tough. I used to say, "I don't really like color photography," but that was before I saw the color photography of Harry Callahan, Saul Leiter, Earnst Haas, and Harry Gruyaert. Let me be more specific: Hass's book _Color Corrections_, The Thames & Hudson collection of Saul Leiter, and the higher contrast abstract pictures in the Bullfinch/National Gallery of Art _Harry Callahan_ book approach my ideal. They are color picture that are not using color to make the images more "life-like." Rather they use color as the whole point of the picture -- almost like color calling attention to itself rather than being a qurality that objects in the world happen to have. Hmm. I find it hard to write clearly about this. I actually credit TOP with drawing my attention to this. Some photographers who use color this way, like Gruyaert, I would never have discovered without a helpful nudge from the curator here. I think I am going to get out the Callahan book and put it on the display stand for the day. This is appropriate for spring, which in the Northeast is kind of like the return of color from the winter browns and tans.

I don't seem to have a single preferred look. It depends on the picture and circumstances. I usually think I like sharper, brighter pictures with small-detail contrast. But then I go take a bunch pf pictures at sunset where things are dim and fuzzy, and love them. Or I see more muted pictures from the linked story, and really like them. Or I take pictures by panning to create huge motion blur, and they turn out to be some of my favorites, too.

There does seem to be a constant, though. I don't like pictures that are obviously manipulated but pretend to look "real". Especially I react badly to a lot of HDR images. Maybe it's the equivalent of the uncanny valley.

The technical mind reels when tags are enclosed in [] brackets....<> brackets are the preferred medium of choice for tags.....lol

Like any creative expression I think it depends. Some of my color photos are of night scenes. Most colors are muted, but some may be very bright.

Other photos are of flowers, where the range of color may be more limited, but the intensity of the ones that are present is higher.

Other photos may reflect a contrast of colors, for example an irrigated field in the foreground, with a stark arid 'natural' landscape in the background.

In some respects I think, ironically, that's what makes color photography more difficult than black and white. You have more choices as a photographer.

Only you can decide what you want to emphasize in any given photo. If you want it to be documentary, then it should be, etc.

I don't think there is one right answer....not even sure there is in black and white, but because the choices are more limited in that medium, I think it is more likely that there is an 'ideal' look. But I would say that sometimes one might wish to deliberately disregard it....

This Lens Blog slide show by Arthur Nazaryan contains wonderful photos that also use color in a beautiful, non-artifical way.


I find much of the world around me to be a beautiful place however it was created. Why would anyone who has contemplated the beauty of Bryce Canyon want to alter the reality of that natural wonder by "enhancing" a photograph to "make it look better? Beyond me. Could be the engineer in me. Now a Miro painting will ring my chimes.

I liked the NYT portfolio, I thought it was beautiful work. But I will say I 'Noticed' the hyper-real quality before I had a chance to get into the pictures. But once I did, they grew on me quickly.
One of your commenters who knows Cuba, remarked on their essential nature. I think there is a lot in those photographs.
But if I took those photographs they would look different , and not just because the photographer who took them was 'better' than I am.

Even though I liked those pictures very much, that 'look' would not be authentic if it came from me.
For that photographer and for those pictures I thought it worked.
HDR (or single exposures processed to look hyper real) makes sense to me technically, but I rarely like pictures produced with that technique (my own or anyone else's )
But that doesn't make it any less valid for others.

We all develop personal preferences for the way we want our pictures to 'look'. Color or B&W. And we should strive to make them so, but we should also remember it is just our preference.
It takes thought and work and 'looking' to come to those opinions, but they are still only opinions.
I don't think there is any particular way a color or B&W photograph SHOULD look, other than perhaps that it is an authentic representation of it's author's views on tonality and color.

More than that though, is the fact that what we like (as well as what the world seems to like) changes over time. We grow and change, technology (as you pointed out) changes the range of plasticity through new materials, and sometimes new techniques can inspire us to see things differently.
So perhaps the queation we should ask, is how do each of us want our pictures to look--- color or B&W , and should we strive to have one look for our work?
When we hold a print we made in our hands we all have some technical ideal in mind - our own definition of what looks good and right, developed over time. Because of it's long history there is a greater body of evidence of great B&W work that we love that guides us. But even there we have a fairly large range from long scale platinum to the 'soot and chalk" of Bill Brandt.
Color's history is shorter and more technically challenged and may only be coming into it's own with modern materials.

As always a thought provoking question but other than personal preference is there really a way a Photograph SHOULD look?

Personally I love seeing something new and thinking wow, I wouldn't have thought to do that. It's a new possibility.

what I want a photo to do depends on the context. In photojournalism, which is how I would characterize the images from the New York Times under discussion previously, most people expect (and assume) a likeness of reality.

When it comes to art, I'm fine with either a likeness of reality or a transformation of reality.

I just returned from a week-long photography workshop with Peter Turnley in Havana. So the colors of the city are fresh in my mind and in my images. I find the color of the Time images to be over-saturated based on my recollection of my perceptions while there. This is most evident in the pictures of the building interiors. I tend to be a purest when it comes to color: I try to represent color in my images as I see it in the scene that I am recording. My personal preference is for saturated color, but I do not boost saturation in post. I try to seek out colorful scenes when I am shooting and reproduce them as they appear to my eye.

There is color everywhere in Havana and the light can be spectacular, especially in the early morning when the sun first starts streaming into the streets and people are coming out to start their day. Some of my best images ever came out of this trip.

To transform or be a likeness of reality?
Lately I've been shooting birds with a long lens. I am transforming viewers reality by enabling them to see these creatures up close and personal and by "freezing" the bird's usual constant movements so they may seen at all. I am doing this with the best sensor and glass I can hand hold so to record as much detail (reality) as I can.

I discriminate by what I feel. I've seen enough photography (since the '60s) to understand how democratic photography is. I have my own style but don't use it as a measuring stick. How is it possible to appreciate John Phahl and Graciela Iturbide, and yet do work that is different from both?

