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Monday, August 20, 2007

Knockout Color!

Think color from capture to finish for stunning images


This Article Features Photo Zoom

Knockout Color! Good color in pictures is subjective. Some people like pictures that pop with saturated hues, while others prefer pictures more subdued. What's more, we see colors differently at different times of day—even our mood affects how we see colors. In this article, I'd like to touch on the basics of color in digital photography, with the focus on getting the best possible image at the time of capture. To illustrate the techniques, I'll use some pictures that I took on a recent trip to Panama, where my goal was to take color pictures of the three indigenous tribes: the Kuna, the Emberá and the Ngobe.

Look For Colorful Subjects

The first thing you need for a colorful picture is a colorful subject or background—or both! Seeking out color can be a good starting point to get the photographic ball rolling, especially when you're traveling and trying to become oriented to a new location. So keep an eye out, as I did when I was in Kuna Yala photographing the women who sew molas.

Wait! I said the focus of this article would be getting the best in-camera shot, but you can change, improve and enhance the colors in an image quickly and easily using tools in your digital-imaging software. These screenshots show the Adjust Color, Hue/Saturation and Color Variations in Adobe Photoshop Elements, essential tools to know when adjusting color.

Knockout Color!
  Knockout Color!

Get Your White Balanced

Knockout Color! When you set the white balance on your digital camera, you're helping your camera identify what in a scene should be rendered white. If those areas are white, all the other colors should be right on. So, for most situations, it's important to set the white balance for the existing lighting conditions (Daylight, Cloudy, Shady, Tungsten and so on) if you want true color.

Compare these two pictures (left), however. The warmer image shows the effect of setting the white balance to Cloudy on a sunny day. Doing that warms up the photo, giving you deeper shades of red and yellow. Some cameras let you set a custom white balance and even bracket your white balance.

Note that white balance only applies to JPEG or TIFF files because when you shoot in the RAW mode, you pick the white-balance setting in your RAW-processing software. I use Adobe Camera Raw for this, but there are lots of alternatives, including the software that likely came with your RAW-capable camera.

Parameter Settings

Some digital cameras allow you to increase or decrease the sharpness, contrast, saturation, and even the color of a picture or set the camera to take a black-and-white or sepia-tone picture.

For a more colorful picture, you might want to boost the color and saturation using these in-camera controls. I usually don't recommend this because you can do the same thing with software later and with more control. What's more, if you boost the contrast and saturation too much at the time of capture, you may lose important details in the scene that you can't recover later.

It's fun to see how a change in color and saturation can enhance a scene on a camera's LCD monitor, so take two shots—one saturated and one straight. I like all three versions of this picture of a little Kuna schoolgirl.

Knockout Color!
  Knockout Color!
  Knockout Color!



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