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Monday, 21 March 2016


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These pictures seem to me to be a bit influenced by the HDR aesthetic, with the shadows a tad too light (for my taste, at least).

And, IMO, there is a general trend in which we are moving away from the film aesthetic, so the images these days look a lot less contrasty.

Even people who used film for years like myself sometime marvel of how strong the contrast (and often how bold the color is) is when you happen to see some old work, yours or otherwise, now that we are used to the low-contrast digital files.

The enviroment looks natural, the skin tones correct. To my eye, seeing these on a smartphone, they appear balanced. Not overdone like many photos of Cuba. Not too light. Good work.

Now, the Compost photo by Caril Goodpasture you posted earlier may have had a bit of saturation added but it is a wonderful color photograph.

I first liked a few, but then started not finding them realistic. They must be HDR images.

In the days of film and thinking digital, colour is what the inventor/producer of the digital recording device and latterly film
feels colour should be.

The resulting "colour" mght not be what you looking through your own eyes perceive as how colour should appear.

Recall the over-saturated greens in early Fuji slide film and the similar with Agfa slide film pushing the red tones to the extreme.

Hence colour is exact only in the eye of the beholder and not in the eye of the designer of the colour recording method.

What's with the New York Times not crediting a photographer for these terrific photos?? They weren't credited in the print version, either.

That's a wonderful portfolio of images,consistent with of the high quality imagery from the NY Times. Cuba is a destination where everywhere you look presents another photo op.The gracious Cuban people always had a smile on their face and an open heart for this hapless American tourist.I hired a local to escort you around the nooks and crannies of old Havana back in 1998,and I'll be traveling back there sometime soon, hopefully before Cuba becomes just another stop on the cruise circuit...

The NYT states:

"In a land of iconic imagery, perhaps no images are more revered, marketed or pervasive than those of the nation’s revolutionary heroes."

I certainly don't revere politicians, they are already in love with themselves, and almost all of them are no better than failed encyclopaedia salesmen... They are self reverential enough for my liking.

As to the photo's... Whoever did the processing has perhaps been smitten by those brightly painted old American gas guzzlers from the 50's, and tried to make the whole of Cuba look the same.

To my untrained eye, the most restrained picture is the one of the military scene, at least the sky is approaching an accurate rendition.


What a perfect print should look like is dependent on the image and its intended use. What works for a newsprint print, and what works for a gallery/home wall print, and what works for a large scale public installation print will probably all be different. An atmospheric sunset lit landscape with many tonal gradients will probably be better as a "gallery" print, than as the more limited four color roto newspint. And for some, different print characteristics may provide different interpretations. Further, the images of Cuba in this file almost certainly look different than the hard copy. In fact, I suspect that these photos never saw paper before the magazine section was printed. So, I think that while one can address the technical quality of a print, sometimes less technical "quality" may provide a more pleasing print.

"So what should digital color photographs look like, ideally?

Two of my favorite sayings,

"Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so" — Shakespeare

"Everything is life is a point of view" — I made it up years ago, but probably heard it somewhere...

And so with color prints. I found nothing objectionable in those prints of Cuba. but that is just my point of view.

I don't care for the "overcooked" look of much of what I see posted these days, from the use of saturation sliders, to HDR, etc, but that is just my point of view.

- Richard

They all look, to varying degrees, like HDR photos. When you mentioned 'plastic' I thought you might be headed in another direction -- rather than to a simile for 'flexible.'

It may be the case that these images are 'perfect' in the sense you describe when reminiscing about your teaching days: in the negative equates to 'in the "look".'

I understand that many pros have custom 'looks' installed in their cameras. I read about this explicitly in an article about Annie Leibowitz.

In any event, we're probably somewhere beyond pure verisimilitude here. Godd? Bad? Maybe not a relevant question.


nice test...

the photos look like the trends these days: highly saturated, and high contrast... almost as if Daido Moriyama in colour. in that sense, it can be admired by many on the web.

I think it works for the green car and blue-room, and the street cars, because they are the focal points. I enjoyed those.

I think when people are the focal point, it should be more pleasing, less shocking— same goes for B&W these days with high-contrast to highlight "life" (i.e., wrinkles). my retort is that I think humans deserve more of the Irving Penn treatment, than the "look at how many years/hardship I can add to this person's face".

that said, I "calibrate" to faded/expired colour film, than this approach. also think of Yasujiro Ozu's cinematographer saying to him that "you can only get one colour right" (with film at the time— and he chose red). I like to have one colour be "right" (in brightness and saturation), and the others more muted/faded. in that sense, the first (car) photo would have benefited from such to sooth the woman's face and have her emotional expression be more salient. I dare say... more Saul Leiter-esque.

I saw this essay yesterday and I think it's superb. It expresses "Cuba on the Edge of Change" perfectly with a minimum of the usual clichés found in amateur photo sets from Cuban workshops.

Color is only a done-deal on paper. It's a fool's errand to chase perfection for every desktop. Electronically, I've resigned myself to using Apple's "Retina" iPad and iPhone displays as my reference public color standards. My calibrated NEC monitor, which displays nearly all of the Adobe RGB gamut, is my post-proc color environment.)