I very much like the NYT Cuba portfolio, though my own post-processing is "simpler." Considering the unlimited approaches to photography in practice now, perhaps NYT needs to balance what is trending with accessibility.

Hi Mike,
I don't really have an opinion on how other people's color photographs ought to look, other than they ought to express color in a way that reflects their intent. I'm really very tolerant of all kinds of color shifts, and I adapt pretty quickly. I don't see overly warm, tungsten-hued color shifts after looking at photos on the screen for a few minutes. I am much more sensitive to closed vs open shadows, local contrast (e.g. too much sharpening/clarity) and saturation mismatch - saturated color in some spots, and desaturated color in others - dirty color in shadows, basically. Blown highlights bother me much more in color than they ever will in black and white, and I yet, don't care for the lost midtones look of digital that comes from trying to keep the sky from blowing out. It just makes things look muddy.

I guess you could say that I don't like 'dirty' or 'polluted' color rendition, and I'm not excited or impressed by saturated, contrasty, color.* But that's more a way of saying that there is an envelope, or boundary, beyond which I prefer not to go.

In my own work, I actually love including light of different color temperatures, and I don't mind the saturated oranges and reds of tungsten lighting with daylight balance. I also bring up the midtones and low midtones kind of agressively, giving more of a flat look than I think most people are comfortable with. But that refelects a personal preference - I see a lot of detail there with my eyes, so I'd prefer my photographs to reflect that.

*glossy magazine 1980's studio strobe lit fashion/illustration work on transparencies, I'm looking at you. But that's what I grew up with.

The reason I got interested in photography in the first place is that a photograph does transform reality just by existing as a still image.

Since I saw that, so many years ago, some life events blew everything away, thousands of hours on the meditation cushion, and lots of photography later, I've come to see that reality isn't anything that simply exists in a simple, straightforward, solid way. We can measure things, measure light, etc, and in some ways we can say that there is some reality that exists, but there is always impermanence, and time and energy inevitably challenge that solidity.

But the other question is about emotional reality, which is also something we explore with photographs. Would one say that a photograph's job is to depict emotional reality as something solid? Welcome to the Hallmark section of the greeting card aisle. Or instead is emotional reality rather quite a bit more like smoke than like rock -- and a photographer's job is to cast a searchlight into that smoke, perhaps changing it in the process.

I've always been blessed with a sense of curiosity and a sense that there is more going on than a first glance of the surface will reveal. So how does a photograph serve that? It depends on the photographer, the situation, the technique. A photograph can serve that by being extremely plain and straightforward, or by a lot of work. And the counterpoint is that a lazy too-plain approach might miss the depth sometimes, while the worked-image goes over the top into pretense instead of revealing deeper reality. It all depends.

My gut feeling you're gonna receive 10.000 different answers, quite possibly all valid.

But this is mine. Art is meant to provoke a response in the viewer, all the spectrum from simple aesthetic appreciation to shock.

So in my opinion all photography that manages to do that is an art form, even photojournalism at its best, that the author meant it or not.

This long preamble just to say that a good color photography should be what the author think it should be, again IMO, because color like composition, choose of subject etc. it is one of the means the author can express himself.

If instead we're talking about "taste" that's a different matter, and in this case I can tell you that I like strong (almost blocked out) shadows and subdued highlights with pretty saturated-but-not-garish color, very much like Rembrandt and the Flemish school of painters, or Caravaggio, used to paint.

"Do you want a photograph to transform reality? Or do you want it to be a likeness of reality?"

Both or neither: I want my photographs to reflect what I saw [i.e. what my eyes, brain, etc. perceived] at the time I snapped the shutter. I want to show what made me snap the shutter when I did and why I composed the way I did, within the limits of my abilities.

I am not looking to show a purple sunset if it was gray, and I am not looking to show something that was not before my eyes. Thus, I may need to emphasize shadows or highlights in post as appropriate to try to bring a photo in line with what I was "seeing," but I won't be 'changing' the photograph to something it was not.

But what I see/perceive/emphasize may not be anything like what others see or think. And that's why, to the extent possible, I want to see the same in others' photographs: because I want to see (so to speak) and try to understand how they perceive the world around them. Over-manipulated images usually fail this test and, to me, are photo illustrations. Nothing wrong with them - just not what I want to see in photography.

As an aside, I don't understand the mindset for copying or trying to re-create others' photos because that is someone else's vision.

"Objective documentary" almost always. No paper-thin DOF, no obvious HDR. Slightly skewed perspective and composition is OK.

"Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, ... The aim was to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality". Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, ..." Dreams don't have a personal guide telling you what is important or not, therefore no paper-thin DOF allowed. "Remember what the dormouse said"

As you, I'm moved by B&W more than by color photography, although I practice both (80% B&W, 20% color approx.). I dislike over saturated colors, which seams a fashion today. I like the soft, more natural colors, in Joel Meyerowitz's Cape Light and in Richard Misrach's Desert Cantos. I also like the punchy but not over-saturated colors of Jay Maisel work. I love my dye transfers from Ctein and the prints from Charles Cramer.

My standard is still Ernst Haas. I am very picky about color. And I admit that maybe because of this, I still find B/W very attractive, simply because most color photography doesn't use the medium to its fullest. Or gets it wrong. In B/W, there are fewer dimensions of expression to deal with. Color is so complex that it's hard to make sense of. Photographers tend to use natural light as a given or neutral light in the studio. They see object color as a variable and light color as a given. Cinematographers on the other hand are attuned to construct scenes with specific color temperatures. They often "get" color better than still photographers.

Back to Haas. He's one of the very rare who used color deliberately. Not as an add-on, not as documentary evidence for sake of completeness. No, deliberately. This is where the art is. I am not very good at doing that either I admit.

Here is an iconic Haas picture as an example:

Well that's just Pandora's box, isn't it? The classic answer is that Photography is a craft that attempts to record reality and it is also an art that attempts to convey a message by the re-interpretation of reality. Photojournalists practice the craft while fine art photographers are artists. Wedding photographers get to choose a little bit of both if they want...

Do I want transformation or reality? Yes. (Or both.)

