Cliffs and Caves

A couple more photos from my recent low tide/negative tide outings to Point Loma, Sunset Cliffs and La Jolla Shores.

People often ask me if these colors are real. They are, and they aren’t. How? The colors are all there in the photos – just like the camera captures them. However, since I prefer to make my photos in even light, the overall contrast is often low and the images appear flat. Since I record raw data and not “finished” JPEG files, the image data itself is “flat” and undeveloped too when I import it to the computer.

I then increase the contrast when I develop the photos to give the images more “pop” – which means nothing else than the bright parts get brighter, and the dark parts get darker (more technically said: the black-point and white-point are being maximized, the histogram is “stretched”) – and that automatically gives the colors a bump too. This used to be done with film all the time, except that people who had a lab develop their film didn’t see it (because there was no “digital negative” to compare with). More on that below the gallery.

I’m writing about the colors because I found a discussion thread on Reddit where some guy (in the anonymity of a pseudonym and the Reddit platform) slammed the “Natural Column” photo from Sunset Cliffs as being “totally oversaturated.” The statement went something like “Photoshop Saturation +200%”.

I’m confident enough to do with my images what I like to do, to bring out their individual quality and what attracted my photographic eye. But still, I find such comments too close to trolling. So the next time some troll plays unsolicited purity control on your photos, look at it this way:

When we develop an image in black & white and optimize the contrast to maximize its effect and impact, that’s “fine art” – or whatever you want to call it. Yet, when we optimize the color in an image to maximize its effect and impact, it gets slammed as fake, unreal, overdone. That’s hypocrisy. (and yes, we’re all aware that it’s easy to overcook an image, but the point where that happens is a matter of taste.)

I’d like to add a little bit of education here:

  1. landscape photographers who use film love Fuji Velvia film because it has very saturated colors (and digital cameras often have a profile “Landscape” or “Vibrant” which mimics that look);
  2. using a polarizing filter removes glare from non-metallic surfaces, and that intensifies the colors in a photo
  3. maximizing the black-point and white-point of any low-contrast image will automatically make the colors pop;
  4. in the digital domain, slight adjustments to the white balance can have a dramatic effect on color contrast.

And – except for using Velvia :) – this is what I’ve done in developing the photos above. Polarizer, maximized contrast (partly through local adjustments), slight cooling of the colors (makes the blue-ish tones in the rock and the purple of the algae come out much more). I didn’t even touch the saturation or vibrance settings in Lightroom (yes indeed, dear Reddit troll, the photos weren’t even developed in Photoshop;-).

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