Feature Story

Color and Contrast - Less is More

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Time and again I see photographers make the rookie mistake of over-processing the elements of contrast and color. All too often, photographers rely solely on the auto correct feature of editing software, to very unnatural results.

Many a photograph is ruined with too high contrast and too much color saturation. Often times, the photograph that is created straight from the camera is flat and a touch of editing only makes it better. But there are times when some photographers just don't know when to stop. Especially with the popularity of HDR photography, there are those that seek the effect without the effort. However, simply turning up the volume on the contrast and color is not the answer.

I love color as much as the next person, but more than often the color right out of the camera is just right and no further enhancement is necessary, especially when you choose the vibrant camera setting. So before you touch that color saturation bar in the editing software, go back to your camera and see what settings you've made there.

When I was in school, my photography professor was constantly telling students that images were "too contrasty." Since then, I've begun to recognize those images. Take a look at the accompanying images here. I've posted the "right" photo and the "wrong" photo to illustrate my point for over-processing on color and contrast.

Some photographers rely on contrast to sharpen their images, but this is only drawing more attention to an error made in exposure, focusing and aperture.

Look at the work of noted photographers. You will notice that their photographs are smooth and seem to pop off the page without a high contrast value or color saturation. This is achieved by the correct balance of exposure, focus and aperture.

Pay attention to the highlights and shaded areas of the subject and adjust your exposure in-camera accordingly. Sometimes it only takes a bit of a tweak in post-processing to get the right balance as well. Don't let the program tell you what's right. Use your own judgment.

Achieving the right balance of color and contrast in a photograph starts with the camera. Using editing software only to enhance the natural balance is key to a successful photograph. Of course, if you are going for a more dramatic look, that's a whole different subject. But if you're just wanting to record a subject the way you saw it, use the contrast and color saturation settings sparingly and stay away from auto settings. If you were a painter, you wouldn't use a brush that automatically chose the color and brush strokes, would you?

The photos on the left are correct; the photos on the right have been over-processed (color and contrast).

5 responses

  • Saroj Swain

    Saroj Swain gave props (26 Jul 2013):

    wonderful narration and photographs... vote

  • Andrew Dutton

    Andrew Dutton (Deleted) gave props (5 Aug 2013):

    Great essay and lesson, I like dark rich colors so often over do it.

  • Anika Pilnei

    Anika Pilnei gave props (13 Aug 2013):

    Hmm resonates a lot. And Instagram and Hipstamatic make things worse... Point and shoot and then the machine does it all for you. Convenient... and boring. Gone are the days of Ansel Adams.

  • Geir Danielsen

    Geir Danielsen said (19 Nov 2013):

    well written....thanks!

  • NIRAJ KATARUKA

    NIRAJ KATARUKA gave props (28 Nov 2013):

    perfectly explained...will take care from now on

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