In the pre-digital days, colour rendition was mainly determined by choice of film stock. Mastery of exposure and processing techniques known as ‘colour timing’, similar to the zone-system used by black and white film photographers, also played a part in achieving a final desired ‘look’. The ‘image-feel’ of pastel expressions could also be emphasised further, by shooting through something appropriately translucent or a special filter to fog the image, creating the same desaturating result as shooting in real fog or mist.
‘Colour grading’ is the new ‘colour timing’ and is an essential skill for any digital photographer; it is possibly the single most productive aspect of workflow to occupy the attention of any landscape photographer seeking self-improvement. The great news is that current software allows us to achieve perfect grading effects from standard Raw files regardless of the camera used. The importance of achieving perfect colouration cannot be over-emphasised, it has such a profound effect on the emotional translation of the scene through to the creation of the final photograph.
‘Grading’ of still photographs can be achieved in a multitude of ways, including, but not limited to changes in: white balance, exposure settings, global or colour specific saturation, vibrance, split-toning and selection of camera profile. All these changes are iterative, meaning that they all affect each other by varying degrees and moving back and forth between them in Lightroom is the favoured way of achieving the best results. My delicate pastel of Luskentyre, is pretty close to reality, I kept the colour saturation minimal but increased the brightness of the ‘blacks’ to 100 to create this high-key painterly result.
Colour grading is the photographic analogy to the seasoning of a dish in cooking; it can elevate images to potentiate emotional resonance for the viewer with the simple nudge of a slider. Like the gourmet in a restaurant, the viewer of our final print will instinctively know if we have ‘over-seasoned’ an image by applying too much saturation for example, but curiously, reducing saturation by moving the slider in the opposite direction rarely has such a negative effect. The shortlisted entries of international photographic competitions like Outdoor Photographer Of The Year are also testament to the fascinating differences in colour taste that exist across the planet. American photographers and those from various European and Antipodean climes have some very characteristic preferences when it comes to colour grading: all part of our wonderful rich photographic tapestry and artistic diversity is always something to be celebrated.