Please help me to understand colour

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by perkeleellinen, Feb 3, 2009.

  1. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Subscriber

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    I worked abroad for the whole of 2008 and had no access to a darkroom. Consequently I shot quite a bit of slide film so I could at least hold them up to the light and see what I was doing right (and wrong).

    Back in the UK now and my slides are nice enough but lack a narrative, they're all over the place with no consistent 'look'. My long term project for 2009 is to start colour printing, but I need a firm grounding in the principles of colour.

    I want to understand colour better, by that I mean what works and why. I'm interested in finding a mostly theoretical book about colour images that I can apply to my photography. Does such a thing exist?

    Also, can anyone recommend some great colour photographers for inspiration?

    Thanks!
     
  2. edwinb

    edwinb Member

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    perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Subscriber

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    Thanks for the link. I'm a little apprehensive with some of those titles, though, there seems a lot of photoshop tips and guides for managing colour across different software packages. Perhaps I should clarify I want to start colour darkroom printing.

    I would prefer a book which deals with the fundamentals of colour which apply not only to photographers, but also painters, printers etc.
     
  4. ricksplace

    ricksplace Member

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    The Kodak Color Darkroom Dataguide is a good reference for color printing. Simple and straightforward. I started printing colour about a year ago. It took me a while to figure out the subtractive colour balance idea. A color print viewing kit to get your color balance right is a good idea if you are just starting. I still use the viewing kit every time I print colour. While some printers are able to adjust the color balance by just looking at the print, I don't have that skill (and probably never will), so I use the viewing kit to help.

    There have been many advances since the color darkroom dataguide was published. You can work at room temperatures and get great results. If I'd known that colour was this easy to print, I would have done it years ago.
     
  5. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    If you've ever gone to a meeting of color scientists,
    you'll have learned that what they have in common
    is an urgent need to hire somebody to dress them before they leave the house.
    You REALLY don't want to start studying color theory. REALLY.

    Start walking through museums. Look at paintings, weavings, pictures of all kinds, and stuff.
    Until you have an idea of what things look like, and how color feels, you'll have no context to make sense of the theory.
    When you have developed your eye a little bit, you'll have little need for the theory.
    Take some art history classes. Get a cheap watercolor outfit. Try to become a terrible painter... play with paints.

    Continue that. THEN, find a good color printer. Indenture yourself.
     
  6. Tom Kershaw

    Tom Kershaw Subscriber

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    Ctein's 'Post Exposure' is good; and discusses ILFOCHROME (reversal film) printing. Printing colour negatives is less expensive, but you may want to look into a processor for either process. Note though that RA-4 (for colour negative paper) is a 2 bath process whereas ILFOCHROME is a 3 bath process, so a processor for one process may not be compatible with another.


    Tom.
     
  7. Michael W

    Michael W Member

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    I like the book 'Interaction of Colour' by Josef Albers. He was a Bauhaus trained artist who wrote this as the text for the colour course he ran at Yale art school. He doesn't lay down hard rules of what does & doesn't work; rather he gives exercises for you to explore for yourself. He has a quote something like "Colour is the most relative of all mediums".
     
  8. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    Colour can be whatever YOU want it to be.

    Not all photographers understand colour. In my opinion, Ansel Adams colour work is weak to down right terrible. Then Eliot Porter comes along to sing in colour. Then there is William Eggleston's work.

    I suggest you find a photographer or two whom you admire, and study their use of colour. Ask yourself enquiring questions of what works and doesn't work for your esthetic, and attempt to fold those lessons into your self-discovery process with the camera.
     
  9. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    Colour can be whatever YOU want it to be.

    Not all photographers understand colour. In my opinion, Ansel Adams colour work is weak to down right terrible. Then Eliot Porter comes along to sing in colour. William Eggleston's work rewrote colour.

    I suggest you find a photographer or two whom you admire, and study their use of colour. Ask yourself enquiring questions of what works and doesn't work for your esthetic, and attempt to fold those lessons into your self-discovery process with the camera.

    And with any learning process, failure is your friend. You'll learn just as much from poorly executed images, as you will from successes, if you apply the lessons learn to grow.
     
  10. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    There is a long article by Chuck Woodworth on how film works on the internet. A google search should find his article.

    PE
     
  11. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    When it comes right down to it Colour is Black and white with a few extra step. Instead of one layer of emulsion like black and white films, colour has three with color-coupling dyes that affect a different layer of the film (RGB). Each reacts to a different stage in the processing thus creating your negative of (CMY). However colour photography is completely different from Black and White in that you have to capture your audience with more than simply mere line and tone.
     
  12. bowzart

    bowzart Member

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    My wife found a book which has been very useful. Hold on, it is hard to believe the name: Color Theory Made Easy. By Jim Ames. Here's a link to the Amazon page where you can find a description and reviews. I think it is probably widely available.

    http://www.amazon.com/Color-Theory-Made-Easy-Approach/dp/0823007545/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    Albers is great, from the perspective of how we perceive color, especially. It is not great for getting down the basic optical/physical stuff.

    The weakness of most books on color is that they are written for particular groups, such as painters or photographers, from a singular point of view. It is very unusual to find a book that deals both with additive and subtractive systems in a way that integrates both into a coherent whole. I just looked for the Ames book and can't find it, but I remember it as being the only book I've ever seen that does this adequately, even though its primary reader group might be painters. I recommended it to a colleague, a painter, who was at the time teaching a course where she needed to deal with color in a more comprehensive way to bridge between pigment and digital. She, too, found it useful.