Photographs fall along a continuum from completely synthetic/abstract to absolutley straight/documentary … and hurrah for that diversity!

I don't want to look at endless photographs that all fall on the same point on that continuum. That would be as absurd as saying all symphonies should sound like Beethoven's 9th, or all paintings should look like Jackson Pollock's. The question should not be "what do you want a colour picture to do?" but rather "what do you want this photograph to do today?

As a viewer I celebrate diversity; as a photographer I find colour even more challenging than B&W — yet another dimension requiring thought and decision-making.

It's a good area to explore...all so-called "reality", is ultimately subjective.

Mike, like you, I gravitate to black and white photography. But some scenes just jump out at me and say, "Record me in color." A good example is the type of architecture you see in Latin American villages, where the houses are brilliantly painted and the vegetation is vivid green. So in that case, I want color photography to record reality. It does not need to be exaggerated - the real world there is amazing enough. I recall towns in Iceland also had vivid paint schemes, but when I was last there, I was still using Kodachrome.

Sometimes photography should equal stenography.
Sometimes photography should equal illustration.

That cock fight photo is a great illustration!

I believe the "seasoning" should be attuned to the photos end use. For example the work of James Nachtwey's work for Time magazine is usually B&W - its a gritty representation of reality to my eye. His color work the same.
Now if your end use is to sell your photos in your own gallery I suppose the "over the top" processing is what sells to the masses. So in that case go crazy with the sliders.
For myself I try to process files in moderation when it comes to PP. Just a bit more than reality.
So far as The NYT Cuba photo essay they are correct for the intended audience. Punch 'em in the face and they pay attention. (does that sound to much like D Trump?)

[digression] The tag pair would be a great addition to HTML. And I would want a browser button to show/hide those sections. [/digression]

For me there is no "should", I find much more interesting the "could". I believe that to appreciate different forms of photography is an enriching experience to any photographer, as different as others work may be from our own.

The "should" leads the way to a sort of aesthetic snobism that I rather dislike.

Regarding the "altering reality" or not, for me anything goes, it's up to each photographers ultimate objective. If it's important the work to be "reality ipsis verbis" than so be it. If it's more important to provoque a certain "feel", that's a valid approach too.

In resume: to appreciate variety is much more enriching and positive than to create limits on how things "should" be.

What do you want a color photo to do? Isn’t that the wrong question since the original neutral real life situation is in color? Choosing for black and white, that’s a drastic intervention!

Diane Arbus manipulated her portraits by using flash in daylight and a wide angle TLR. That is why they look a bit surrealistic. In principle there is nothing against manipulating a picture for a more interesting result. However, it is a thin line.

Usually I prefer pure and honest photography, but I dig the manipulation of Arbus and not that kind of manipulation of the boys in the New York Times. In the work of Arbus in the end there is a deep social engagement. The boys of the New York Times want us to think that it is still 1962 in Cuba. They are not only manipulating the images, they are manipulating us.

Of the two words, likeness, any day. But for preference, "believability" is my word of choice. There's too much heat in the language of "manipulated vs realistic"; if believable is improved by a quick twiddle of the sliders or healing-out an erroneous blade of grass then so be it.

One might reasonably deduce I don't have much time for the pretentious arguments of the "creative landscape" crowd. Give me the documentary kind that they sneer at, any day.

"What Do You Want a Color Photo to Do?"

Good follow-up topic today, Mike. But I think the more precise question would be What do you want color to do in a photograph?, as the mission of all photographs is to communicate. So that’s the question I answer below.

I am known as a strong advocate of color in photography. Guilty. But I am not at all single-minded on this subject.

In the briefest, but most precise, terms, I want color to constructively participate in a photograph’s communication job. Rather analogously to sections of instruments in a symphony orchestra, if a passage of a composition isn’t served by, say, horns they should be silent. If a photograph's message isn't served by the presence of color it should not be present.

For those interested in how I personally apply this philosophy I warmly invite you to visit my Web site. You need not navigate it any deeper than that main page. The approximately 100-slide show is constructed to tour you across my work to-date. You’ll see b&w, vivid color, and many points in between. I know of no better way to express my own perspective on this subject.

Thanks very much for good (non-gear!) topic on photography’s fundamentals, Mike. It’s one topic that never is too old nor too elemental for any photographer.

Like John Camp eloquently pointed out in a recent featured comment, I believe photography is most powerful when it looks real. However, I have nothing against highly stylized work. I'm inspired from time to time by photographs that look more like panels from graphic novels, but I would never shoot that way. That kind of photography wouldn't fit in with the rest of my work. My photography is mostly about catching fleeting moments of reality,documenting memories, and capturing beauty. In my busy life, photography has become for me more of a meditation on the beauty of now and the camera only comes out when things are just right. I try to keep my photos real because the world as I see did is good enough but also because I don't have time to put together a fantasy world of my own making.

Hi Mike
Difficult - if you asked me to point you to one book it would be "Kodachrome Memories" but I grew up seeing colour in Kodachrome
And am now going to be singing the damn (great) song the rest of the day


I guess for me it's always been a "likeness of reality." But reality (mine) is driven by three things: how I see, how I make the image, and how I print the image. Reality then becomes what the result of these three things, most of the time not the same from one scene (image) to the next. "How I see things" in color was (and still is) predominantly motivated by Elliot Porter's work. "How I make the image" was driven by E6 process (4x5 transparency), and "How I print the image" was driven by the Ilfochrome process. I never attempted the dye transfer process that Porter excelled in but tried to get similar results with Ilfochrome, a huge challenge. In the digital world I still see things Porteresque, but capture images using ones and zeros and I have yet to print a digital image of any significance in any fashion, so that's the main conundrum for me now.

A color photo should look like whatever the photographer wants it too look it. I don't give a sh**t whether someone think about my image. I didn't make it for them. I made it for me.

Should Van Gogh have painted what others wanted to see or what his soul told him to?