That said, the NYT slides seem to use the combination of warm color palettes and contrast perfectly for this essay. Cuba is a hot, humid, emotionally rich place. The color palette reinforces this impression perfectly. (Your copy of that photo looks slightly more saturated than the one in the NYT site, btw, at least on my MacBook Pro. Perhaps a compression effect, as is common with color.)

Color is the 3rd dimension of photography's world. This essay presents a very good example of how it can be expertly used to reinforce a message, rather than become a distraction.

"Overpuched," i.e., contrast, clarity, and saturation have been jacked up too high (for my taste, almost looks like the grungy HDR some people like. I prefer a more naturalistic look. My ideal is a photo that conveys the light that suffuses the scene. These crush the light.

My family is from Cuba, so I always look at news coverage with a jaundiced eye—don't judge, it's a minefield of mixed emotions and political grandstanding—but these photos are really outstanding.

I could quibble with the detailed hyper-reality (the Clarity slider really loves decaying textures & worn faces), but those those incredibly "decisive moments" reveal a great deal of patience, forethought, and deft composition. Also a tip of the hat to the Time's photo editors for making these selects.

The motif/scenes are terrific...but to answer your question about
the technical quality of these photographs....they have an "hdr gritty look". And the people in many of the scenes have a paper cutout appearance...not a smooth transition from "in focus" to "out of focus". Perhaps shot with a high end aspherical lens? As a result I think they are too hard edged...I would favor a softer, perhaps if you will, a more romantic interpretation. Not being there I can not evaluate the accuracy of the colors, but they do appear to be a wee bit over sataured. As a final note, perhaps the NYT wanted this kind of look to match their prose.

The thing that I notice most about these shots is how high the clarity and sharpness have been pushed, which gives the details a strong pull to my eye. A different balance on the clarity could completely change the subject of several of these shots (such as the old man on the bad, or the man by his car in the forest).

Although it's interesting to see how this photographer makes use of that, it's not a look that I tend to favor in my own work.

This is a remarkable portfolio, in which subject matter and technical aspects strongly reinforce each other. The dramatic situations (notably the lead photo of the crowd at the cockfight) have intense color and high (but not excessive) contrast; the nostalgic or thoughtful situations have subdued (but not flat) color and contrast choices. Dynamic range is good in all 14 photos. Jay Maisel's dictum of "light, color, gesture" is on display in all.

I think TOP's proprietor once designated the New York Times as the world's best photo magazine. This portfolio shows why.

Looks like every photo was hammered into shape with a super saturated "Golden Hour" plug-in. I imagine too that if you suck all of the air between the scene and the lens, everything would be that sharp(ened).

Miss Cuba. Born there. Will be going back this summer for the first time since 1962. Now where is that Summaron?

I don't care for the HDR-ish colors in the Times portfolio. I prefer the real world colors in the Reuters stringer picture above.

Nice question. I suppose a color print should be whatever you want it to be at the time.
Looking back to film there were a lot of ways to render color.
Pushed Ektrachrome, Kodachrome, Autochrome, Cibachrome (masked and unmasked), Dye Transfers, Polaroid, Type C to name a very few and each had it's own individual quality.
As far digital goes I think we are still trying to sort things out. The Cuba Essay feels a little more HDRish than I am used to in photojournalism but not to an degree that gives me a problem.
I've said before that digital processing has blurred the line between straight photography and graphic arts in many ways. Some of these images come close to crossing that line to me. That said I do like them very much.
I guess we will just have to keep talking.

I like the way they look for the most part, and wonder how much they've been processed if at all. So many photojournalists don't really have the time to crop and dodge and burn and adjust sliders, at least that's my impression, and I don't recall NYT photographers processing digital as black and white for the last few years.

The last photo of the woman in the doorway at night looks like it was run through a watercolor app I have on my iphone called Waterlogue. It's a look I've come to associate with recent digital cameras, a little less real than film maybe, but nice in its own way.

My first answer is - it depends on which monitor I show them on. On my "proper" monitor they look like what we usually call "HDR" shots. On the laptop screen they look better, less over the top and more natural. On my ipad they look much darker. I couldn't say which look was intended. They may have processed them deliberately assuming most people use laptop screens. Perhaps a colour management guru could comment? This isn't the first time I've noticed this problem.

I like them. The biggest problem I see with colour images today is that people seem to feel that they need to fill the gamut the way one fills the dynamic range in a B&W, so they push the saturation sliders. I have no problem about that being "authentic", but I do have a problem with it not looking anything like reality.

Same for HDR effects.

There were a couple where the colour looked a little surreal, like the barber shop... possibly as a result of bending the luminance curve to stretch the mid-tone contrast. But I'd take that over a Martin Parr blown and over-saturated shot any day,even if it is meant to be knowing and ironic.

Of course there is also the need to re-calibrate one's head to the low-latitude sunlight...

In the latest Firefox I can see some of the photos with great difficulty, most however just jump out at me and disappear, or I simply see several screens worth of black background and nothing more.

That's what stood out for me. Hope that's technical enough. In plain words, the website sucks big time.