    My own approach is to consider color not as two separate systems, "RGB" and "CMY", but as a six primary system. If you'd like to have some fun with color, get yourself some red, green and blue light bulbs. Set them up in an otherwise dark space in a triangle. Turn them on and have a party inside that triangle. You'll see the "additive" primaries in the lights, and the "subtractive" primaries in the shadows. Six colors.
     
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    perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Subscriber

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    Thanks for all the tips. I decided to get the book by Josef Albers as it's the perception of colour that I'm interested in. More technical stuff about how colour is rendered on film and paper will come later.

    Now, anyone got a favourite colour photographer they can recommend?
     
  14. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    Albers is probably the best single book I have found. There has been a fair bit of perceptual physiology research that backs up Albers' intuitive understanding of colour, but I haven't found a more recent book that covers the same ground with an up to date understanding of the medicine involved.

    Joel Meyerowitz's "Cape Light" and anything by Richard Misrach are worth a look if you want to see canonical art photographers with a similar subtle approach to colour to that put forward in Albers' book. Jem Southam is another photographer who uses colour in ways that appeal to me. You might also like Mike Smith, Bo Moon, Eric Fredine, David Maisel, Sonja Thomsen, and Chris Harris. Finally, in Europe there are art schools like the ones in Helsinki and Essen which seem to promote a subtle and nuanced approach to colour. Google is your friend.

    Personally, my photographic inspiration tends to be from B+W photographers like Siskind, Meatyard, Sommers and Ray Metzker, as well as a host of contemporary non-names. I try to marry what attracts me to their monochrome images with a sense of colour derived from paintings, watercolours and drawings. Abstract and semi-abstract landscapes by Klee, Klimt, Rennie Mackintosh, De Stael, Hopper and others, as well as full-blown abstracts by the abstract expresssionists, have inspired my sense of colour much more than any photographers.
     
  15. Removed Account

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    While 'Post Exposure' was a fantastic technical book it left me feeling very depressed with a sickening feeling that lacking apochromatic lenses, perfectly calibrated chemical processors, masking punches and registration carriers (as well as lacking the money to buy these things) means that I would never be able to produce even a mediocre, let alone good or excellent, print. That certainly wasn't the point of the book but it was something I got out of it.
     
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    perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Subscriber

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    Struan - Thank-you for your post, most informative. Lots of names to look into. I had a quick look at Richard Misrach's work here: www.edelmangallery.com/misrach.htm fine, fine work. I also enjoyed reading through your 'twiglog'.
     
  17. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Subscriber

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    The beautiful colour work of the late Tasmanian (Australian) photographer Peter Dombrovskis has long been my inspiration, from 35mm and now large format. Dombrovskis' work was all made on Linhof, even after years of 35mm and 120. His precise methodology and visual literacy rubbed off onto a large number of Australian photographers, but particularly how we perceive, understand and ultimately forsake through our own selfishness true wilderness environments.
     
  18. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    Perkeleellinen (can we say that in polite company?), thanks for your thanks. I need to start blogging again, but birthdays, weddings, illness and an attempted burglary have distracted me of late :smile:

    If you can get up to Manchester, The Lowry has an exhibition of Jem Southam's work up at the moment. Lowry's own landscapes are also worth a look, especially the curious late 'lonely landscapes' and the seascapes. Otherwise, a general recommendation is to go and see originals as much as possible. I was lucky enough to catch the Klimt exibition in Liverpool last summer, and the difference between the colours of the paints and even the best reproductions is not subtle, especially when you start looking at juxtapositions.

    There are a huge number of large-format colour-negative photographers producing softly-coloured work in the deadpan style usually associated with the Becher School at Düsseldorf, but also the American successors to Stephen Shore such as Alec Soth and his many imitators. They don't however seem to have a strong sense of colour as such: they get a particular aesthetic look for free from the materials they use.

    I think a subtle use of colour doesn't automatically mean desaturated or pastel tones, but it's hard to think of photographic examples to match colourist painters, or giants like Cezanne who regularly used colour tones to indicate depth instead of shading. It's partly that photography has to deal with the world as presented, partly that the available materials don't allow the sort of manipulation that a Cezanne or a Sickert does routinely, but also I think that photographers rarely see colour as anything other than an add-on to the brightness values. All those camera club red dress photos exert an influence, even on those who think themselves immune.
     
  19. Michael W

    Michael W Member

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    Ernst Haas
    William Eggleston
    Saul Leiter
    Nan Goldin
     
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    perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Subscriber

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    I found an interview with Southam here:

    http://www.seesawmagazine.com/southam_pages/southam_interview.html

    I think I may buy the book "Landscape Stories". I've just moved from an urban to rural environment (Göteborg, Sweden to Oxfordshire, England) and this will clearly impact my photography.

    I may be able to get to Manchester, although I know that Mrs P would prefer London as she's found a Swedish food store she wants to shop in.
     
  21. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    I think there's an Ikea in Manchester, and the UK ones often sell food to take home :smile:

    On the other hand, London's not to shabby either: you could always pop into the V+A and fondle some vintage prints in their print room while the Mrs is stocking up on Kalles Kaviar and Hönökakor.