COASTER DISPLAY : A RANGE OF ORANGES
I would like to discuss color today in the spirit of just how impossible it is to actually discuss color, or to come to an agreement on how to duplicate a certain shade in a photograph or in real life. Colors are based on the reflectence of different wavelengths of light, and our own perceptions based on the receptors in our eyes and the perceptions of our minds. Color perception can be divided into three categories. Hue is the actual "color" - the "ROYGBIV", shall we say, that makes up the rainbow - red, yellow, orange, green, blue, Indigo, and violet. Even here, some people would start to hesitate at indigo and violet, wondering what happened to purple. Hue is like the Crayola box, and it is quickly obvious to any child that 64 colors were better than a slim 8. It's all of the colors in between the primary and secondary colors of the rudimentary color wheel that cause all of the confusion. Even "colorblind" people can probably distinguish hundreds of different colors, while experts and computers soon expand that into the thousands. Saturation refers to the purity, or strength of the color - in other words, how many other colors are really mixed in to make that color. This is easiest to think of in terms of paint - the more saturated shades will contain more pigment (hue) of that color in the mix. Children soon learn that the real frustration of mixing colors is the near certainty that an ugly brown will be the result. Luminance refers to the perceived brightness of the color, which is affected by how much white or black is thrown in. And even though this sounds complicated, just remember that I'm trying to keep it very simple.
What are the real world implications of this? Rich, why in hell should I care? Well, it's really important if you print your photos, and even more important if you are paying good money to someone else to make you a large print of one of your favorites. Now of course maybe you just put your photos on the web, and have never seen what they look like on someone else's phone or computer. Heavenly ignorance/bliss! But let's just say that your are painting your house for the first time in 26 years, and you want to pick a color - how do you describe it, even to yourself, much less your wife?
I've admitted before that I just might actually like orange more than the next guy. After all, isnt it the only color that literally names a fruit? Strawberry doesn't count, wiseguy, because it doesn't make any sense at all. Looking at the assemblage of orange coasters I put on the wall of my bathroom, I think you can begin to see the problem here. Most people would describe every image as "orange", even though the shades are very, very different. So which orange do you want, sir? BAMBOO #2 : FINAL VERSION
Here is a rather pure orange, which is heightened by it's direct opposite, the green bamboo. If you think the designers of this garden in San Francisco just happened to pick this wall color behind this bamboo, then you are colorblind! This contrast makes both colors pop. Having searched through oranges lately, I also am wondering where the designers came up with a shade like this, which most paint companies will not even certify for exterior applications. While some of you might think that this is due to aesthetic considerations ( I can't believe he's painting his house orange!) it probably has something to do with fading more quickly than other shades.
BAMBOO #1 : FINAL VERSION
Well, look at that. Even the same shades of some of the bamboo look very different in front of a white wall, and we haven't even discussed which "white" that is painted on this wall.
AUTUMN #3 : FINAL VERSION
What attracted my attention here was another beautiful orange heightened by the painted white brick in the background. Start to look closer and an entire range of oranges will soon confuse the issue.
DROVE MY CHEVY TO THE LEVEE : FINAL VERSION
Another orange conumdrum. While this is clearly an orange '55 Chevy, there are probably at least four different shades of orange present in this one door panel, even though we know in our hearts that the car is painted with only one shade of orange. Which one is "correct" , and more important, which one do we "like" the best and how do we describe it and duplicate it on my house?
As you might imagine artists, designers, paint companies, and printers all might worry about this, because they are in the business of picking colors or making them, and have to achieve a certain degree of consistency in order to be trusted by their customers and clients. All kinds of scientific color ranges and charts and systems are the result of this never-ending search for "true color" matching, and while it is scientific, it's also based on a big lie. FINDING NEMO : FINAL VERSION
Another famous orange, at least in some circles. Did the candy maker get it "right"? How would they know, if they cared? One way would be to pay the Pantone company hundreds of dollars for their system, which contains thousands of colors, no names thank you, for printers to duplicate a picked color, although I doubt that they work for pastry cream. The ultimate in science, the Pantone system contains more oranges, or any other shade, than you can possibly need, and they are so close to each other that most people will just pick one and call it a day to avoid a color headache.
While certainly more scientific than allowing your judgement to be affected by the poetic, confounding, silly, or just plain stupid names that paint companies will use to denote a shade, all these systems also rely on the big lie. Try not to let your head explode. At least two problems render these systems rather moot. One is what we call light temperature, which is based not on the color of the object, but on the color temperature of the light that is being reflected. Whoa! That particular shade of orange, the one we just picked out of thousand of oranges, might not be the one we actually perceive? Sorry, Horatio, but you knew this even if you didn't know you knew it. You know that two walls of the same room will be two different shades of the same color depending on the amount of light falling on them. Compound this with the less obvious but real "quality " of light which is a subjective reaction to different shades of the "white" light of the biggest light source we know, the sun. We know that the same colors will look different in sun and shade, and at dawn, mid-day or sunset. We have already seen how color perception can also be affected by adjacent shades. Nemo's brown and white racing stripes make the orange pop to different degrees.