Having been to Cuba a year ago mostly for taking photos, I can fully relate to those photos that I managed to see. I am not sure what exactly you are asking about, sorry.

To answer your question, Mike, I have only to open Cuba A Grace of Spirit by our friend Peter.

page 121
page 18
page 58
page 69

And so on ...

The colors are totally harmonics to the very spirit of this book. Peter hopes to share with us what he feels, but without imposing his point of view. He refuses to exaggerate, and to force us. This is a friendly sharing between free minds. Peter Bet is very bold as he hides nothing of the reality of Cuba. Bet superbly won thanks to this particular tonality that envelopes us, immerses us into this so particular world and encourages us to to understand and not to judge. I also think that your President is, right now, in this open perspective.

To me they look 'digital' and are all oversaturated to the point of looking artificial.
That degree of saturation seems to be almost a norm these days.

I enjoyed those photos. I think they used color very well.

I often hear something to the effect that color photos are not as "flexible" as black and white because color limits what can be done with the photo. I disagree with that idea.

Just as there are many ways to interpret a black and white negative (or file), there are many ways to present a color photo. "Correct color" is a myth. Everyone sees color differently. Light sources alter colors. Different films or sensors record colors differently. The infinite variables that color provides have long fascinated me and been an important part of my work for many years. I'm much more interested in recording the way color is altered by all those variables than I am in trying to force it back to some arbitrary standard of correctness.

Just as a photographer may chose to print a negative in high key or low key or with full tonal range, with high or low or "normal" contrast, it's also possible to adjust color to suit an individual style or message. For some "true color" may be a goal, but it's practically impossible to achieve and may get in the way of making interesting photographs.

Maybe it's me, but the Cuba article strikes me as a very pure Kodachrome vibe. The color rendition looks just exactly like all the rolls of K64 I shot lo these many years ago. I almost wonder if it was a conscious attempt to mimic Steve McCurry's 'look', as it has had such an immense impact on our collective visual memory. (Think fast: "Afghan Girl". See what I mean?).

I feel like this is a trick question, because I generally don't think there is a single "ideal." For me, the only real criteria are (1) they not be "overcooked" in the way that extreme HDR images sometimes are (personally I feel there is never any excuse for that), and (2) the color treatment be consistent, at least across the range of any given collection or set of images.

If the treatment isn't consistent it makes me think that the photographer either can't make up his or her mind, or simply doesn't know or care about having a "signature look" for a body of work. It's a bit like style guide issues with writing and publishing; it matters less which guide you adhere to than the fact that you pick one and stick with it.

In the case of the Cuba portfolio, I do find it a bit on the "cooked" side, but I wouldn't call them "overcooked." Because the look is consistent, and it seems to go with the subject matter, I really have no complaints at all. In fact I think it works really well. But if they were my photos they'd not have that bronze patina. In fact they'd probably be in black and white, since I'm actually pretty bad at creating consistency in color.

Looks like Kodachrome 64 - not accurate, but pretty.

Can't see any photographer credits - just four designers. I may have missed them.

A crowd gathered to watch a recent cockfight in the countryside near Viñales.


Most of the photographs look over processed with "High Dynamic Range" to look "gritty". The result looks more like a painted poster rather than a photograph.
Way too artificial and plastic for my taste.

All looks stylised to me. And some look a bit posed or manipulated. Sort of stuff you would see in a calendar. Content is subordinate to style. Are they supposed to be documentary, or "fine art" visuals? I have no idea

At first glance the thing I notice about these photos is the jacked-up contrast in in-focus areas. There's a lot of this look in current photojournalism and advertising. It adds a harshness to the photos, and I personally find it unpleasant. Composition-wise I quite like them. Color is "enhanced" but IMO not overcranked.

Good content and execution; wrong choice of pallet.

Been to Cuba three times and while the content is Cuba the colour pallet is waaaay too contrasty and punchy. The brightest colours tend to be the cars - repainted or new. This is primarily a country of pastels and sun bleached muted colours not HDR saturated in you face colours.

I think this series from the NYT is excellent technically. I say this with some trepidation, since I'm pretty sure I'll be a minority among TOP commenters. There's been a lot of pushback, especially among fine art photographers, when there's any photography that can be labelled "HDR."

Whoever processed these files took advantage of recent hardware and software technology, ending up with a look that is quite different from what was normal in the days of film and darkroom supremacy. This look violates many expectations for what high end photography should be like, especially photojournalism.

On their own terms, I think the images are rich and powerful. There might be a little too heavy a hand on the clarity controls, but the overall effect is extremely effective.

The biggest issue about the images in the portfolio, in my mind, is that they are so well crafted, so "perfect," and, actually, so evocative, that they violate our expectations for what photojournalism "should be."

But this is a matter of conventions--what we're used to. The look of past photojournalism wasn't based on anything objective. It was something that emerged based on the culture, taste and technologies of its time.

Now we're in a new time. The implied "social contract" between documentary photographers and viewers is being re-set. I'm fine with that. Especially when it results in images like the cockfighting photo at the top of the post. Leaving aside the fact that it's a brilliantly captured moment, the photograph is rendered technically in a way that a. transports me directly into the scene; and b. invites me to see the scene as a social allegory with broader implications, because it is so complete, so fully realized.

