Archive for

How Is the Color in Your Photographs? Pay Attention to Your Lights and Darks Instead

Getting the Best Photographic Color

As a digital photography mentor, I am often asked how to get better color in photographs. Many budding photographers are concerned that the colors in their pictures are not ideal – washed out or dull or exhibiting some kind of color cast–skin tones appear too red, etc. While color problems are common, I don’t feel that bad color is the biggest issue for most photographers. The reason the color in photographs may appear humdrum has to do with the basics of the human visual system. Let me explain:

The Camera Lens Mimics Human Vision

The human eye is a complex organ…and it’s no surprise that cameras are designed to mimic its features. The eye functions by collecting light through a lens onto a sensitive surface (the retina) the images striking this surface are converted into electrical impulses that are interpreted by the brain to form the pictures that we experience. Modern cameras have a similar functionality – they collect light through a lens onto a light-sensitive surface in the form of a CCD or CMOS chip and convert this into a digital photographic exposure.

The retina is composed of two types of light-sensitive structures known as rods and cones. Cones come in three different versions that are sensitive to narrow frequencies of light representing red, green and blue color. Rods are only sensitive to brightness and cannot distinguish color – they are, however much more plentiful and more densely packed in the retina than cones except in the very center of the retina at the fovea. Rods are also smaller and thus capable of reading more detail in the variation of light and dark. Rods are much more sensitive to light and respond in much dimmer light than cones do – one reason the color is less noticeable as the light level gets darker. The human visual system places more importance on being able to see details in dark areas that do not rely on color differences – an evolutionary advantage – obviously a good idea to be able to see that saber tooth tiger hiding in the bushes with his camouflage coloring!

The modern digital camera is actually only sensitive to brightness – color is interpreted in a post capture processing phase by comparing the different luminosities under tiny red, green and blue filters on the surface of the camera sensor. The different brightness levels also contribute to the image details in the form of shadows and highlights. Without these shadows and highlights a recognizable image would not exist – we would only perceive abstract blobs of color. Think for a moment how effective black & white photographs are. The value structure of an image is much more important than how colorful it is!

The Impact of Tone and Contrast

Most people will tolerate a variety of color renderings if the contrast and tonal range is compelling. For most photographic images, insuring that the image contains a full range of tones from black to white and that the areas of primary importance contain the most contrast (or differences between tones) is much more important than how saturated or dull the colors are.

So, if you want to create visually interesting photographs, concentrate on tone and contrast before you mess with the color. Mastering tone and contrast is the foundation of the Varis System: a new digital Zone System based on the original system developed by Ansel Adams.

How Wise Leaders Inspire

The opening presentation at the 2010 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit set the tone for everything that followed. Bill Hybels talked about the investment we must make in ourselves to develop our leadership skills to successfully cast a vision to move those we lead “from here to there”. That is, after all, what leaders do, they transform what is, by moving others from a current reality to a brighter future. The difficulty encountered is that most people resist change. We humans are creatures of habit, and the unknown can be a threatening place for us to go. Without wise leaders challenging us to reach further and accomplish more, we would never achieve our full potential. A wise leader’s first objective is not only to prepare people for change, but to make them passionately desire it. I really connected with the example of this that Bill used.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent many years getting his followers ready for “the big day”. Speech after speech focused on everything that was wrong with the way people of color had been treated. He raised their level of discontent to the point that all agreed the status quo was absolutely not acceptable, and then he cast a vision with those timeless words, “I have a dream!” Had he started his movement with his most famous words, people would have seen it as a pipe dream with no hope of completion. So when wise leaders begin to cast a vision, they must begin by making “where we are now” an unacceptable place to remain.

The journey now becomes perilous, and wise leaders must continue to inspire hope. There is a point where the vision is obscured by the challenges along the way. This is nothing new. Even the children of Israel were ready to go back to slavery in Egypt, when faced with the uncertainty of life in the desert. The vision of a promised land filled with milk and honey seemed so far out of reach and unattainable that they lost hope. In a popular song by Indigo Girls, the lyricist talks about that hesitation when facing the unknown saying, “The devil I know is starting to look mighty kind, but the new road is an old friend…Fill it up again.” That is the role of the wise leader, to keep the vision fresh and alive, so the focus is off of the uncertainties.