CUP AND SAUCER, 8:20 : ORIGINAL
Here color temperature really rears its ugly head, because now we've introduced our arrogant attempt at the godlike "let there be light!" The incandescent lights in this cafe glow white in their lamps, but clearly produce an orange haze, heightened by the fact that it is 8:20 at night, so sunlight is not part of the equation. The trouble is that the patrons would not think their environment was orange at all. Our minds are much smarter than our camera's computers. We can adjust, and usually do to a large degree, to color temperature ranges, even though are cameras know better, or worse. Thus we will probably only perceive this interior orange when we shut of the lights and light some candles, since candle light is even more orange. We even think we look terrible under "daylight" bulbs, which are cooler and more accurately approximate sunlight. Which doesn't change the fact that the scene above looks very strange. Using the magic of post-processing, I will subsequently change the sensor's color sensitivity so that the tones will be rendered more neutral, and the orange will quiet down. Don't fall into the trap of what your camera calls "Auto White Balance" because then your camera's idiotic computer will be neutralizing the very sunset you are trying to capture. TANNER SPRINGS : FINAL VERSION
This railroad rail sculpture exhibits various orange tones of rust, but positively glows because I took the shot in late afternoon, when the Western sun was positively baking the rusted steel. It might never look so good in any other light, and it certainly wouldn't be as "orange." But here is the final straw that breaks the camel's back. I have no real faith that the scene really looked like this beyond my memories, and I certainly have no idea that either my laptop or my printer or your phone will produce the same orange as I see, or my camera sensor saw. This is the problem that can be described with some of the following terms: color space, color gamut, and/or color profiles. Our camera's sensors can differentiate between thousands of colors, and express them in zero's and one's. The sensor is more accurate than our eyes, or at least more "scientific", but it probably still sees less colors than we do, even if it might be better at defining them. The trouble begins when the sensor tries to tell the computer, or your computer, which orange that it saw. The screens, no matter how accurate or expensive, cannot reproduce all of the colors in the color space. In other words, the computer's means of communication, its screen, cannot produce all of the colors that the computer has captured. Then photographers try to print them. Every different photo paper, and there are hundreds, interprets color information differently. If you haven't downloaded your paper's color profile, for your particular, printer model, you do not have a chance at all. Your print will be a god-awful mess, as it will be if you just rely on the printer profile and let your printer pick the colors. So you load the profile, and now your computer is talking the same color language as the printer, and you still don't have a chance. The trouble is that even if your software allows you to simulate what your image will look like on that paper, and you might be shocked enough to tweak your file to adjust it, you will still only be looking at a simulation.
SWIMMING UPSTREAM : FINAL VERSION
In fact we are swimming upstream, and there is probably a brown grizzly bear, with orange highlights, waiting for our copper salmon selves, and we have about as much chance of "accurately " producing these colors as a salmon has in breaking through an orange brick wall. We have struggled long enough with the myth of "What you see is what you get", our desire to believe that our screens can accurately show us what our images will look like on another person's screen or on that expensive piece of photo paper we are printing on.
The trouble is that we are fundamentally looking at an image on our screen that is the result of transmitted light - it is back lit by a screen - while the print will be seen in reflected light. It's not even the fact that these two different color profiles - the screen and the environment in which we are viewing the print - might not have much in common, but just the shear physics of transmitted versus reflected light. The first thing we need to do would be to reduce the brightness of our screens by half, which would cause our spouses to scream and ourselves to go blind. Thus the first step is to automatically increase the brightness of the "print file" by 20% or so, so that it now looks way too bright on the screen. That will get us in the ballpark at least, but we still don't have much of a clue over which colors our printer, or are paper , will have no chance of reproducing, even though our careful artistic editing efforts are based on that lying screen. Any colors which are "out of gamut" for that particular printer/paper combination will be replaced in some way behind the scenes by the software so that they will print. There are even two ways to do this, by either just changing the offending color, or changing every color to keep the color relationships closer to the original. In my opinion,that second way will only lead to deeper madness, but in any case what you see id positively not what you are going to get.
STAIRS AND STRIPES : FINAL VERSION
And then their are certain colors that are just difficult, or like certain spouses, "a handful." One of those is the red/orange combinations that I happen to like. You can see at least five different shades in this image, all helped by those beautiful bright white stripes which approximate the trim color choice that is as close as I get to religious dogma. But notice how different these orange bricks are from the orange bricks the salmon swam through.
GO BY TRAIN : FINAL VERSION
Or are one of the many red/oranges in this image the answer? Benjamin Moore, whose paint I am using, was not much help. Even though I brought home dozens of different chips of different sizes, and used their computer program to pick oranges out of my images, nothing helped until I bought four different oranges to actually put on my house's siding. What you see is definitely not what you get - the colors on the wall did not have much to do with either the colors on the web, the paint chips, or even the colors of the paint in the can! The truth is that you don't know what the color is until you actually see it in reality, and by then you are probably a lot crazier than you were when you started on this color adventure. At least my house won't look like every other house in Portland, and the orange will look great behind the greens of my wife's garden which cover up most of my one-story bungalow anyway. Did I mention that I'm having my house painted?