Well, for me one touchstone is Eliot Porter. That to me is great color photography. It's not necessarily what my color photography looks like, but I take some serious cues from it. I think Stephen Shore's color is pretty good, Eggleston is great, and William Christenberry's color is pretty good---it ranges from fairly plain to somewhat lurid. I'm sure there are others, but they are the ones I can think of at the moment

Thanks for the invitation, Mike. Yes, by gumbo, I can suggest a colour palette I admire, indeed envy. Yesterday Lenscratch featured a portfolio by Chris Dorley-Brown that was right on the money, as far as I'm concerned (http://lenscratch.com/2016/03/chris-dorley-brow-foreign-exchange-winner/).

Let me say why. My own eye was educated by using Ektachrome to make several thousand slides when I lived and worked in Sri Lanka. It was great for the bright monks' robes, the fabulous greenery, and the sharp difference between tropical sun and shadow. And later I took up with Velvia for a while, especially when I briefly hit the hard light in the American West and especially the Grand Canyon.

But these film looks are just not right for England, where the sun is weaker, the light is watery, and cloud, shadow, and sunlight closer together. (I absolutely love Martin Parr, yes, but largely as a satiric take on life here, with high saturation and ring flash as the mark of that satire.) Chris Dorley-Brown's photos convey the English atmosphere perfectly, by which I mean: the light, the slight haze, the clouds mingling with the ground. Those shots of London are worth looking at again and again, partly for the not entirely straight-out-of-camera arrangements of people and their doings, but especially for the light. You can practically smell the air when you look at them. If you're asthmatic you might wheeze a bit. Dang that's good.

Transform, definitely transform. I'm not interested in documentation. I want my photo to make the view feel what I felt when I witnessed that scene.

At a certain point in my career, I had to promise myself that I would shoot a subject without worrying about whether I was properly documenting it. I needed to be free to capture only what I wanted, and only how I wanted to present it.

But of course if I were a photojournalist, none of that would make any sense.

I didn't reply to yesterday's post, but I did not like the NY Times Cuba photos. Unfortunately, I've found a lot of Cuba photo books have their photos processed by upping the saturation and contrast to levels that I find unattractive (and, yes, I've been to Cuba and taken photos there so I have a pretty good idea what Cuba looks like).

Mike asked us to point to a small portfolio of color photos that look the way we think color ought to look like. One example is Bryan Schutmatt's "Grey the Moantain Sends."

Here's the link - and the book is fantastic:


Lets jump right in. I don't think there is one right way for a photo to look at all, color or mono. Certainly where ever the camera manufacturer set the sliders on their JPEG engine should have no special privilege. THe image and the feel the photographer is trying to illustrate should guide them. Their success or failure is the final product, can others feel what they want them to feel. We are fortunate to now have tools to adjust with, one of my constant frustrations In shooting color film was the lack of control of the final print the way I was used to in the black and white darkroom. Digital was a revelation to me, now I could finally work on an image and given a suitably exposed file, stand a pretty good chance of implementing my vision. Those results change with time as I learn more about the tools and hopefully the images reflect less what the tool of the day can do and just are themselves. I feel that pushing the sliders in photoshop and HDR software is like testing a racing car, if you never spin out you have no idea how far you can go.

I didn't comment yesterday, but felt that the images were a bit too HDR for my liking. I love the look of Fred Herzog's portfolio:


but then this is film again. These have obviously been scanned digitally and so have still gone through the editing process and could easily have been made to look however the editor wanted them to.

Here are some photos of Cuba in Newsweek:


and a different Cuba photo essay in the New York Times, which I linked to in a (regrettably hyperbolic) comment last night:


Both sets offer, to my eye, a less unusual look than the subject of yesterday's post, as well as evidence that the sun does come out occasionally in Cuba.

"Do you want a photograph to transform reality? Or do you want it to be a likeness of reality?
An interpretation, or a report? Personal expression, or objective documentary?"

Honestly, all of the above. I think photography, even documentary photography, is essentially personal and transformative. If I want an objective "likeness of reality" Google Street View comes pretty close.

As to the photographs from Cuba, they give me a feel for Cuba -- maybe not so much the physical reality as the attitude or state of mind. They don't look anything like the color I do for myself, but they seem right for the subject, time and situation.

It's important to note I have never actually been to Cuba, and as a journalist I expect these are a somewhat cliched sampling of the reality. So I guess I'm saying these look like what I think Cuba ought to look like. Or they give me an impression of Cuba which I can accept, though with some reservations.

In my own work I rarely worry these days about whether my colors are accurate in any scientific sense. It's more about whether they reflect what I personally saw -- whatever it was that attracted me to the subject. I'm most often pushing the saturation slider into negative territory and pulling back the sharpening. Most modern digital cameras have too much "punch" for me. And after a lifetime of favoring warm colors as I approach 70 I find myself shifting colors to cool tones -- for no reason other than it feels right.

So in this case I'm looking at a set of photos that look nothing like my own and liking them quite a lot.

You said "Do you want a photograph to transform reality? Or do you want it to be a likeness of reality?"

Those are two definitions of a "photograph" - equaly valid I think. There are many others

Slightly away from toplc, but please show us what you think a b/w print should look like, and why. Thanks.

Mike, I don't think there's any difference in what a good black and white or color image do. In both cases, the image should lead the viewer to see something about the world that might have otherwise gone unseen. The 'HDR look' that I and several others commented about is an effect that often tries to trick the viewer into thinking something substantial is being shown when its not. Over-cooked B&W images do the same thing. I see a lot of B&W street photography these days that is processed to have that high contrast, gritty look, but the actual scene photographed is nothing more than plain vanilla day-to-day stuff.

I didn't comment the previous article, but the pictures were perfectly alright to me. If I have to point out a body of work that's representative of the kind of colours I like in a photograph, that would have to be Harry Gruyaert's.
Incidentally, Harry, whose photographs came to my attention recently, is a Belgian photographer; and today his country was attacked by terrorists who claimed about thirty innocent lives. My condolences and respect to the Belgian people.

I believe that verisimilitude is a cultural construct, not a property inherent to any photograph. A set of conventions which we've been taught to understand as natural. I like and often prefer naturalistic photographs, mind you, I just think that they're every bit as artificial as photographs which read as stylized.

