A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Perceived Paleness Of It All
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For some time I have had the suspicion that all was not well with the appearance of this blog. Since I am stubborn, I dismissed the fact that my pictures always looked pale on someone else's monitor simply as the result of improper monitor calibration on their part. I insisted, to those few who pointed it out the paleness, that my monitor was properly calibrated and the pictures of my blog looked just right.

But I should have suspected from the beginning that my aging cathode ray tube monitor (a used Dell) could not really be properly calibrated.

For those who might be confused by the above let me give an explanation. When a photographer uses film, for better or for worse, the hard copy result (slide, colour negative or b+w negative) is an accurate record of what the photographer saw if the photographer strived for photographic accuracy. Transparency material (larger slides, and slides in general) tend to make shade blue. My Ektachrome has been rendering the gray background of my studio portraits to various shades of "Ektachrome blue". High saturation colour film makes greens (lawns for example) greener. In short colour film, even when properly exposed, is not accurate in the display of colour. One very important reason is that film (all kinds) have an extra sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Film and the human eye perceive light and colour differently.

Accurate or not, when I handed in a slide to a magazine art director, the slide served as a standard for the magazine printer to go by. The art director could have either cooled or warmed up that image for personal preference. Sometimes art directors will do that to balance the look of a two-page spread (as an example) where two pictures, one cool in colour and one warm might clash seen together on the page. Our perception of colour is subjective.

Photographs can be light or dark. Some are shot dark on purpose, perhaps for drama, or dark by mistake because of underexposure. The portrait of a baby might be rendered slightly lighter and in a pastel colour to convey the idea of innocence. In pornography the colour of "bits and pieces" might be darkened for effect. When I print my b+w negatives in my traditional darkroom I have perceived periods where I tend to make my prints dark and contrasty. These periods have alternated randomly with times when I have printed paler.

But always the slide or the photograph (colour or b+w) is the ultimate record and standard of the photographer who has taken it.

With the advent of the digital age all this has changed. The photographer who shoots with an expensive DSLR (digital sinle lens reflex camera) has no hard copy original. The original is a series of zeros and ones captured by a sensor and stored in the camera's memory. In a wonderful way this stored image, particularly when the photographer does not "cheat" and does not look at the image on the back of the camera right after an exposure (this practice of looking is called chimping) displays all the potential of that wonderful world that came into being with photography in the 19th century. This is the latent image. The image that is there in our imagination and in the unprocessed film stock (if we are lucky!). The image that we think we have captured but that has to be "developed out" or processed before we can see it. A roll of exposed b+w film (as an example) when held in your hand it is pure potential. It is the potential of latent images waiting to see the light of day.

When a digital camera photographer finally "opens up" the taken images the "original" is an infinitesimally thin image that sits on a monitor screen or on the LCD screen in the back of the camera. When the photographer (let's suppose the photographer is a magazine photographer) sends images to a magazine art director by email, the original image that can be used as a standard has to be (there is no other) the image sent. This image can vary if the photographer and the art director's monitors are not calibrated equally. And if the monitor used by the magazine printer is different, that will also stretch the problem of reproducing an original as the photographer saw it, or thinks he or she saw it, or as he or she thinks it should have been by introducing modifications with PhotoShop (in itself just a super flexible version of darkroom manimpulation).

The above is to explain that until yesterday most of the images of my blog have been too pale for most who have perused my blog. Last night I darkened a couple of week's blogs. It was labourious particularly in the multi picture blogs with 5 or 6 pictures. I have to remove and re-insert each one, one at a time.

For close to a year my monitor display has been the above picture of Rebecca and Lauren taken in the summer of 2006. For that year the picture looked just right on my monitor. This is what it would have looked to all of you had I inserted it into my blog.


Previous Posts
Magnolia stellata - Stella Maris?

Edmond Kilpatrick - The Man Who Loved Women

Ballet BC's Peter Pan, John Alleyne's Right Hook

The Jeweler's Feet

Patrice B - Revisited - Rediscovered- Savoured

It Has Been Done Before - Batesonian Wisdom

Vantana Wears My Suit, Shirt & Braces

A Rite Of Passage With No Help From Uriah Heep

Citizen Joe Kiethley

Beau Geste On Hold & A Surprising Moonlight Sonata...

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