The Visible Spectrum: RGB Color Voodoo

Session three continues the magical mystery tour through the land of color. Now that we know that the camera actually sees color in black and white (see the two prior posts) and that RGB colors produce CMY(K) colors, we move into the voodoo behind combined colors of transmitted light.

If you were to enter a dimly lit room and shine a red light on a blank wall, it would naturally produce a red spot. Makes sense. If you shine a green light that partially overlapped the red light, part of the wall will be green, but where the green light overlapped the red light, yellow would appear. You might think that makes no sense! But wait, there’s more. If you were to shine a blue light on the wall, where the blue light overlapped the red light, a magenta color (a strange mix between hot pink and purple) would appear. And in the area where the blue, green colors overlapped, the color cyan would show up. How strange is that?


Now here’s the amazing part. The area where all these three colors overlap turns white. Who would have thought that red+green+blue=white? Welcome to the wacky voodoo world of color science. RGB Light CirclesTransmitted color light is called additive primary light, and involves frequencies, intensities, wave lengths and other geeky stuff; the magic heart and soul of the science behind the photography you are shooting.

This amazing light show happens behind the scenes every time you shoot a photo with your camera. You don’t have to understand it all, but you can’t deny that photography is both an art and a science.

Volleyball CMYK

The colors of reflected light. Overlaying these colors on a printer/printing press delivers CMYK color.

We learned last time that when the three primary RGB channels of color are sent to the printer, each color is transposed into its complimentary color (the color that opposes it) on the color wheel, producing the secondary CMY colors. The red channel produces cyan ink, the green channel produces magenta ink, and  the blue channel produces yellow ink.

Now it’s time to look at those RGB channels again, but this time as colors of light.

Volleyball RGB Light

The colors of transmitted light. Projecting light through these three color channels produces RGB color.

When these primary additive channels of transmitted light overlap (on any projected light system… projectors, televisions, and monitors), they project the combined RGB colors. Remember, in the RGB color model, blue light on green light produces cyan (rear wall) while red, green, and a bit of blue light produce tanned skin, and when equal amounts of all three colors of light are combined, they produce neutral white (Olympic rings and sand)

In its simplest form, this is the heart of color separation. The separating of RGB composite images into their individual components. The positive (RGB) version serves the photographic and video side of the industry while the negative (CMYK) version serves the print and lithographic side.

While this may seem like voodoo, it’s simply color science at work. Just thought you’d like to know. Let me know if this makes sense to you.

If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, here’s a suggestion. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you the fundamentals of light and color and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go to and get Bright About Light!


Posted in Tonality and Appearance | 2 Comments

The Visible Spectrum: RGB Channels Explained

On my last post, I displayed this color photo of an Olympic Volleyball game. Surrounding the picture are the individual RGB channels that make up the color photo. If you really look at these individual channels, something probably doesn’t make sense. If you didn’t look closely before, look again.

The color picture shows a blue background but the Red channel’s background is the one that appears the darkest. Ask yourself how solid red makes sense in a blue background? Then ask why the Blue channel has very little tone in the background? If you haven’t figured it out yet, put your thinking cap on and keep reading.


Red, Green, and Blue are the “additive” primary colors that the camera captures and your eyes see on your computer monitor. These primary colors are the colors of transmitted light. They are known as additive colors because when these colors of light are combined in various proportions, they portray the colors of the visible spectrum. They are known as primary colors because they are the purist, most basic colors visible to the human eye.

When these RGB colors of light are combined, they form the additive secondary colors of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. These secondary colors are also known as the subtractive primary colors; the colors of inks used in the printing process. The eye sees these inks as reflected light when printed on paper. When various amounts of subtractive primary colors are combined on paper, they produce (roughly) those same colors of the visible spectrum.


When these primary and secondary colors are viewed on the color wheel, the additive primary colors are located directly opposite the additive secondary colors; Cyan-Red, Magenta-Green, and Yellow-Blue.

