The subjective topic of Color in Professional Photography

As children, we loved color.  We loved TO color.  It was all about the color, sometimes:

brilliant digital photo prints from H&H

Now, for those of us who have chosen to be part of the photographic industry, it’s all about the color still.  If an image is too cool, the skin tones are not as pleasing to the eye.  If an image is too warm, the skin tones are not as pleasing to the eye.  The color needs to be just right to showcase a photographer’s work.  Just right?  Just right according to whom?
Not everyone sees color perfectly.  In fact, very few people see color perfectly.  Most people see certain tones more strongly than others, which can cause us to overcompensate.  Let me explain:  If I cannot see red very well, and I am adjusting an image before submitting it for a print, I will probably tend to add red.  It isn’t intentional, but to make it look “right” to me, I will add red.  Then, the order reaches the lab and they try to remove some red to make it look “right.”  This is where it helps to understand how you see color.
Curt Gramm, of Photography by Curt, came to visit the lab recently.  During his visit he took the color test that we administer to potential employees.

It’s fun to find out just where your strengths and weaknesses are, and is imperative if you intend to correct your own color in-studio.  How well you see color isn’t the only thing that affects how pleasing an image is, either.
The light in which you view prints can drastically affect how an image looks, too.
Take a print and view it in different areas.  Go outside into the sun, and then step into the shade of a tree.  Go into the production room with all lights on, and then step into the changing room with it’s soft and pleasing lights.  It is amazing how different the same image will appear in these different locations.
Another fun test is to view the print while wearing a bright red sweater.  View it another time wearing neon green.  This is one of the reasons that our color correcting employees wear grey lab coats.  Whatever color you’re wearing can reflect onto what you’re viewing.
Here are just a few more of the many things that can affect how you see color:
What time of day is it?
How much caffeine have you had?
What is your mood?
Are you hungry?
Are you male, or female?
This is why our industry is one of the most subjective there is.  That is also why we go to such great measures to make sure that our machines and people stay consistent from day to day, and hour to hour.  There are checks and balances between our equipment, our printers, our color trainer, and our customer.  All to produce what is difficult to define: Good Color.
H&H Color Lab

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