The Colors of Fall (and Photography)

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Although in some areas of the US it may not seem like it, autumn arrived this week. The trees red leaf on green_smhere have only barely begun to change color (and by the time we are in full autumnal hue, we’ll also be in the midst of Furniture Market preparations!) so it seems appropriate to talk about light and color.

What you may know (or perhaps not) is that the color we see is that color that is reflected off of an object. All other colors are absorbed by the object. In the case of our leaves, the chemical chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light and reflects green. Other chemicals in leaves are carotene (which absorbs red, blue-green, and blue light and reflects yellow) and anthocyanins (which absorb blue, blue-green, and green light, reflecting red). Red, green, and blue are the “primary colors” of light and analogous to the red, yellow, and blue primary colors of pigment.

Chlorophyl is a large molecule and very numerous in leaves, so our leaves reflect green light throughout the summer. With the cooler days of autumn, the chlorophyl breaks down, leaving behind the carotine and the anthrocyanin. Depending on the chemical structure of the leaves, they will reflect red, orange, or yellow.

So, how does this relate to photography? Remember that photography is “Writing With Light.” Just as with our leaves, the subject being photographed reflects the portion of the light spectrum that it does not absorb. Here’s the twist: instead of our eyes’ retinas seeing the light, the camera lens sees the reflected light. Therefore the entire photo may have a color cast that must be corrected. Traditionally this was done with gel filters on the lights and lenses. In digital photography this correction is done within the computer either during the capture or while processing the image. This color cast occurs even within the controlled lighting of a studio, so it is no wonder that photographs taken in the environment of multiple light sources (such as a showroom) show such great color contamination!

Adding yet another twist to our changing leaves analogy is how some dyes reflect light. It is not uncommon to have a photograph where the basic overall color is very good, but one object (such as a chair or a blanket) does not photograph in the correct color at all! For example, some green dyes photograph grey or reddish. Again, this comes back to what colors light the object reflects back and how the camera sees them. Selectively color correcting items is an integral part of Atlantic Photographic’s post-capture photographic process.

We here at Atlantic wish you all a bright and colorful Fall season!

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