By the way, even though you send RGB images to your inkjet printer, the printer converts those colors into CMYK (and usually a few additional) colors. Only photographic printers use RGB light to expose photographic paper.


This brings us to the answer to the original question. In the additive color mode, the Red channel actually represents the ink color Cyan, the Green channel represents the ink color Magenta, and the Blue channel represents the ink color Yellow. When you grasp this principle, you’ll understand why the Red channel in the picture below is actually the color Cyan, which makes more sense since the back wall of the court is pure Cyan with a little Magenta, and a touch of Yellow thrown in. In the printing process, a small amount of black is added to the image for contrast and color depth.

Volleyball-CMYK  Volleyball CMYK

If you have to think real hard to sort through all this, just be thankful that color science is alive and well in the photo-reproduction process and takes care of the color conversion from transmitted light (camera/monitor) to reflected light (printed material). This certainly doesn’t explain whole the color separation process, but it addresses the basics.

Just thought you’d like to know. Let me know if this makes sense to you.

If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, here’s a suggestion. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you the fundamentals of light and color and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go to and get Bright About Light!

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment

The Visible Spectrum: What Your Camera Sees

I’ve had a number of requests to explain (in layman’s terms) some of the principles of color science as they apply to photography. The more you understand about the science of light and color behind the art of photography, the more you will know how to use that light to your best advantage when shooting with your camera. This post will be the first in a series of short lessons that will help you understand what’s happening behind the lens. This brief session will be introduced by a short clip from the GottaKnow Light series of videos.

As you just heard, your eyes can only “see” the colors of the visible spectrum; the same colors that are visible in rainbows. Rainbows are actually refracted white light. When we place a prism in front of a white beam of light, the components of white light are split into individual colors.


The truth is, your camera doesn’t actually capture color images at all. It captures three images of monochromatic light as seen through individual Red, Green, and Blue filters. These three colors are projected onto millions of microscopic sensors behind the lens of your camera. These sensors (called photosites) are located on a microchip called an image sensor. Each sensor records either a red, green, or blue portion of the scene’s light. The strength of light recorded on each R, G, or B sensor is measured in lumens; the smallest metric of light measurement.

Image Travel-CameraEach photosite on this sensor then sends its information to the camera’s image processor which interprets the signals as a grid of colored pixels known as a bitmap. The color of each pixel in this bitmap is defined as one of millions (or even trillions) of colors, depending on whether the image was recorded as an 8-bit JPEG image or 14-bit RAW data file (the difference between 256 and 14,000). The file is then saved onto the camera’s memory card. If the file was saved in RAW format, a generic interpretation of this color information is displayed as a JPEG image when the image is opened in a RAW interpreter like Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. A more full explanation of JPEG vs RAW captures will be presented in a later post.

Now you’ll probably understand better what the RGB initials stand for. This all started with the camera lens spreading the light of the scene over the surface of the image sensor. And now it will be clear why your camera’s sharp focus is so important. If the subject isn’t in clear focus, the pixels in your image will record fuzzy. And you can’t sharpen fuzzy! I’ll cover more of the science in following posts. This should give you an appreciation for the magic of digital camera technology.

Just thought you’d like to know. Let me know if this makes sense to you.

If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, here’s a suggestion. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you the fundamentals of light and color and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go to and get Bright About Light!

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment

SOOC vs Post-Production

There is an argument coming from photo purists that “honest” photography must come straight out of the camera… with no post production. Post-production is looked at like a crutch. I’ve even heard the comment that “I capture the image in the camera and don’t rely on Photoshop to make it look good. I just get it right in the camera.”

For anyone who has their feet wet in both film and digital photography, this statement is well-intended but silly; and it seems to emanate from two camps: the new breed of digital photographers shooting with the latest technology, and seasoned professionals who have always enjoyed the luxury of movie sets, broadcast studios, photo studios, and other controlled lighting environments. The intent of the statement is well-meaning but idealistic and even a bit snobbish. The real truth is honest photography is developed outside of the camera. Very few times is the lighting perfectly balanced and the exposure ideally dialed-in to produce spot-on perfect images right out of the camera.