Like other good documentary photography, this image straddles the border between art and photojournalism. So did the classic photo-essays of Life Magazine in its prime. Eugene Smith, as we know, heavily processed his iconic images. I would say: be honest about what you're trying to do, then go for it with all the tools at your disposal.

The overall impression is falseness. From the HDR-ish photo featured in the post to the Gregory Crewdson-ish night shot of the woman in the doorway.

Having been to Cuba three times over the past two years, these remind me of another extreme that I was responding to as I planned my photographic approach -- the overly warm romantic pics of Cuba that are so prevalent. But people see different things and try to convey those ideas with different techniques. This is what I saw:


The shots displayed have been processed to be pretty, which is probably a better state of affairs than if they had been made ugly.
However, 8 years of modest experience with digital post production tells me that the contrast, color, shadow detail and gain("exposure" in Adobe-speak) have been adjusted to make it appear that the same light, color, etc. exists in all the depicted locations: indoor/outdoor, day/night.
The shots have been uniformatized into looking the same.
If these had been shot on Kodachrome, and then reproduced via analog means(like, say, in the old LIFE magazine,) you would have seen the differences in the look and lighting between the various locations and subjects.

Most of the images look 'over-cooked', leaning toward the HDR end of the post-processing spectrum. I don't like the look generally as it makes me feel like the photographer is trying to manipulate the viewer into seeing something that's not truly there. I especially dislike this look when the images are being presented as photo journalism.

All these photos would have worked well in monochrome, but work even better for being in colour. I like 'em, but that does not mean that I would adopt their rendition for my own photography. Makes you think, though.

Looks like an overuse of what Lightroom calls Clarity, which I think is local contrast. The color balance also looks a little weird, but I can't put my finger on why. It might be just a bit too much of Vibrance.

Yes, over processed and sharpened but the overall impression is as always from Cuba - the quality of the light.
I saw lots of images of Cuba at slide shows years ago and even with film the place seems to have a certain "look".
I've not been to Cuba but I have been several times to Lisbon in Portugal and to me that's the only other place I can think of that has such a strong, easily recognisable quality of light.

Hello Mike...There is a lot I like about these photos, but the color "processing" is not included. I have had the good fortune to visit Cuba and photograph in Havana for a few days. Based on my experience, recollection and photographic evidence, I do not feel the NYT photos look real or natural. They just are not an accurate representation of the beautiful and unique color palate one experiences there. As others have pointed out they suffer, IMO, from processing that probably includes the aggressive application of HDR, contrast, saturation, "clarity" etc. Some may like this approach, but I am not a fan.

I am including a link to some of my photos from Havana. I am not suggesting these are great photos or are "better" than those in the NYT, but I do feel they represent the "colors of Cuba" more faithfully (notwithstanding the vagaries of the Web and monitor calibration!).


A deliberate "grunge" look, I think, to emphasise the age/decay. Pushed the clarity slider way too hard, dirties up the colour - don't know what the technical term would be.

Hi Mike,

The portfolio ends with 'produced by'. That kinda describes what I felt, and I don't mean the content.
Digital (raw) files do need producing, more than film, so that in itself is not strange. I too produce my raw files, but I produce them to look like film which to me makes them look unproduced... Younger people however have no memory of what film looks like. They see more and more photos that are produced in all kind of ways (by all kind of apps). I guess I'll have to get used to seeing images that don't look like photographs to me, but if I will ever like them as much...?

Best, Nick

I don't particularly like the color rendition, and agree with comments that it's a light-weight HDR look. But I think it's deliberate, a certain consistent look from image to image, and I think that's at least important in a photo essay. Color doesn't have to be "realistic", it's more creative than that for some photographers, utilized to create a mood or feeling. These photos do that: they don't feel real to me, but the color does add a subtle impression, especially as they build one photo after another.

It reminds me a bit of the fondness many Fuji photographers (and I'm one) have for the new Classic Chrome film simulation (I'm not one): it's impressionistic without looking at all realistic to my eye, and yet what people often use it for is "reportage." To each their own, for sure...again, at least if a photographer chooses to use it, it unifies the look of his/her use of color, if used consistently.

To me this looks like black and white with the colors dyed in. Sort of gloomy version of Kodachrome. It makes the images look older than they are. Nice for a change, but the real Cuba is different. And I would not like to have as the standard color output on my camera.

This group of pictures looks a little too tone-mapped/HDR for my taste. Cameras still can't capture the same dynamic range as the human eye and I believe photographs look best when photographers concede that point. Obviously you can't make a photo glow as bright as mid-afternoon sun, but when a photographer lets the sky blowout, his photos feel more real, the viewer can almost feel that sun burning in. Similarly, these perfectly detailed and saturated shadow areas don't resemble any shadows that my human eyes looks into. Real world shadows are dark, low contrast, and unsaturated.