I like transforming reality. I don't see anything wrong with that. Modern cameras (or even properly used film) can "see" things far differently (better?) than the "real" human eye. Like most folks I have my limits of course (overdone HDR Blech) but intelligent and restrained manipulation and editing can be awesome in the same way intelligent and restrained B&W can be. 2 cents.

I want the colour to look good. Just that. As for the reality, well who cares about reality? I can see the reality in the mirror and, like most people I guess, I don't really appreciate what I see there. So I'll take transformative every time.

That's a great question, Mike, and I'm going to take some time out of my 12-hour workday, before I go home to help take care of the kids and then not sleep, to answer you.

I don't have any particular way I expect colour photographs to look. I want the photographer to do whatever it is they want to, and then I'll like them or not. I was one of the ones who did like those photos from Cuba you showed yesterday, even though most of the complaints from people who didn't like them were related to their "unrealness". I also happen to like Galen Rowell landscapes, which I consider unreal, but of a very different flavour to the Cuban photos.

I don't look for "objective documentary" in a photograph, because I don't believe such a think exists. We all see differently, and I mean that literally, because of variations in eyesight and image formation, plus we all give importance to different things, and vision is the brain processing signals from the optic nerve in a very subjective fashion to provide us with the information we find important.

Let me give an example that has nothing to do with colour: The other day you presented a photo of children running towards the camera by the sea, with an explanation of how you looked at it (see here), which included an "Eyepath". You hurried through the man in the background because he wasn't important to you; I, however, stopped for a while examining this man because I immediately recognised the shape of a bodybuilder. Having lifted weights since my 20's I've had a longtime interest in the sport, and so this man interested me. To my brain, this man was interesting and he stood out. To you, he didn't. We saw the same photograph differently.

As far as I'm concerned, it's the same with colour. A photograph is meant to convey a feeling, and how you use or omit colour is going to help the photographer succeed in communicating this feeling. If using colour, what should that colour photograph look like? It should look however it needs to look to fully, and forcefully convey the desired feeling.

For me, it's that simple. There is no road, only the path you take.

What is reality? I'm serious with that question. If you've ever dealt with someone suffering from a mental illness you quickly learn that their reality is not the same as yours. Granted some things are objectively real, but there is a lot of room for interpretation. Just look at out current election campaign. And all those people are (allegedly) sane.

What I try for in my photography is to show the reality that is my perception of the world I interact with. Sometimes that requires color, sometimes the drama of B&W and occasionally it requires the dreaded Photoshop manipulation.

The last thing I want a photograph to be is an objective reflection of reality. That's why I had so much aversion to, then trouble with, working in color until fairly recently.

That's also another reason I love film, with each emulsion's unique characteristics and wonderful limitations.

Someone once asked me why I photograph in color. I didn't have a prepared, thought-out answer, but I spontaneously said, "Because the world is in color." That is my standard.
As far as color rendition is concerned I've been with Fuji for a long time now, but I never warmed to Velvia (and not for no reason is it derisively referred to as "velveeta" [artificial...artifice]).

Like you, I have a firm idea of what a B&W image should look like- and any B&W image is as big a transformation of reality as you can get. Unlike you, I have even less an idea of what color should look like- from the absolute subtlety of the image below to the well saturated images of Eggleston and beyond.


Color is where I allow myself a certain leeway; while HDR definitely doesn't appeal, I'm much more open to a wider range of interpretation determined by light and subject matter.

I use color as an essential element for a lot of my photography; it adds many additional levels of informing and presenting to the viewer than black and white alone cannot, IMO. Black and white is great for light, texture, and form, and often times, mood or place, but not as adept at depicting spectacle, sports, reportage, times of day, and in other more nuanced ways, mood.

For example, color is great for showing the most important parts of a day to most folks, the beginning or ending:

This photo just would not work in black & white:

Color is also great for conveying a sense of the spectacular (landscape)

Or gala events (e.g. sporting events); we think of these events in our mind as being full of life and color



I like particularly like color for urbex photography more than black and white, because as structures and buildings age, the colors left behind are generally soft and pastel rather than the saturated color present when the structures are new; urbex leaves behind a color "texture" in addition to the surface texture.


Lastly, sometimes color can really enhance street photography, where a touch of color adds an extra layer of nostalgia or mood, perhaps. For example, these "street photography" pics I took at a local hot rod show last weekend. The touch of color is like the faded color of old slide film and vintage cars...remembered like a fond memory when cars had big motors and times were simpler...



My idea of good color photos are the ones made by Costa Manos and Alex Webb.

A (color) photo should transform reality enough to make the average viewer think that what they are looking at is a reasonable representation of the subject. The point being that usually what you get from a straight capture does not always represent what was in front of you at the time.

A good example of this would be saturating the colors a bit so that objects that are distant, and whose color was bleached out by the air between you and it, look "right".

All of these terms are of course subjective and defined mostly in relation to how people think about them over time, which changes.

Both interpreting and reporting are good. You need to tell me up front which you are doing, though.

Even if "transforming" reality, there are still limits to acceptable manipulation. Adding objects is generally too much for me; composite images bore me.

I suppose, therefore, that my bias is for "reporting". But in reporting, I am somewhat loose in my standard for acceptable manipulation! I recall an award-winner some years back disqualified for cloning out a garbage bag in the corner of a photo, and another for removing (I think by burning) another camera from a scene in a bunker; both those DQs seemed too extreme to me.

A few more thoughts to add to my previous comment. I want a color photo to **heighten** reality, neither to transform it nor to present a plain likeness. I want a photograph to make me catch my breath, to have an initial impact and then to lead me to look further. In addition to Jay Maisel (who I would say is the quintessential urban landscape photographer), here are three others who are exemplars in different domains:

Color landscape photography: William Neill. He lives and works in Yosemite (but not just there). His work might be thought of as the color version of Ansel Adams's. It's not overly dramatic or oversaturated, but is simultaneously just as subtle and vivid as it needs to be. He has recently been interviewed on The Luminous Landscape. See his Yosemite portfolio at http://www.williamneill.com/portfolios/yosemite/index.html

Decisive moment photography: Alex Webb's work is, to my mind, the color version of Cartier-Bresson's, but with a very different and distinctive style. (See his "The Suffering of Light: Thirty Years of Photographs") His ability to balance intense color and black shadows in intricate dynamic compositions strikes me as little short of miraculous.