All of the great film photographers relied heavily on post-production for all of their prints. It was simply known as darkroom work. You see, simply exposing film with a camera doesn’t produce a viewable image. Only when that exposed film is developed (using one of a number of unique development solutions and varying times) does a tangible negative appear. And until that processed negative is put in an enlarger and exposed onto paper (using a variety of differing lens settings, filters, hand ballets and exposure times) and then bathed and rocked in developer (for an unspecified time) is the image even viewable. Even then, most initial prints are evaluated and then reprinted at least once. I personally have built and owned three professional darkrooms over fifteen years and know this to be true. Digital image post-processing is simply the digital darkroom.

Even in the digital world, where many “cameras” are like computers with lenses, do I rarely allow an image to be seen without tweaking the exposure (including the ones below). I’ve been studying how light affects photographic images for four decades and have finally concluded that light is rarely controlled, it must be coaxed and cajoled to replicate what we see with our imagination.

Smith-AdamsW. Eugene Smith considered darkroom work to be 90% of a photo’s creation process and Ansel Adams stated that “only half the photograph is produced in the camera, the other half is created in the darkroom.” I side with them.

That’s the way I sees it, let me know what you think.

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | 7 Comments

White Balance Can Destroy Color

When it comes to setting the color temperature in a scene, make an intelligent choice. Sometimes taking a neutral position on things isn’t really the safe thing to do – sometimes it’s actually downright destructive!

Redefining Intelligence. Regardless of what the packaging says, your camera is not really smart, it is just efficient and obedient. It will obey anything you tell it to do. It’s a machine, it is not a volitional entity. It will never be “intelligent” in the way that humans are intelligent; it can be programmed to follow a logical sequence, but it cannot “make decisions.”Alaska NiteLight
I used AWB in this snow scene example, I gave the camera permission to shift all colors and it obeyed my command and produced bad color; all in the name of Auto White Balance. That wasn’t smart on the camera’s part, it was ignorance on my part. The correct choice on this shot was to capture the shot in Daylight setting. The snow would have remained bluish. By setting the scene lighting to Auto White Balance, the camera forced the bluish snow to a neutral gray color, ruining the mood of the shot.

Camera manufacturers claim that their cameras are “intelligent,” but the intelligence is merely scripted logic. You are the only one with actual intelligence. You must tell the camera what to do- NOT the other way around.

Learn About Color Modes. Take control of the situation, learn about basic color settings on your camera and then set your camera’s white balance setting accordingly. Your camera’s color modes include pre-sets for all typical lighting situations: Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Florescent, Flash, as well as a couple of custom setups. The wording of these settings is straightforward.

white-balance-settingsAWB Can Be a Crutch. Nothing in life is automatic. Cruise control is only good in automobiles. Assuming that your camera will automatically correct all your problems by using Auto White Balance is a very risky assumption. At very best, AWB will keep you in the ball game outdoors under normal weather conditions, but it will not ever correctly display colors the way your eyes see them in all situations. Get bright about light. Learn how color behaves so you can set your camera to capture light the way your eyes perceive it. This same knowledge will enable you to use your editing software more intuitively.

When the scene contains “emotional” light- candle light, sunrise/sunset, late afternoon or early morning light, nightlife/neon, AWB is the wrong choice. If the scene to be captured contains this kind of emotional (or mood) lighting, the very mood that made you want to take the picture to begin with can effectively be neutered by Auto White Balance.

18% Gray CardGray Balance Cards. Using a gray balance tool can save your life in many lighting situations, especially in a mixed lighting situation. If you do choose to use a gray card in a reference shot, you need to understand what it is and what it does.