My biggest gripe against tone mapping and the clarity slider is what it does to skin. Tone mapping and clarity makes human skin look like a plastic model. It loses its sheen and turns yellow. I'm very familiar with this because it happens to my pics all the time. Whenever I move the highlights slider left and the shadows slider right, any skin in the frame turns plastic. There are ways to fix this using multiple RAW processes of the same image and then blending them using layers and masks in PS, but that takes a lot of time. The pics in this example look like they use something similar to my "good enough for Facebook" methods, but the editor didn't take the time to make these digital files sing. It's a shame, because they are wonderful photos.

First of all, I think that's excellent work in that NYT article.

Regarding how close it is to my "ideal", I think I don't have one regarding the work of others. I find it a bit limiting, it would be liking only one style of music, or one type of painting technique. In photography I like to appreciate color and b&w, documentary and conceptual, the subtle tonal work of Pentti Sammallahti and the "in your face" high-contrast style of S.Salgado or Trent Parke... there's just too much good stuff on any style to limit myself.
Having said that, I do have some aesthetic pet peeves (like exagerated HDR).

On a post-production level, if that photos were mine, they would certanly look different. Probably with less red (I find digital pictures tend to have a reddish tint that I always try to correct).

But the pictures look good like they are really. There's a unniformity/continuity both on a aesthetic level and the photographers vision. I think that may be that special thing wich makes seeing a great photographers work such a pleasure, making him/her an author. That cohesion on a photographers work is something difficult and that takes time to achieve, but I think it's essential to anyone how takes photography seriously, I always cringe when I see color and b&w photos in the same portfolio (yes, another pet peeve).

Simple. To my eye they look like Cibachromes of Provia.

A little heavy. A little contrasty. Nothing screams manipulation. This is how reversal film used to look when printed on reversal media.

I sense a strong, I guess you'd call it, "Knowledge Bias," in that everyone seems to see these through the filter of knowing which Lightroom sliders can do what you see.

Fact is, however, back in the day, you could get a very similar look using traditional materials and techniques.

These don't look overly tone-mapped or "Dragan-ized" to my 1980s eyes. But that's just two eyes. Well, four. Well, four+2 with the bifocals.

Behold! The death of shadows!

Not a fan.

These photos, which I liked a lot, are the most colourful B&W images I've seen in a while.

Seriously, if it weren't for the colours, they'd make excellent B&Ws!

As a grizzled old newspaper guy now shooting and slamming pix onto our website, I have to say that they look pretty good. They do not look like HDR. They are no more saturated than many of the chrome films so many mourn. A friend of mine has been a frequent traveler to Cuba for over 20 years. I've seen his work, film and now digital, in its raw state, as he was editing. That is how the light and colors are in Cuba. I like the work, on many levels.

I can't tell about the 'HDR' being over done but then I'm not a fan of HDR.
They do have the look of a vibrance slider that's been pushed to the max.
Which is okay I guess if that's what you're going for. It seems to work in these images.

To heck w/ the Times' pictures (and I am a subscriber). To my eye, none of the NYT pictures looks remotely as interesting or meaningful as the Reuters picture of Air Force One approaching the runway, posted in the comments by Anders.

At a guess, the photographer used a plugin to get that look. And at another guess it was shot with a Canon camera.

Didn't we give up on caring about natural renditions a while ago - about the same time that digital became established? It would seem so. You didn't ask, but I like the Cuba shots. The only downside would be to visit the country because it surely cannot be as vibrant as the photos.

The byline said "Photographs by the New York Times" so maybe nobody took them.

Big time clarity, vibrance and dehaze usage on these. A little less usage of all three of those would make them appear more natural.

The problem with them is not aesthetic, it is philosophical. "Art" yes, "Photojournalism", not so much.

The photographer(s) really knows what he's doing.

How many of us here have a calibrated monitor?

Overdone. I think I read it on this blog: "Theirs goes to eleven".

Maybe it won't register with the majority of NYT readers if it's not overdone like that (which I doubt), but for me this contrast enhancement plus cranked up saturation has something of fast food seasoning: you can pour it over anything and all will taste/look the same. A short exalted flush, fading quickling and making place for the next overdose.

Re: Many commenters accused the images of having an "HDR look". Of course I have no direct knowledge of how the images were processed. But I strongly speculate that readers are simply mistaking some higher local contrast for HDR look. HDR lifts dark tones and thus necessarily creates a tonally flatter image. HDR applied too heavily creates monotonous flatness which many enthusiasts try to offset by applying excessive local contrast. But the resulting images tend to then appear more as cartoonish illustrations than photographs.

That's not what I see happening here. There's plenty of depth in most of these images. There are also plenty of dark darks. No, I don't think we're seeing out-of-camera files, either. Gradients have clearly been applied to several images to weight the eye down. And local contrast has also clearly been applied.

If I had to tag the images with an overall "look" (for some reason), I would tag them with a cinematic look as they look as though a color grader has worked with them.

I would also point out that nearly all of these images were taken under what appears to be heavy overcast. Look at the deadness of that Reuters image posted by Anders, above, under similar conditions. It's historically good (we have to assume it's AF-1 landing in Cuba, eh?) but rather chaotic and dullsville.

What should film color photographs look like, really?

Velvia? Provia? Portra? Ektar? Kodachrome?

What should a color illustration look like?