Portrait photography: Steve McCurry's color portraits (especially those from Afghanistan and Pakistan) are every bit as impactful as the b&w ones of Avedon or Karsh. The colors and shadows may be somewhat amped up, but that's how they do justice to the dramatic faces of his subjects.

At the risk of being "viewed" as self-serving, I'll try to provide a partial answer to your question about my esthetic for color work as follows:


Hope your monitor is calibrated.

Your last two posts have been near and dear to my thinking. IMHO COLOR just adds so much to a photograph.

For context, I'm a big fan and student of the Ernst Haas school, and a few of his disciples including Sam Abell, Arthur Myerson and Jay Maisel.

Sure I like B&W too, but not half as much as I do when unadulterated color is captured and rendered extremely well.


The cockfight photo was one of the best I've seen lately. I don't think it was posed, would be disappointed to hear that it was, but if it wasn't, it was a great moment. I'd be interested in how many shots the photographer made at that scene.

Gotta say, though, that I'm getting worn out on Cuba photos of this type. They're sort of "This is what Cuba's about" photos, and I doubt that they're what Cuba's really about. I suspect there's considerably less drama than you feel here.

And I will say that as far as aesthetics are concerned, one of your commenters posted a link to the photos of David Creedon. I liked them considerably better than the overall Times portfolio, because while Creedon is photographing in Cuba, he's actually photographing *light,* which is one of my favorite subjects. Google David Creedon and look at the "Behind Open Doors" photos. The shot of the old man under the picture of Jesus is a masterpiece.

Among the best examples for the creative use of color is in my eyes Saul Leiter's 'Early Color' - and mind you, he did creatively use both muted *and* saturated colors.

Further on of course Ernst Haas' "Creation" comes to my mind and Sam Abell's work, to name just two more. Their tradition of using but not abusing color is upheld by many photographers even into the times of photoshop.

And to stay with the New York times: Just days before their 'pictures of the day' did not resort to obtrusive local contrast enhancement not over-the-top saturation.

Reviewing the Cuba images, I could not help the feeling that this is more bordering to satire than to report what was there (it's not the color alone that is responsible for that impression, the composition plays a major part in that, too. Just see the 2nd image as well as that above the river). But I have to admit that on a phone screen that postprocessing made the images stand out better than what I would regard as a normal treatment. But if that was the intention, I would have resolved it with differentiated processing for different image sizes.

Meh! Reality is for people who lack imagination. :)

You are over thinking your relationship with color. Just go out and shoot. The photographs in time will do their thing and then you know.

"Do you want a photograph to transform reality? Or do you want it to be a likeness of reality?"
Mike, why do I have to choose? If an image purports to be a likeness of reality then that's what I'd like it to be - if it purports to transform reality .... then go for it!
In any case, what is reality? Surely we all have our own?

I think it really depends on what you are shooting, whom you are shooting for and the desired results or purpose of the image.

As a commercial photographer when I shoot views for real estate, they do NOT want anything approaching reality, they want better. That is the brokers want better, the renders want the raw files to fit whatever render they want. Same image, different needs or wants.

Shooting products, they also want better, but accurate color. The real estate brokers however love over saturated images.

Fashion and portraits are never about reality, nor are lifestyle shots. It's all about making a image look much better than real life. The level of manipulation in fashion and lifestyle starts long before a capture is made and continues long after.

However police work, documentary, and historical recording, and journalism, is all about accurate, true as possible imaging.

Industrial use, is all about information extraction, examination.

So there are many different needs and outcomes. Each one, may have multiple masters.

I'm of the opinion that a photograph is always a transformation of reality. It's a slice of time and space rendered in two dimensions, from a natural three (four if you count time). The map is not the territory, even if the map is a gigapixel across and shot at f/64.

Gregory Crewdson said something along the lines of "you don't look at a photograph, you look through it at something else". I suppose i think that you don't want the colour (or black and white tones for that matter) to stop you getting through to that other thing; they should help you on your way.

It depends. Photographs are always personal expressions of the photographer, how you frame it, what you leave out, how you light it. But a documentary photograph must be objective documentary, it must be a likeness of reality. You cannot distort the truth with your viewpoint. For example, if some old man is doing his work in a dark room, you must show that fact and not bring in 5000Ws of light to turn his room into a well lit studio.
Art photographs are different. It is usually necessary to enhance the reality to make the picture more interesting. Basically anything and everything is permissible as it is purely an artists impression. My personal view is that since it is photography, it should remain photography and one should only enhance the reality, not change it completely into illustration.

I think a photograph is never reality, but it can tell you something about reality. I guess that's what I try to achieve in my serious efforts, a photo that comments as well as records. This is very simplistic, but probably all I can handle.

Certainly it's a matter of taste. I'm not the first one to say it but the lens does not see as the eyes do. Reality is hardly an objective scene that can be replicated. We see,the mind processes, and we reimagine the image from the camera.
All photos are seasoned to taste in one fashion or another.

"Do you want a photograph to transform reality? Or do you want it to be a likeness of reality?"
Sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both.
But, to use a musical analogy, I find much recent colour work too loud. I can sense the beat, but any melody or feeling gets buried under the amped up volume.
And when that happens I cease to care whether it is a transformation, or a likeness, of reality.

I like what Jay Maisel said:

"I'm not trying to change anything that's in front of me. I'm trying to give it respect and I'm trying to call attention to it. It's a matter of sharing with people."

In years gone by I would generally shoot Velvia for my advertising customers (somewhat more vivid color then reality or Ektachrome). For my personal walk around reportage work I would shoot 35mm Kodachrome. For other personal work I would shoot 4x5 color negative or black and white film - generally with the both the knowledge and expectation that these last choices would allow me to bend the final result to my desire with long hours in the darkroom, which was likely not quite like "reality".