First, the card should be gray, not white. The term may be white balance, but you must use a gray card for the reference. White is wrong simply because it is colorless and will most likely confuse the camera more than properly set it.

Second, the proper gray card is an 18% gray, and for good reason. Your camera’s light meter sets the exposure to capture the middle of the tonal range; a typical tone of human skin and the average of good lighting. When you use a gray card, both the color setting and the exposure are dialed in.

lightroom- Gray Balance

Third, set the camera to spot metering so that the gray card will be the only item read by the camera. Scene metering will read all the light in the scene and average the colors. A gray balance tool (gray card, X-rite Passport, or Color Checker placed in the scene (for an initial test shot) will serve as the gray balance reference for correcting any color imbalance in all images captured in that scene.

But there is a time to use an 18% gray card (or similar commercial product) to reference a true neutral gray color and set the gray balance in your photos, and a time to keep that card in your camera bag. The truth is, neutralizing every lighting situation can literally suck the natural color right out of a scene.

The Smartest Color Setting is No Setting at All. The way to avoid bad lighting is to not force the camera to truncate the lighting at all. Shoot and capture your images in RAW format. When you do this, you get to dial in the correct color after the shot is captured. The best idea of all is to use the gray card as a reference shot and then remove the card and shoot all your shots without a worry.

Color Correction in Post Production. This correction takes place after the image is captured in RAW format. When the gray card reference image is opened in Adobe Lightroom, Camera Raw, or any RAW interpreter software, and the White Balance tool is applied to the reference gray in the test image, all photos open at the time can be color corrected automatically. This is truly a great way to accurately set the lighting balance within a series of photos taken during a single session…

That’s the way I sees it. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to push light around to make your images look better, I can help. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and help you to capture and produce amazing color.

Go online and get this video series. Get Bright About Light!

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | 6 Comments

Print Publication Quality Control

A lot has changed with the quality of print publications over the last fifteen years, and not all of it for the good. I have ink in my blood from working publications inside and out for decades. I’ve shot and edited photos, worked in the color separation trade and I’ve logged years as a color pressman. I get it.

Back in an earlier time, this was a different industry and it was served by a different trade. Professional photographers went on assignment for 85% of the photos. Photo labs produced transparencies and photo-retouchers took care of any problems. Color trade shops made the separations and produced color-corrected litho films. Prepress Journeymen assembled films and produced printing plates. When the magazine went to press, the First Pressman, Pressroom Supervisor, Account Manager, and the Art Director all attended the press check and OK’d the signatures after the make-readys were complete. Quality control was a professional process from top to bottom.


But that’s not the way the process works anymore. Budgets are slim, less than 50% of the photos are assigned to photographers and the rest are either submitted by customers, shot with cell phones, or purchased from stock photo houses. Many photographers adjust their own images though they know little about the printing process. Photos are submitted in all forms, color modes and formats, some are edited in Photoshop, others are not. Most arrive as JPEGs in a mix of RGB and CMYK formats. Magazines are assembled and pictures are placed in InDesign files that are then converted to PDF by the magazine staff. 

The printer gets the PDF and checks the links and resolution before paginating it and sending the files to the platesetter. Most printing signatures are approved remotely by a variety of individuals viewing it on a variety of color monitors. Sometimes hard proofs are produced, though not always. The pressman checks the color against a color monitor at the press table. Makeready is quick and schedules are tight.

While digital publishing opened many doors of opportunity, it also opened the industry to relaxed standards and reduced professional skills.

You’d think with all the advanced systems and processes today that the quality would be greatly improved over what it was fifteen years ago. But this isn’t always the case, as you know. So what’s missing? A lot. And we can thank progress and technology for much of it! Technology and automation have taken the place of trade knowledge and human experience in our industry. Moving forward has moved us backwards in some ways, and it shows. Here’s what I mean.


