LAB colour mode

I’ve been spending more time with my images and noticing things that require attention – either over-done or certain elements requiring further work. There is of course, a huge chunk of subjectivity in this. Unexpected, starting to use Instagram again and cropping images to output as 1:1 or 4:5 (so cropping to the main elements) has helped with seeing.

One of the challenges shooting in the generally subdued northern English light is that colours loose their intensity. Our human visual system seems to compensate for that as we give attention to elements that interest us. The camera cannot, unless light is artificially added or we return to locations again and again in the hope of brighter days.

In RGB processing mode, I’ve found that colour information is improved to a degree as the monochromatic contrast in images is adjusted. Sometimes this gives me enough, other times I would like still more colour. However, colour saturation adjustments, unless used sparingly, look too artificial and obscure texture details.

Raw neg and after post production. Photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon

The before and after above shows the RAW negative and image after production. It was a challenging shot, as I wanted to retain some detail in the brighter shadows that could be recovered in post and didn’t want to blow the sky completely. My RAW neg was reassuringly flat, suggesting to me that there would be some balance in the information across the image to work with. This is actually the upside of flat ambient light as in bright sunshine, it would have not been possible.

After my usual post production work, I still found the colours a little disappointing. So decided to revisit the LAB mode to add more colour intensity. In this mode the lightness (L) is completely separated from the colours. The ‘a’ channel is the green-red continuum and the ‘b’ channel is the blue-yellow one (for PS colour modes – This contrasts with RGB where the lightness is dealt with through the combined RGB channel (and therefore also affects colour).

I stamped a new visible layer in PS and duplicated it to another document, which I changed to LAB mode. By adding a curves adjustment, the colour intensity was increased without altering the contrast or saturation – it is effectively like adding light to the original scene. Extreme effects can be obtained in this way, so care is needed. However, I can see how this type of adjustment will become a regular riff in my bag of tricks for managing poor light.

6 thoughts on “LAB colour mode”

  1. Interesting Fitz. I was advised to reduce saturation and vibrance of images I take here in RSA as they appear too intense to EU viewers. The assessors also commented in a previous submission that I had increased saturation and vibrance too much. The real issue was that I had left it as I see it here (intense sunlight) and should have reduced it to make it appear more normal to Eu viewers.

    1. I find that a strange perspective. Almost suggests a European perspective is the only valid one and it’s such a broad spectrum in any case (north yorkshire vs Italy?). Perhaps more British than European. Not to mention the US west coast photographers and their vivid colours. Sounds like it could be an interesting area of research for you – something connected with the formality of images as a change from context. Ultimately I guess it is part of your personal voice.

      1. Before the First World War Stanley Cursiter – an Orcadian studying painting at Edinburgh School of Art – was marked down for the overly vivid blues and greens he was using in some landscapes made during his holidays, back home. A year later, his tutor re-marked the paintings after having been to Orkney himself and seeing the range of colour present in both the sea and the sky…

      2. Interesting. And of course this kind of thinking presupposes that a photo is meant to be a replica of actuality and that we all have the same perception of colour. Seems conceptually inherent to me.

  2. Doug – that was the exact problem I have with Jimmy Nelson’s photos of the Himba and Masai. He drained all the colour out of the landscape turning it to pastel! Africa doesn’t do pastel. It does loud, bold and vivid. Andrew you have a point about the European perspective being the ‘preferred’ one. I had the devil of a job relating to British students that a forest in Canada is nothing like a forest in the UK during my landscape module. Here it is still wild and impenetrable. And my colour palette is vivid blue and green :-), which would look surreal if I had to reduce the saturation, which I never touch really.

    1. Hehe – image if a bear turned up in the Yorkshire Dales. Surprised that there is not a broader perspective though. But come to think of it, some are sceptical about my stretch of canal not being populated with gentile cafés.

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