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psychology of color (sort of long)

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  • psychology of color (sort of long)

    I came across an interesting article about digital color a while back, that I can't find now... Anyway, the basic gist of the article was how artists have to be trained to ignore the psychology of color in order to produce realistic imagery. The author used 3-D art, such as digital movie effects, as an example, but I think it can apply to photo restorations and colorizations as well.

    When we are young we are taught color identification using very bright and vivid hues. The bright colors help small children to differentiate between hues. Apples become a bright red, the sky a certain blue, leaves green, etc... After a time we begin to associate objects with very vivid hues. When someone says "red", most people think of a very intense, bright red. We become psychologically conditioned to "see" colors in a certain way but in nature such vivid hues rarely, if ever, appear.

    One thing I have noticed in many of the Retouch Challenge entries (especially the "glamour" ones) is the intensity of color. I can't help but think that many times when we go to color something, we do not see the "real" color, but rather what our mind tells us should be the correct color. Lips are a good example. Often, the colorization of lips takes on an intensity that would never be seen in real life. We think in our mind "red lips" and color with what our minds have been trained to consider red - a very intense and saturated color.

    One of the first color exercises I did in art school was meant to break our mind's concept of color. We took a photo of an intensely colored object and cut it into a pieces. We glued half the pieces to a board and retained the rest. The empty areas on the board corresponding to the missing pieces, were then painted in, as realistically as possible to match the image. The point of the exercise was to get us to understand not only how to mix color but to gain an understanding of how color appears in nature. By cutting the image into pieces we no longer associated the color with an object...just a collection of lines, shapes, colors and shadows. At the end of the assignment we looked at the images, which were all very realistic, and then at the palettes of all the colors we had mixed. To my astonishment, none of the colors seemed "intense" enough for the object I had just painted and yet my resulting image seemed very realistic. After that I never had a problem with reproducing "realistic' colors.

    This is not really meant to be a tip in the traditional sense...more like a color philosophy (I can hear the groans! ). Seriously, if you are having problems achieving realistic colorizations, take the time to sample all sorts of colors and build a library of swatches. Start learning to "see" the real hue of things and not just what your mind tells you the color should be. I have a friend in the pre-press industry who is excellent at color correction as well as an accomplished artist. He once told me that he no longer sees hues (red, blue, green, etc...) in a traditional sense but rather, mathematical combinations and mixtures. You don't need to get that extreme to get good results, but just a little bit of that thinking can really help achieve realistic imagery!


  • #2
    What a great post, Greg! I have had some similar thoughts based on what I've learned as a lab technician from printing digital images on actual photographic paper.

    When I first started doing digital work on photographs, my inclination was to make things fairly vivid on my computer screen (Ala auto-levels, or auto-anything for that matter). This always caused them to look brassy, blocked up and very unnatural in print. I found that most of the time, when I was printing an image that someone had brought in, I had to desaturate it quite a bit before I could get a good print from it.

    One very good example here on RP is in Retouching Challenge #12 - Glamour Puss, where the assignment was to realistically color a black and white image. People have submitted some wonderful work - but out of the 41 submissions so far, I see only about 5 that would not cause a great deal of problems if printed on traditional photopaper.

    I really recommend, even if you are using a printer at home, that you occasionally take or send a few images to be printed traditionally at a lab you trust. I personally feel that being able to get a good traditional print from digital work is the true and telling test of the artist's skill level.

    Anyone who has problems getting good traditional RA4 prints from their digital files, or anyone considering having work printed chemically, would do well to heed your good advice.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Jakaleena
      When I first started doing digital work on photographs, my inclination was to make things fairly vivid on my computer screen (Ala auto-levels, or auto-anything for that matter).
      That brings up another point I meant to make. Computer screens can often seduce us into using super saturated colors...vivid color just looks SO good on the screen! Color in real life never looks like that and when you try to print it, it can often look very unrealistic.

      I agree about traditional prints. That is still the best "testing ground" to really get a feel of how good your images look.


      • #4
        same thing for any artistic rendering

        That theory carries over into drawing and painting basics. We are taught as children to see things very boldly, even to the extreme where many people still relate to parts of the body as they would a stick figure or a happy face. Elementary drawings like that were used to teach us different parts of the body so naturally we associate those when we draw or colorize.

        (I think I may have read this in "Drawing on the right side of the brain" ages ago. I attended a fantastic lecture by the author of this book at Siggraph a few years back.)

        For artists, we have to de-program ourselves from those cartoonish drawings that were our first exposure. It is hard to realize as an adult that a face doesn't have a border, just a series of shadows that seperate it from the neck.

        I also notice sometimes that people have a hard time getting away from the forced color pallette of their crayons! They look at colorization as coloring within the lines instead of how many colors really exist on a photo.

        Then add to this complex issue that everyone has a different monitor with different settings, some are bright, some are dark, and some are very old with different resolutions. Makes you want to pull your hair out.


        • #5
          Welcome to RetouchPro Chiquitita! I see this is your first post - I'm glad that you've decided to join us. It sounds like you have a bit of an art background?

          I was thinking about this thread while I was hiking today and thought that perhaps there is a similarity in photos. I've noticed when I'm making my kaleidescopes, that when I sample a color from the picture to use as a "border mat", it looks really dull - though the picture itself looks incredibly vivid to me. So I keep trying to sample and resample to find the pixels that are vivid - and they just aren't there! I'm thinking this is similar to Greg's exercise of "painting in the missing pieces" - and finding that the paint colors he used actually looked kind of dull compared to the colors he saw in the original.



          • #6
            Hi Chiquitita! Nice to see you here - I'm glad you've joined us!

            Thank you for the contribution from an artist's point of view. I've always been fairly artistic myself. In grade school, my teachers were forever hollering at me to quit doodling and pay attention.

            And your assessment of the way we view things is right on in my book. One of the things I think is really an important factor in restoring photographs is basic artistic ability. Looking at things realistically (along with a little awareness of anatomy and bone structure) is kind of important when you're trying to reconstruct someone's face...


            • #7
              chiquitita - Welcome! I remember your "Glamour Puss" challenge entry as being one of the best in regards to colorization.

              "Drawing on the right side of the brain" was one of my favorite books as a child! The ideas presented in that book are very similar to what I was talking about in my original post and you hit the nail on the head when you said we have to "de-program" ourselves as artists.

              Jeanie - I know how you feel! I have often searched in vain with the eyedropper tool for a color that is not really there.

              Jak - Now you can doodle all you want and no one yells at you!



              • #8

                I just read your post for the first time, and I didn't read any of the responses yet. But I really enjoyed your post. It is an eye opener, and I think your description of cutting the pieces out sounds very interesting. Thanks for posting it, and if you have any other tidbits alonmg those lines, please submit them. That one caused me to actually *think* for once.



                • #9

                  Now that I've read the replies, I see you finally posted. I'm pretty sure I commented on one of your challenge submissions, and I probably welcomed you to the site. If I let that slip by me (fat chance ), welcome aboard. Glad to have you.



                  • #10
                    Great Post, I'm on the case with some colour/color experiments tomorrow. I'll let you know how I get on!