Several years ago I noticed the cover of a regional city magazine had printed lifeless and dull. The design was nice but the color was disappointing. I met with the publisher of several city magazines and was made aware that this dull cover wasn’t a one-time problem. He thought the cover looked pretty good since great photography just wasn’t in the budget anymore. It seemed “good enough” had become the new normal. I told him I could prepare his next cover to print bright and colorful for a small fee. He agreed to give me a shot and the next cover saw a significant improvement. He now realized how little it took to produce great color again.

I also noticed that some of the book’s internal images showed typical JPEG traits of banding, blown highlights and plugged shadows; some beyond my ability to repair. I came to realize that while all photographers are artists and they care about their photos, but few have a working knowledge of digital imaging, tone curves or color reproduction (preparing images for press). Color science isn’t always the photographer’s high suit. In days past, it didn’t have to know all this, but now they do.

I approached the publisher about me meeting with the magazine’s printing company to understand the file submission standards for their particular presses and paper stocks (no, publication standards are not all the same). The publisher commissioned the investigation.

Printing companies work very hard to identify and control the behavior of their presses. They know the limitations of what they can and cannot print. They maintain a regimen of “control systems and best practices” to maintain all equipment and presses to produce very consistent results. Each printing company produces a production spec; a rule book of how to submit files for their system. It is critically important that their clients submit their files in complete accordance with this spec. And, publishers need to understand that printers are not allowed to “improve” the customer’s pictures.

As a former retoucher, pre-press operator and pressman, I wanted to know the details of this specification so I could fine tune a set of submission standards for the magazines.

Skye DR-O  Skye DR-A copy

After a series of meetings with the printing company, I met with the magazine’s photographers and developed a Submission Specification for Publication Photographers. This photo specification included tonal range limitations, a specific camera color mode, mandatory gray card test shots for all interior scenes, and finally, that they were to submit all photos to me in RAW format. I then gave them access to my ( video series to familiarize them with basic color science for photography.

I finally put together a color managed production workflow for the magazine. I’m now on contract as intercessor between the photographers, the magazine publisher and the publication printer. I edit the images and supply the Editor with color-managed files on a very tight production schedule. A single day has been added to the monthly schedule to accommodate my QC process. I coach-up the photographers as needed and oversee the print quality of the publications. The photographers are happy, the printer is happy, and the magazine is looking snappy. We now have disciplined and informed photographers, a color-managed and efficient workflow, and we’re realizing consistent improvement.

If this scenario strikes a familiar chord with you and you’d like to see improvement in your print publications, drop me a line ( and let’s set up a time to talk. I can and will make a difference.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment

Hiding in the Shadows

There is usually a lot of detail lost in the darkest parts of an image. This happens simply because your camera can’t see in the dark. There is simply more dynamic light range in the scene than the camera can capture and display in one shot. This does not mean that the camera cannot capture the detail, because it almost always does. The problem is that unless we dig the detail out of the shadows, it remains hidden. Here’s an example.

Skye LR-OThis photo was captured by a good professional photographer and submitted to a city magazine for which I prepare the pictures for print. The dark bricks on the wall actually absorbed most of the studio lighting set up in the room. When a subject is much darker than the other objects in the room, it naturally shows up darker. Normally, the photographer dials up more light to compensate for the dark object, but in doing so the lighter objects in the room can receive too much light.

In this example, the photographer increased the overall lighting and it affected the color saturation in the middle tones. Amplifying an overall light to illuminate a problem area can create problems elsewhere. This is a typical problem with location lighting.

Skye LRThe solution? Edit the image in post-production to even out the lighting. The trick is to boost the lighting in only the three-quarter tones, that part of the tone structure between the very darkest color and the middle tones. At the same time, the saturation in the middle tones needed to be increased and the highlight detail out the window needed to be brought back. All the detail was there in the original photo, it just needed fine tuning.

This is best accomplished by 1) capturing the image in RAW format, and 2) editing the individual tonal areas and boosting the saturation in the warm middle tones.