Celebrating the milestones along the way is a great morale booster, and keeps focus on the vision and purpose for the journey. Celebrations acknowledge the accomplishments that have been attained and encourage us to keep moving forward. What keeps people on the journey is the sense of hope that they will get there some day!

Finally, wise leaders do not rely solely on their own understanding, but continue to seek fresh wisdom. This is key to their ability to inspire others to take risks, move out in faith, and be the bearers of positive change for the transformation of the world. For Christian leaders, listening for the prompting of the Spirit and allowing God to guide their steps is a priority and a daily discipline. We can all benefit from their example and hone our leadership skills, by taking time out to seek divine guidance as part of our daily routine.

Blessings & Adventure

Seniors and Elders, Make It Colorful and Enjoyable: New Ways to Get Help Moving Up, Out, Beyond

Making the decision to move to Los Angeles from her lifelong home in Minneapolis was not easy for my 89 year old mom, but once she did, she moved forward with her typical commitment to a project.

Granted, this is not my usual kind of subject but I wanted to touch on it anyway. After all… it’s this type of life change that make you reflect on future development and how it’s a quite a mystery that we can only “plan” for to a relatively limited extent.

The reason I wanted to bring this up is that she had a lot of help from a friend and “moving-on-professional.” I don’t know what we would have done without Laure Green, a Minneapolis real estate professional who also helps elders with exactly this type of transition. From identifying attachments and being able to “let go” of them–right down to the last minute managing the movers. My mom-and we, her family- were so lucky to have Laure’s help.

Emotion Rules… for better or worse!

Fortunately there are similar helpers nationwide who can take the stress out of the moving experience by helping to minimize the emotions involved in just about every aspect of the process–from evaluating the actual items that might be needed to dealing with the sentiments and experiences attached to each piece.

My good friend, Beth, describes it like this: “It’s all about emotion. Downsizing and de-cluttering means making decisions. Rather than making them, we have spent years stashing stuff higher and deeper. We save too much and get emotionally bogged down in life’s leftovers that we will never use and have tenuous reasons for keeping.”

Between the two of them, Laure and Beth have a world of experience. Laure, from the Real Estate side–and Beth, who having moved her own full household eighteen times before coming to Cape Cod nearly 12 years ago-has an unusual depth of experiences to combine with her organized, focused approach to everything she does. Beth has settled five estates and worked for an antique/collectibles dealer. Recently, she was the program director for a Cape Cod continuing care retirement community.

Both women have this guiding principle

Make the transition one that is joyous, radiant and full of positive energy!

The color connection

Along with all the necessary details to attend to in the moving process, there is one other point that many people might overlook: I call it “The Color Connection.” A few tips:

  1. Change a gray, depressing and overwhelmed feeling and experience to one that is brightly glowing with yellows, oranges, and luminous blues!
  2. As we age, our color needs change. Kids can see more clearly than adults! Our color vision changes as we age, and we start to see everything with a “yellow cast” that only increases as time goes forward.
  3. As always, environmental color is, in itself, an absorbing and expansive subject. It’s not unusual for designers of elder housing to create spaces with only the family members in mind.
  4. Who is the Most important? it’s the people who live there who count the most!
  5. Here are just a few the reasons to give color the serious consideration that people deserve
    • Emotional comfort
    • Physical comfort
    • Wayfinding
    • Safety in the home

Even if there is not a move planned at this time, you can always revive a current home to make it more appropriate for elder residents.

Now, for some details

I offer a few considerations, and tips for selecting colors as we age

  1. Hue: Many hues can work, but consider that we see more yellow as we age.
  2. Pattern: larger patterns are sometimes easier to “read” but don’t overwhelm the viewer with visual information
  3. Contrast: regardless of our age, higher contrast makes important items more identifiable
  4. Sheen: high sheen creates reflection and can add confusion
  5. Intensity: use colors that are moderate but not boring. Consider contrast, intensity, sheen.
  6. Lighting: a critical piece! Consider lighting closer to daylight, rather than yellow-based lighting color. Consult an experienced lighting designer for this all-important part of the environment you want to create
  7. In all cases, the balance between these elements is key. Too subtly neutral is “boring” and can create anxiety, and too much color and pattern can create confusion when not used judiciously.

I look forward to addressing these details more specifically in a future article.