Today of course having an even more versatile darkroom in my computer and no advertising customers I find that each photo session is likely to go down it's own path - one day soft creamy colors, another series a slightly punchy color and vibrance. I really only have to please my vision and hope that then speaks to others.

So what bothers me in my own work or others? Photographs that are trying to represent the natural, but are overworked - in any direction. The photographs from yesterday's exercise crept right up to the edge for me but never fell over - but this was viewed on a carefully calibrated system. I might have had a different opinion on my iPad or laptop. It is for this reason that prints still, for me, are the ultimate expression of the final work. I don't make a lot of prints in any year, but those I do will absolutely reflect the final intent.

Art is meant to evoke a response. Done right it also takes a toll on the artist.....

The teacher in you has been coming out lately. Today's assignment, ...

First, I'll echo so many of the "well, that all depends" comments I saw while reading up to this point. My "that all depends" is:

During the January 23rd/24th blizzard, I took many pictures ("captured" ... ugh! I'm an old guy. I still take pictures.) of the storm from my front porch, which looks out onto a wooded patch. There was something mystical about the way the snow foreshortened the perceptual distance, making trees a hundred feet away look like they were a quarter mile distant. All colors were muted, but still very present.

Uploaded to my computer, what I saw on my (calibrated) monitor was nothing like what I remembered seeing. It was almost monochrome, and a blah low contrast monochrome at that, looking like just shades of medium gray. Then I thought of LAB color. A couple of years ago, following up on an article Roger Cicala wrote in the Lens Rental blog, I read "Photoshop LAB Color" by Dan Margulis. And, I had an image that did not please me. No matter what I did, if I fixed one thing (in Lightroom) it screwed up something else. I don't do Photoshop. That's my wife's domain. But GIMP support for LAB was awful, so I had no choice. The LAB color space provided the magic I was looking for.

Back to the blizzard. I copied the image to a computer that had Photoshop (pre-CC) on it, and went to the LAB color space. It took a few tries to get it right, because I was tricked by the color cast of the snow, present even if I had not noticed it because of the overall low contrast. Happy on screen, I printed the thing (Epson P600) on a satin finish paper. Nice! But still, it did not have the "feel" I knew I wanted. Next day, I looked through the paper pile my wife and I share, and found an old Super B size Epson semi-gloss. Printing did it! Bringing up the contrast in the color channels gave the picture the sense of depth that it needed. I can't stop looking at it. It's framed now, and I'll be entering it into a juried show next week.

So ... is it realistic? I think so. It looks like what I saw. Is it "un-doctored," "straight out of camera?" Heck, no.

(I wonder if this mini-essay answers anything?)

Have a look at the colour work of Ming Thein. He goes to a lot of effort to get a realistic look, which to my mind is the default goal of a photograph.

I'll just paraphrase ol' Potter Stewart: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

"Do you want a photograph to transform reality? Or do you want it to be a likeness of reality?"


That is it. Exactly.

"What it is... and what else it is."


Glad I read all the other comments first. Some good answers.

My take is likewise non-committal. Realism depends on intent. An image works if it captures your attention and imagination. That may be an attribute of the reality it portrays, but it may also be an attribute of the portrayal itself. Photography can be expressive as well as representational.

Black and white is a huge distortion of reality, so it always amuses me when black and white purists moan about unrealistic colours (not saying you do Mike, just that many do).

A master colourist exploits colour for effect, not realism. A great example would be Ernst Haas, or the recently featured Henry Gruyaert. The latter seems to have a complete handle on the ability of colour to affect mood and atmosphere.

However, this is also a trick well known to cinematographers. I always admire Nuri Bilge Ceylans Turkey Cinemascope pictures which I first saw here, many years ago.

Colour has huge semiotic significance to human beings. Certain colours have cultural significance, but we are also programmed at a young age to take queues from the colours of our environment. Like the smell of the corridors in your old school, certain colours can create a whole range of emotions.

Of course, that doesn't mean people know how to use colour that way. It's a rare skill, but at least some have a knack for tastefulness.

And it's certainly true that using Photoshop if you don't have a feel for colour is like driving a Bugatti Veyron flat out on the freeway the day you pass your driving test.

Of course it all depends on your intent, but I will say that "genuine being there reality" is actually far far harder to achieve than a transformation of reality, in my experience anyway.

There are any number of pre-potted colour filtration options for iPhones, Lightroom etc but absolute colour reality, that takes real skill and dedication, it is very hard to systemise.

Reality requires very subtle rendering of upper and lower tones both in luminance and chrominance, varying levels of clarity across the tonal range and colour palette, highly targeted approaches to sharpening, microscopic shifts of individual hues and localised saturation adjustment and more...in short it is actually very hard to do once you move away from the quick and dirty approach. However once nailed and "appropriately" printed the results can and often are truly stunning.

Transformations of reality are much easier, it could be just a pre-set or something a little more sophisticated, but being a transformation doesn't make it worse, though of course the danger is always that you might completely jump ship and drown in an ocean of tacky options.

In the end it's all about your intent and if the certain look suits the story then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it is probably good discipline to learn how to do reality first and then transform from that point.

Ultimately if the photo has little to say it won't matter how you dress it up, it will still fall flat once the immediate impression of the "effect" has worn off.

As a direct copy of reality, any photograph will always be inferior to the thing being photograph. I vote on the side of not expecting photographs to be faithful copies of reality. Photographs have other jobs to do besides being direct facsimiles of the world.

Both, documentation and transformation. About the rendering: I'm often amazed on how film gets things; when I get back slide film from the lab it's like opening a box of chocolates. Take this for instance:

This is Agfa Precisa CT100 color slide film, and I took this in 2012. However, to make it visible here I had to digitize it, so I took my E-M10 and macro lens, a "slide copier" tube extension in front of it, and photographed it again. It's pretty much like out of camera, with saturation and contrast turned down all the way in my "digicam", but still now it's an overlay of slide film plus the colors from the E-M10. No other manipulations.