Skye DR-OThis is another shot from the same photo assignment that created a similar problem. The darker wall, along with the black dining room furniture, soaked up all the light in the room. Any additional light would have completely bleached out the light tile on the floor.

Skye DR-A copyOnce again, the solution was in post-processing. Editing shadow detail is a delicate operation because detail and definition need to be brought out in the shadow tones without making the near-black furniture appear too light.

Images intended for publication must walk a tight balance between definition and lighting range. The dot-based half toning process requires more separation in the shadow tones to reproduce well. When this is accomplished, the publication house has a much easier chore in printing the full range of tones.

That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to push light around to make your images look better, I can help. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go online and get this video series at Get Bright About Light!

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment

A Lifelong Quest for Image Clarity

The title sounds ominous enough.

My first attempts to produce “snappy” pictures in print started in my sophomore year in college. I was the production manager for our college magazine and was determined to make the images in publication pop off the page.

I had no earthly idea how that was supposed to happen. I understood very little about either photography or the print reproduction game at the time. I remember accompanying the school photographer on assignments, asking him to shoot “high contrast pictures.” This was a little vague in direction, but it sounded like it should have an impact on the final print.

At that time I was working my way through college in the Reproduction Department of Tropical Gas Company in Miami Florida, running forms and reports and the company newsletter on the company’s Multilith 1250W duplicator (a small beginner’s version of a printing press).

Every time I wanted to print a black and white photo, I had to have the local “repro shop” produce a printing plate containing a halftone (a simulation of the photograph broken into variable size dots- see above). My halftone images usually printed flat, and I figured the fault had to belong to the photographer.

That was my early approach to QC in photographic images. I understood absolutely nothing about the photo/lithographic process but that was about to change big time.


To see the magic illusion of printed halftones, back away from your monitor by at least 12 feet.

What I came to realize shortly thereafter was that there were several VERY significant steps between the camera shot and the images coming out of the duplicator. Lighting in the photo was important, but it was only the first move in the production ballet. Then the critical steps of film development and photographic enlargement (the print) took place before the totally magic halftone conversion process happened. I found out that shaping the image after the photo was taken was the real secret to printed picture success. My learning “lights” began to turn on. Over the next few years, my quest for printed image clarity grew.

35mm-dev-tankI determined to learn and take control of all the steps in the process, starting with the photography, developing my own films, enlarging my own prints, and shooting my own halftone images. The quest was turning into a plan and was headed in the right direction. The kid was taking control.

My love for the process eventually drove me deep into the high-end lithographic trade, running publication presses and producing color separations.

Funny how life unfolds. Here I am over fifty years later and I’m still on that quest for image clarity. After decades in the litho and photography trades, I’m still on track and still learning stuff. Digital images have replaced film emulsions, computer processing succeeded the rocking of film canisters and print trays, I’m editing on a digital display instead of dodging and burning under an enlarger, and printing on large format inkjet printers instead of spitting paper out of a small quick-copy duplicator.


Never settle for the image that first comes out of the camera. There’s always more detail below the surface.

But the goal remains: the perpetual quest for image clarity. Actually, it’s the same goal I’ve had all along, the game is just played on a larger field. No matter where you are in this visual journey, never stop learning. It’s an honorable and rewarding quest!

That’s the way I sees it.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to push light around to make your images look better, I can help. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go online and get this video series. Get Bright About Light!

Posted in Analog and Digital Photography, Opinions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Color Balance is All About Neutral Gray

Sometimes taking a neutral position on things isn’t really the safe thing to do – sometimes it’s downright destructive! Your camera may not be as smart as you think!

WB Camera Setting  

Auto White Balance. Your camera’s Auto White Balance, or AWB is the most popular color balance selection used by most of us believing that the camera will automatically sort out any lighting anomolies, or is at least more capable of judging lighting conditions than we are. But assuming that AWB will diagnose all lighting issues and set the proper color temperature is quite risky. Here’s why.