Oil? Pastels? Watercolors? Temperas? Crayons?

'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' is a far older subject that just for digital photos...

Interesting you have the complete gamut represented here: from those who say the colors are jacked up way too high, to those that complain of lowered contrast and saturation, from those who deplore the artificial, non film like results, to those who who revel in the traditional, film like results. Seems people see what they wanna see...

Hmmm. I think I am not in favour of this hyper real, everything sharp, too perfect and clinical, slightly HDR look. It seems to me to not align with we how we physically see. And it feels lacking in grace and poetry (the look, not the content). To my eyes an unfortunate trend in digital color photography.

Maybe I'm too old-school, but I don't like the over-saturated, over-contrasty, HDR look. I hope it's a passing fad...

I hate the way they look, enough so it is hard to even see the content. They look like they came from a comic book. Or like product from photographers who don't know how to use flash.

But having said all that, I know that this is what photography looks like to many young people. I hate it, but many people like this style. So I'm not criticizing the photographer for having a popular style that I personally really dislike.

Tricky question.

Maybe my screen isn't set up in the right way to see the photographs as the photographer intended?

At least, when I'm looking at a print they have made, I have a fairly good idea of his or her intention.

On my screen, I don't really know.

On a separate matter, I must recommend the Cuban work by David Creedon. It's stunning: http://www.davidcreedon.com/hp/index.html

Some of them have the artificial and "plastic" look of HDR, but on my small tablet they look good - really good - and they're terrific images. And I'm an oldtimer in photo, going back almost 70 years, who has come to terms with digital photo and the digital look.

Like many here, I'm not a big fan of the hyper-realistic, saturated color style of these photos. Upon first look they're compelling but after a while I find them tiring.

Interestingly, this trend in photography parallels the "loudness wars" in modern music. Everything is compressed and limited to the point where it sounds good on initial listening but is fatiguing to one's hearing over prolonged exposure.

It's no coincidence that both these trends are directly related to the advent of digital photography and recording. Please don't think that I'm stirring up the analogue vs. digital argument because that isn't my point. I've experienced both and am a firm convert to digital photography and recording. It's just that digital has opened up a whole new world of possibilities in editing and it's easy to go overboard. Restraint is the key when processing digitally.

Just my two cents...

I see the colors of an overcast day. The bride is a good example. Can't do HDR on a windy day. Can you?

Even the last photo of the woman sweeping the floor looks likes a classic digital taken at night.

I really like the shot of the old farmer hanging onto the post.

I hate judging picture quality from a JPG on a monitor.

I don't know if they sharpened or used some other technique. Maybe someone at the NYTimes could tell us what, if any, editing was done to the photos. I doubt if anything was done.

Overall it sure gives the feel of old Cuba.

It was just a dark, overcast day.

To find out what color photographs from Cuba should look like, let's wait for Bill Allard's coverage.

I was left a little depressed and somewhat bewildered by those images: This is not the Cuba I remember. The last thing that Cuba is is melancholic; it is vibrant and full of contrast socially and photographically.

So I revisited some of my images taken last year to see if I could replicate that mood.

Using DxO Optics Pro I reduced the vibrancy and the overall contrast, increased the fine detail and pulled back the highlights. I'm getting pretty close. I've sucked the life out of it!

Using Capture One I reduced the contrast, decreased the saturation reduced the highlights, upped the clarity and reduced the structure. Again I washed away the Cuba I visited.





So the photographer('s,s') images are processed with an angle in mind. They tell a particular story and deliver a message. Does it reflect reality: isn't that the problem with colour?

I try to make my prints from digital look like prints I would get in the darkroom from color neg film under the same circumstances.

These are oversaturated, too contrasty in the darker areas and the highlights brought down unnaturally perhaps, but I wasn't there, maybe the skys really looked like that.

But they are well done in my estimation, just a little to snappy.

And when I say I try to match my digital to film, I do match them because I shoot both, print both and match them, tedious, but that's the only serious way to do it. Here is a recent set-up, large format camera on the tripod and the digital on the podium ready to go, (I wish I knew how to just put the picture in this post but I don't)


Murky and dingy are the two words that come to mind for me in describing the color quality and contrast.

I don't do enough extensive post-processing to know how they were done (I just use Lightroom mostly), but to me they look "cartoonized." I, too, prefer the Reuters photo--by a lot.

I really long for the days when 'awesome' was reserved for something that was, the exclamation mark was rarely used, and OMG would only need to be said if the Pearly Gates actually existed. I can now add HDR trickery to that list, and say that I long for the days when colour fidelity was the norm, and an image represented something approximating reality.

I've seen some of these photos in the print edition of the New York Times over the past couple of days and have been thinking about the processing done. It's likely the result of pushing the "Clarity" slider in Lightroom (or Camera Raw) hard. I don't have any objection to it artistically, myself, but I find this much image manipulation inappropriate for photojournalism.

These photos certainly would't qualify for distribution by Reuters, with their "straight-out-of-camera-jpeg" requirement, would they?