So is this reality? Far from it; it is and will always be only a photograph...

Clean, contrasty (if appropriate) and complicated.

I'm sorry Mike, but I think you're asking the wrong question, particularly in the content of the NYT Cuba photographs. They are fine photographs, but they almost all portray a dark, brooding, slightly pessimistic view of the place.
I went to Cuba a few years ago. I saw a country full of cheerful people most of whom were positively making the best of a difficult economic situation. I personally always have a fairly positive outlook. My pictures are full of smiles, kids running around, and, yes, lots of bright colours and a high key look. That reflected the Cuba I wanted to portray.
So ultimately, I think the question is whether in such a situation, you actively try to divorce your photography from your own view of the situation, or whether you choose subjects and a look which reflects it. I would expect most serious photographers to do the latter.

In reply to Michael and his generous comments on my London images, a major part of my reason for making this series was to approach "London" light in a way I hadn't seen in colour photography, but had seen the potential for it in some New York pictures, particularly Helen Levitt which I guess were probably Kodachromes. At certain times of early morning in summer, London light has a thin watery feel which seems to infuse the shadows of London's quite narrow and tightly packed buildings. I find I don't need to tweak these raw files much to get the feel I want which when I was shooting film was only possible on 5x4 or 10x8 colour neg.

There are already lots of really, really great comments here.

First of all, I have to acknowledge you, Mike, for all kinds of lessons that lead up to this point. Especially for introducing me to Harry Gruyaert. Second thanks goes to Pavel Kosenko for his book, Lifelike which every color photographer should read. It changed my understanding of color completely.

Our ability to accurately recall color is appalling, and our ability reconcile shifts in hue and color intensity is amazing.

In one exercise from Kosenko's book, he has you look at a picture of an arctic sunset that is quite impressive. Saturated and strong, but not overly so. On the next page is a much duller representation, which he has you look at through a cardboard tube. Over 20 seconds or so of looking the color becomes richer, the nuance deeper; it's magical. And then you take the tube from your eye, look again, and watch the richness fade away again.

Later in the book he deals with the idea of literacy. That color is a language in which there is a wide gamut of literacy in both authors and readers. Simple readers will not relish the same nuances that advanced ones will, and what may be an exciting read for many will, to others, appear gauche and banal.

I adore pictures that achieve great depth through restraint and subtlety — the kind of nuance in color that makes you catch your breath away when you see it in the real world, but not all pictures should look any way.

I think some subjects benefit from being treated certain ways for certain audiences in certain media (book, screen, print etc). One of your commenters above gets it saying "what do you want this photograph to do today?"

There's in interview with Gruyaert where he says the problem is that most people are "take black and white pictures in color". Conversely, there's a scene in Salt of the Earth where Salgado has a family of Amazonian tribespeople painted in the most beautiful ochre, standing in a backdrop of the most beautiful green leaves — it's as perfect a McCurry palette as you've ever seen — and he's shooting them in black and white. When I look at that picture in Genisis, in black and white, I recall it strongly in color from the movie.

It depends. Personally, I lean more toward interpretation for much of what I do. But that depends too, on things like where I will display it. The web is much different than a print and I think calls for different processing. At least for me.

As for photographers whose color work I like, I am all over the place. Haas, Leiter, on one end of the scale, and Martin Parr on the other. I don't think I can be accused of foolish consistency as far as photography goes.

It depends on where the photo will be seen. The Cuba portfolio has to be judged in the context of its publication in a newspaper. A landscape photograph taken to illustrate a geography textbook may well look very different to one taken for a tourist poster or a calendar.
I generally prefer a relatively subdued use of colour, in old-fashioned terms High Speed Ektachrome rather than Kodachrome. In an 'art photography' context consider Martin Parr's latest portfolio on 'The Rhubarb Triangle' at http://www.martinparr.com/recent-work/, I haven't seen the original prints, but I hope to get to the exhibition in Wakefield before it closes. These photos need to be in colour because the bright colour of the forced rhubarb is the central theme - but otherwise the colours are generally subdued and typical of the light and landscape of northern England and the candlelight of the forcing sheds.

I have not settled on what I want my photos to do, and probably never will.

The real masters HAVE decided what they want theirs to do. None of them agree, and that's good. That's why they are masters.

Thank you, Michael for the Chris Dorley-Brown link. Great stuff!

Mike (and others), it happens that Pavel has been writing on exactly this topic in a frame that might interest you: developing an eye for color is no different to developing an ear for music (except for that sound person-to-person perception of sound is more consistent that that of light). What is this ability?

1. Ability to distinguish differences.
2. Ability to reproduce (to re-create with fidelity what you heard or saw).
3. Ability to express.

Re: point #2 — he notes that seeing happens without the eyes (we can readily imagine and manipulate visual things, much more readily than we can invoke smells or sounds in our mind).


Do you want a photograph to transform reality? Or do you want it to be a likeness of reality?

It's not what I want. It's what it is. All photos are both a likeness and a transformation of the world. That ambiguity is what makes photography so seductive. Can't want one or the other.

I like it when the transformation makes the scene seen more documentary, more real. I cannot even begin to describe how to get there, I lack the vocabulary and mostly the expertise to get to there. When it looks too fake, it's fake, but funnily enough, B&W never looks fake, even though it kind of is, really. Are these all just learned responses on my part?

I stopped doing any B&W because my efforts never look any good to me. This is the incorrect attitude, you should no more of what you think you're no good at. Esthetically speaking, anyway. If someone is paying you for something, that's different, then you do what they want or don't take the job.

When I'm post-processing, I tell myself I am making it look like how my brain remembers it, or is it really like how my brain wants to remember it? Some of those Cuban scenes that look a little too HDR'ish, if that's what they are, don't do much for me. Personally, enhancing gritty destroys the gritty, so if that's what the photography was after, it lessened the impact, for me anyway.

Do we remember things through a foggy haze? Sometimes I think so.

I really liked the color portfolio in the Dave Heath book. Kind of muted and subtle with beautiful skin tones. It was done with early 2000s digital cameras far from today's state of the art.

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