You Will Travel Far and Wide (And Wrestle With Colour)

You will travel far and wide.

Jose-Jose’s fortune cookie is right — he is travelling far and wide. Actually, we all are, but he’s going the third-soonest after Anf and Rosie, who are leaving next week. That’s one thing I love about the CSers: everyone is either catching a flight soon or just got off a plane. Everyone’s on the move — road trips, day trips, camping trips, photo walks, cross-country trips, international trips, you name it, someone’s doing it. That’s the spirit!

A bunch of us gathered at Full Moon Restaurant on Dundas Street West for some nosh, and of course I showed up last since I work the oddest hours. There are always some leftovers, though, and I got my fill of Chinese veggies while I gabbed on about cameras and lenses and whatnot. I mentioned in conversation that I believe equipment and technical skill isn’t everything; good results come largely from creativity, and technical skill can (but not always) overcome equipment limitations.

Just how much processing is happening, you might ask? Well, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and show you. Here are some photos from the evening produced with a $400 (Pentax K100D entry level DSLR) camera, a $200 lens (Pentax 50mm f/1.7), and Photoshop 10 (CS3). Images were shot in JPEG, mostly processed in Adobe Camera Raw, with a bit more processing in Photoshop. I’m going to post links to the original files, which are uploaded to Flickr but not public, so you can see how much processing is going on.

(L) Original (R) Final (click on finals to view larger)

You will travel far and wide.

The photo above of Jose-Jose was converted to sepia, with many steps in-between. There are plenty of ways to convert to sepia, but my preference is to use Lab Colour to convert to grayscale first, then convert to duotone and manually choose the colour to mix with black, depending on the photo. I then used layers to tone down the bags under his eyes and the shadow under his nose using curves and Gaussian blur. I also lightened his eyes. I used vignetting on the whole photo and a separate lighter layer for the fortune paper, to draw attention to it. Out of all the photos, this is the one which I worked on the most, by far.

Nadja, who can't get enough polka-dots, apparently.

On Nadja’s picture I was mostly in Adobe Camera Raw to correct colour and add fill lighting. The first thing to do on shots taken in artificial lighting is colour correction, because in-camera white balance settings are usually off — unless you carry around a balance card and custom measure every time, which is onerous. Fluorescent lighting is especially brutal, because it puts a sickening green cast on everyone. Chinese restaurants are often lit with fluorescents. They save energy, but expect to do some major colour corrective work for skin tones on photos taken there (lean away from green and toward magenta). Mixed lighting is even more difficult: in Nadja’s shot, the red umbrella is already sending red to her face, so correcting will require checking her hand, foot, and Rosie’s arm.

wary Garry

On Garry’s photo I used Adobe Camera Raw to bump up the exposure, brighten his face and correct colour. I should’ve done a bit more, but this is an example of what I do at the very minimum.

Anf, with bubble?

I did the same with Anf’s picture: colour correction and lightening the face, plus vignetting. I went a step further and de-reddened his eyes, which you can’t really tell unless you look at the larger sizes.

trying it on for size

Last but not least we have Neesa, whose original file also needed that colour correction to cut down on the green. Again, I used vignetting and fill light for the shadow on her face from the helmet.

One reason why I have to do a bit more in Photoshop is because I’m working in a second colour profile within Adobe Camera Raw and then I have to convert to my custom-made one for Photoshop. I’m using a Mac, which typically displays lighter and cooler (less red, more blue) than a PC monitor, so I’ve had to calibrate my colour profile to display a happy medium between what my pictures look like on my screen versus the screen of the average PC user. (I call my colour profile “Color LCD Calibrated for PC/Mac OS mix”.) It’s not easy to do colour correction when I have no idea what the viewer is using, and it varies from machine to machine. It’s a well-documented problem with no solution. Even with black and white photos there is a difference between monitors, so there’s no escaping the variances. I arrived at my hybrid colour profile because my photos are mostly online (I have to correct AGAIN when I print them out), so I optimise them for web viewing, taking into account most viewers are on PCs.

Anyway, that is only about monitor colours — it doesn’t even touch on the variances between RGB (screen) and CMYK (print)! David had that headache all the time, because he was the Pre-press Guru at his printing company. The poor guy would come home from working through all these issues, then I would badger him to explain all the nuances of colour correction on Macs versus PCs at home.

So there you go, did I make sense and did you learn anything? 😛