Well, as many have said, there is some HDR but that's OK in some images. Photographs have two objectives: first, please the photographer (90+ percent for me) and second please a potential buyer. I don't sell at fairs, etc. like I used to, I print to create "wall hangers" which is my absolute top-rated prints that please me. Often at a party guests will request a print. In every case of a sale the buyer wanted vibrant color and contrast that was not a true representation of the scene (although I never get too wild! - I never use HDR). Many photographers would hold this against me (I don't care), but it is what I like and it really is what sells.

Color photography in journalism? There doesn't seem to be much leeway there beyond "realism". In commercial and art photography you see quite expressive/artificial examples, like Annie Leibovitz's Disney Dream pictures or Erwin Olaf's work.

Saturated shadows and grimy faces? It irks me. I don't understand that aesthetic. I don't see how it helps in expressiveness, beauty or any visual means to an end.

To me, this NYT article seems out of tune with current affairs; I'd think that photojournalists would have been able to come up with something more fresh. Something that visualizes that things may actually change in Cuba (or not); These pictures tell me that things are still the same as twenty years ago.

Danny Lyons pictures from Colombia are that good you forget they're in colour. That's probably the difference for me

Badly post processed, in my opinion.

Some of the images seem posed in an almost Norman Rockwellian sort of way. I agree with the high HDR and over saturated assessment. They strike me as almost too clean and prefect. Compelling images nonetheless.

I like the photos but the colors are far from my vision of reality. I've always said I like photos that look like photos and these don't really do that.

Barbershop, cockfight, and farmer with pole are all a little over cooked to my eye, the colour processing and super sharpness are distracting. The other images look great to me.

I agree with the general sense of the commentariat that many of the pictures are a little too juicy. But the interior shot with the television? That is a beautiful rendition of subtle light and a complex scene. I'd be proud of it if that photo were mine.

Speaking to the color, there were only three that really "sang" to me:

"The interior of a home in Santiago de Cuba." - At first glance, it appears almost completely desaturated but then your eye gets drawn in by color details. I like the humor in the small details like the Playstation controllers and the black and white TV.

"Classic cars in Havana. For many Cubans, charm of older cars is secondary to their value as vital transportation." - I feel like the composition and color are perfect on this photograph.

"An image of Camilo Cienfuegos, rising above the trees at Plaza de la Revolución, or Revolution Square, in Havana." This is what Fred Herzog would have made had he lived in Cuba instead of Vancouver.

The rest of the photos were good, but these were my favorites. In some, I felt the color was too aggressive, like the shot of the woman in the car or the man in the room with turquoise walls. The last photo of the woman sweeping is an instant zeitgeist of camera sensor technology.

And, to be honest, all these photos are excellent. I would kill (not literally) to have any one of them in my own portfolio.

The storytelling aesthetic seems to be well-matched to the text. For me, fidelity to the message is more important than appealing to my visual preferences. I'm sure there are different techniques that could have been used to successfully illustrate this narrative. Since these images work, I'm satisfied with the photographer's choice.

I agree with you David. I do not see the photos as over-processed HDR. It seems we've fallen into a desire to label anything with saturated colors as "HDR" and therefore to be despised by those among us who accept only "accurate" color and lighting. Did we hate Fuji Velvia because it produced a saturated view of the world? It was an artistic choice.

Do these photos evoke an emotion? You bet they do. In every form of art there is a tendency to overanalyze the technical by the practitioners so that it destroys the performance. Musicians do it, dance critics do it and we do it. It's a shame that we can't look at these and bask in their warmth, feel the sense of humid, still air many portray and just feel their impact without analyzing them to determine whether they fit into our approved method of photography.

If the photos are not appealing to you and don't evoke a "feeling" or emotion, then fair enough. But when stepping back and looking at these I see a people who are interactive and passionate, a palette that is tropical and colorful, and a sense of place that makes me want to go. These, to me, are highly successful portraits of a country. Bravo to the unfortunately anonymous photographers who produced them!

Many others have mentioned the toning, but whoever designed that gallery page should be taken behind the shed and shot.

I know that the vertical scroll filling the width of the screen is popular now, but it's awful for actually viewing pictures. You can't ever see the whole picture.

You asked what we thought "from a purely technical standpoint", yet many, if not most responses have invoked an aesthetic standpoint.

From a purely technical standpoint, I see a deliberate personal style applied consistently and very skillfully across a broad range of scenes. Like them or not, these pictures well-crafted.

Are they "realistic"? Are the colors and tonal balance "accurate"? Do they look "digital"? Do they break the "rules" of photojournalism? Do they look like someone else's vision of Cuba?

Interesting questions, but in my opinion, largely irrelevant.

Leaving aside the clarity/contrast issue, I believe these photos use the technique of moving the "vibrance" and "saturation" sliders in opposing directions (in lightroom). If done tastefully, it works wonders.

Huh; these somewhat challenge my laptop screen, is what they do. Corner brigthness I was about to call "far from black" has RGB values of 0,0,0 or 1,1,1; rather close to black. Vertical angle is a problem with this laptop screen, sadly.

Some of them look just a tinge HDR, which I think is really pushed local contrast. Really they're pretty good overall though. I'm more interested in the lack of credit to the actual photographers in some ways.

