I don’t blame most of the world for having become more skeptical of the appearance of photographs. During the past decade the acceptance and explosion of digital photography coupled with the proliferation of image editing programs has given, I think, too many tools into the hands of too irresponsible, as an aggregate, a user base. Whether it is the lowly saturation slider or a multi-exposure-heavily filter-laden crowd-wowing image, it is too easy to go too far and, sadly, too many photographers do.
Rio Celeste at the Interface where the mineral waters
mingle with the mountain stream.
When I show an image such as this recent capture on the Rio Celeste River in Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica, the first words out of the viewer’s mouth are usually, “Is it really that blue?”
My first reaction is to be defensive and say, “Yeah! It was that blue.”
“But you’ve enhanced it, right?”
After a thoughtful pause, I reply. “Yes, I have processed this image but the water was really a vivid electric-blue in person. In fact, it might even have been bluer.”
Whether that is true or not, I don’t know. I certainly remember a vivid blue from having been there. When I look at the unprocessed RAW file it certainly looks less blue than I remember-by a long shot. When I look at my point-and-shoot JPEGs of the scene they look pretty close to the processed image above. My philosophy is to edit the image until it looks like I remember the scene based upon my memory, my emotions and my intellect for rendering a scene accurately.
Was it that blue? I don’t know. Are you viewing the image in a dimly lit room or a bright sunny environment? Is your monitor calibrated? Does your internet browser support color management? Is your monitor turned up too bright as so many are? Did you just wake up? Come in from bright sunlight? Drink caffeine recently? All of these things greatly affect our perception of color.
I checked the exposure and found that this shot was taken at 1/6th of a second. No one has yet asked me if the water in this shot was really that smooth-that blurred-that indistinct. Was the water really that silky? We have come to expect and even accept the distortion of time in a photograph even though its manipulation of reality can have a greater outcome on the appearance of the final image. Why is color so suspect? In the days of Kodachrome, the casual observer never questioned the color shift due to the film reciprocity over a long exposure-we just lived with it and move on. Why is it different now?
If you hike the 3 km trail to the Rio Celeste mineral water origins and remember with crystal clarity (perhaps blue-tinted clarity) the color of the water you may know the answer to the question. Till then, you have to take my word for it.
Was it really that blue? From where I am sitting-right now-yes… It was really that blue.
“You can do anything you want to do. This is your world.”
– Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting –
Rikk Flohr © 2010