Color Wheel NeutralThe first thing to understand about color is that in the language of RGB color, equal values of red, green, and blue (like red 128, green 128, and blue 128) will produce an absolutely neutral gray color.

The AWB algorithm in your camera always assumes that there is a detectable neutral gray component present in every scene. It then examines the light reflecting from objects in the scene and locks onto the cluster of pixels whose individual values are the closest to being equal. The AWB algorithm then dutifully forces those colors to become absolutely neutral value. And at the same time, all other colors in the scene are shifted to the same degree. This is the heart of auto white balance. Most times, that works out well. But sometimes the result is disastrous.

AWB works if the assumed neutral color in the scene is suppose to be neutral (gray) in color. The automatic color shift will then truly improve the balance of color in the image.Alaska NiteLight
But, if the scene doesn’t actually contain a neutral gray component; if there is a bluish –almost-gray item (like the snow scene above) in the scene, and you capture the image with Auto White Balance, the real colors in the scene will be neutered. The image on the left was captured with Daylight setting. The image on the right was captured with AWB. Notice that the camera interpreted the bluish snow as “neutral,” rendering it unnaturally gray. The image processor in the camera changed that bluish color to neutral gray, and shifted all the other colors in the scene in the same direction on the color wheel absolutely destroying the emotion of the scene.

Notice that in the color wheel illustration above, yellow is the polar opposite of  blue. When the bluish snow was interpreted as gray, all the colors in the scene shifted toward yellow. This is the way color balance works.

Gray is not a color. If color were political, it would be Swiss (politically neutral). It may sound strange, but color balance is all about gray. Neutral gray is the colorless backbone of accurate color because it contains equal values of all three RGB colors. Gray is the standard by which all accurate color is judged. Auto White Balance in cameras is useless unless there is an element within the scene that is absolutely neutral “color.”

With all the whiz-bang technology and automated functions built in to today’s cameras, we photographers (whether accomplished or improving) tend to be a bit lazy with this AWB setting. Successful photographers (like the ones who inspired you to purchase your camera) didn’t become successful by accident, they learned by making mistakes like this. Their education of photography included learning about how light behaves.

The best color balance setting for any scene is the one you will choose after evaluating the lighting in the scene. Understanding color all starts with understanding how light and color behave. When you get beyond learning composition and and the mechanics of your camera’s controls, you realize that learning about light is THE most important part of photography. You will eventually realize that light is the one thing you MUST learn to control. In truth, light is the only thing you can control in photography.

You can either learn about color and how to control it in your camera the easy way or the hard way. If you really want to understand what makes color work, and learn how light behaves, I can help you. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go online and get this video series. Get Bright About Light!

Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Ensure Tack-Sharp Images

Blurry Image

How many times have you captured images that look sharp and detailed as a thumbnails only to have them lose that sharpness when the files are opened in Photoshop? If you’re like me, TOO MANY times. It happens to all of us all too often. But it doesn’t have to. You probably know many reasons why and how to avoid the problems. Here are some of my most careless focus mistakes, and how I’ve learned to avoid them.

Clean the lens

First and Foremost- Clean the lens. Fingerprints and dust on the lens are the most obvious hinderances to sharp pictures and are one of the most commonly overlooked causes. Carry a small clean microfiber cloth (or packets of lens cleaning wipes) in your camera bag at all times, and keep the lens cap on the lens when it’s not in use.


Stopping Down LensFind the optimal f-stop for your lens. Lenses are at their sharpest toward the center of the ground glass. It is widely known that 3-4 stops down from wide open produces the sharpest results. When you stop down a lens, you effectively eliminate the soft nature of the outside edges of the lens. If your shot doesn’t require an extremely shallow depth of field (to blur the background), close the lens down several stops and compensate for the exposure with either an increased ISO number or a slower shutter speed. Closing the lens will also guarantee that more of the subject will stay in focus.