For me its a bit cooked but I will qualify that- we don't know if this is one photographer or many- it might be a few to cover the ground effectively. So then you'd have to print them all to bring them together, and its not necessarily any one photographers look. Also, having done travel stories for NYT I can say you don't always get the day you want or the light you want but you have to come away with something so contrast and clarity and vibrance get added and suddenly a so-so color photo can somehow survive if the subject is good enough. We forget what film"did" to what we shot, it transformed it into something else, either by the pallet that the manufacturers created or by our mistakes (often!) and the inability to undo some of the baked in nature of film. Neg was forgiving but tended to flat, slide was unforgiving but exciting. Digital can be anything.

I sincerely hope that the style in color pictures will swing away from the extremes of saturation and dynamic range that have been the vogue for the last 20 years.

I'm sick of this look. I don't want pictures that reveal all that boring shadow detail of sweaty, muddy ankles. I don't want royal blue when plain old...blue will suffice.

The New York Times pictures, which reveal great talent on the part of the photographer, have been butchered, IMHO.

"Look, this is how the colors in Cuba look! And don't even think they look like anything else!!" the pictures seem to say.

That, and the lack of attribution and credit to individual photographers leads me to suspect of art editors with room-size egos at the NYT.

I think I'm going to write a letter to their public editor.

I saw this edition of the NYT in print rather than on the web for once as I'm in the US visiting friends and family. I didn't like at first sight and no more on revisiting it once I'd read your post for the day. There is an over-wrought, over-rhetorical style to it that draws attention to itself rather than communicating all that much about Cuba. The colour palette in the barbershop photograph on page 1 is very reminiscent of El Greco, who isn't the calmest and quietest of painters.

I'm not altogether sure how this way of presenting the colours and tones had been achieved; there is a lot of local contrast that feels HDR-lite, as in the horrible "Dragan effect", which I've only ever seen used to amp-up rather average work. Maybe it's overuse of the "clarity" slider in Lightroom if not actual HDR. I'm seening a lot of this sort of thing recently: in some urbex groups and for some reason in a lot of very bad pictures of bikers (the leathery, motocycling type, not the lycra, fixie type) and rough sleepers. You can often see the haloes around areas of contrast that have been over-processed. The users seem after a sort of grimy effect that can have a lot of impact to begin with, but which palls the more you see of it.

And that's a factor as well. It's probably a question of context and degree that makes me unhappy about these particular photographs. There's nothing wrong with using a technique to help communicate, up until the point where it stops working. What bothers me more about this though is that the photographs seem to pander to a lazy sort of "gothicky" imagining of Cuba. Maybe parts of it are really like that; I haven't been there, but the text of the article doesn't suggest anything like it.

I'm wondering if this is becoming an NYT house style; the story on p 14 about abortion law in Texas and the one on Zika on p 17 are illustrated with some very similar style photos. There is black & white work around that uses the same sort of effect.

This is a bit adrift from your request for views from the purely technical standpoint, but I find it very hard to separate the technical issues from the impact that a photograph has, especially one in a news story.

For me, a cleaner, more natural look. The " false memories of film" and "echoes of HDR" looks are old news, surely. The same goes for mono (I think some of those images would truly sing in mono), why not clean, brilliant and deeply tonal instead of chasing deliberately poor mono (muddy, overly contrasty and false grainy) film looks or an overly warm and artificial looking colour trend, just for artistic intent. What about the integrity of the subject being paramount, rather than the creative manipulations of the shooter. The technology has always dictated the limits, so why not use it at its best now and take fashion out of it. Whatdo you want your images to be in ten years? Timeless or trend identifiable.

Looks like somebody cranked up the shadow, turned down the highlights, applied some pastel filter, and made Cuba look like a dreary cloudy day.
A photo tour of a country should be realistic, not a cartoon of cloudy day pastels.
I bet the same photos in a more faithful rendition would be a bit more interesting view of Cuba.

I like many of the pictures, but need to take a second, longer look later tonight. My first impression of the colour processing is that it's busy, fatiguing to look at. That that's not true in all of the pictures, but it's my overall first impression. I'd like to see a little more harmony, a little more breath and depth in them.

Yep, the tonal range is flattened and subdued, while the colors are saturated, as if these were taken on an overcast day and slightly underexposed on transparency film, then the shadows pushed when printing. Yes, every crack, wrinkle, and blemish is emphasized. Maybe they really were taken in overcast conditions, but the salient and creepy point is that they serve the editorial slant of a dingy decayed culture so ossified and effete that it doesn't know what to do with its moment of opportunity, and thus these people are ripe and desperate for exploitation by the elites who read and write the new York Times.

It's instructive to compare the processing with the more conventional photographs that accompany this more conventional news piece http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/09/18/world/americas/cuba-state.html

And I'm with those who are puzzled and dismayed by the institutional photo "credit", but if the photos were as heavily manipulated as we think they were for purposes of persuasion, and by parties other than the photographers, then I understand how credit could be problematic.

By first hand experience I can tell you that Cuba certainly doesn't look like that, but I can understand that the photographer has seen it that way. It is quite different, be it light, colours, situations, from anything else I've seen.

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