Canon_f_1.4Canon Zoom lens

Use faster lenses. Buy the fastest glass you can afford. THE most critical equipment in your camera bag is not your camera body, but the quality of your lenses. Economy lenses produce mediocre results. Save your money and invest in great lenses (2.8 or faster). A 1.4 prime (fixed length) lens will always produce sharper images, though it will certainly cost more money. Most of us carry at least one zoom lens, but zoom lenses are seldom faster than 2.8, and many are 4 – 5.6. The lower the number, the more efficiently light passes through the lens. Efficiency equals speed.


DOF ButterflyCalculate your DOF. Choose an f-stop that will keep your entire subject in sharp focus. Remember the 1/3-2/3 rule ( If you want to keep your subject in full focus while blurring the background, do the math to figure out the depth of field that will remain in full focus at a particular distance. Each length lens has it’s own “pocket of precision” or focal zone for each subject-lens distance. Take the time to explore your lens’ capabilities so that you will be prepared.


Manual Focus

Switch to Manual focus. Unless your subject has a high level of contrasting edges and is located in the middle of your field of view, try switching to manual focus. Auto focus is a life-saver most of the time, but a higher contrast non-subject item in the scene could steal the camera’s attention. Camera Auto Focus is designed to zero-in on high contrast. The highest contrast in the scene will always grab the camera’s focus. If your subject is located in subdued lighting, switch to manual.



Avoid hand-held shots below 1/125 sec. No matter how still you hold your camera, your body will always be in motion to some degree. The fact that we all breath and have a heartbeat means that even the slightest human motion will most likely become an issue.


Shutter SpeedIncrease your shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds in hand-held conditions always present problems. Even the slight motion of pushing the shutter button is a contributing factor in this process. While the accepted rule is to avoid hand-held shots below 1/160 sec, I personally make it a point to not shoot below 1/125 sec when hand-held.


ISO-ScaleCompensate ISO for speed. If your shot requires more light, try dialing up more image sensor light sensitivity (increased ISO). Most ideal lighting situations work at 200-400 ISO, but low lighting scenarios may require you to set the camera to a significantly higher sensor setting. But keep in mind that the ISO setting determines how sensitive the image sensor is to light and darkness. Very high ISO will display higher levels of electronic noise in you picture. Noise is the polar opposite of “signal.” Make your choice of ISO carefully if the image is to be enlarged at all.


Tripod with remoteUse a tripod and a remote trigger. The ultimate preparation for capturing sharp and detailed images is to take human motion out of the equation altogether. Once you mount your camera on a tripod, frame the scene, set the focus, set the appropriate f-stop for the depth of field, switch to the electronic shutter (if available on your camera) and set up a remote trigger using either a cable release or smart phone app. Then sit back and be ready to pull the trigger when the scene is right on the LCD display.


SquirrelyIf you’re shooting animal life, move away from the camera and monitor everything remotely. Also consider shooting in small bursts to insure against Murphy’s law.

There are only a couple of reasons for purposely soft images. Portrait lenses are designed to be soft in order to minimize flaws and wrinkles in skin and ethereal or fantasy scenes are best recorded in a wispy or hazy focal point. However, most pictures are intended to produce sharp and detailed results. Try to keep from excessive sharpening of your images in the editing process in an attempt to bring out detail. Every time you sharpen an image in post production you also enhance the non-subject elements in the scene.

Get disciplined about capturing detail in your original shot. Take the time to learn each of these precautions, practice each of them and then review them mentally before you take your shot.

Get bright about light and stay focused.

That’s the way eye sees it. Feel free to leave a comment and enter the conversation. Thanks for joining me. If you like what you read, let me know and tell your friends. Click on the Follow The Way Eye Sees It button at the top of the page to join the regulars. Visit the website to see examples of how to improve your image(s).

Imageprep banner

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you must understand how light behaves. And I’ve developed a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and get you on track to capture and produce amazing color.


Posted in Tonality and Appearance | Leave a comment