Serious question about saturation:

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by rwreich, Apr 9, 2013.

  1. rwreich

    rwreich Subscriber

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    Hello all,

    Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I am not trying to start a conversation about film v. anything, so please don't hear me taking it there. I am curious to know though how traditional wet-printing handles color saturation. I'll often see an image online and like it in a general sense, but after closer inspection I notice that there are areas where detail is lost because of over-saturation. Now, I happen to like an appropriate amount of saturation, but not at the expense of textural detail.

    I've never printed color using the traditional method, but I am setting up a darkroom and am considering making color a possibility. Here's the question:

    Can traditional wet-prints deliver saturation without compromising textural detail?

    I understand that some of this depends on your film and format of choice, so which combinations work well?

    Thanks in advance for your kind replies!

    - rwreich
     
  2. F/1.4

    F/1.4 Member

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    Saturation is more dependent on the film, I've never done color darkroom, but i'm pretty sure saturation isn't something you can just do like exposure.
     
  3. noacronym

    noacronym Member

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    Just use the Porta 160NC at 125 on the dial. You get what you get. What better will ever be found? There is none.
     
  4. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    I think this would have more to do with one's understanding of fitting a film to the scene, and then how accurate is the exposure for the photograph that shows understanding and control of, highlights and shadows, whether one is sacrificed for the other or where advanced metering metrics are employed to preserve highlights, detail in shadows and texture. Vibrancy of colour will be determined by the film e.g. Velvia, Ektar, Portra etc, and that vibrancy will to a degree be lost in the RA-4 process and given quite substantial punch in the now-defunct Ilfochrome Classic print media.

    I would caution you to not draw conclusions on the quality of an actual print that you are viewing on the web; scans do not always show detail in shadows that is visible on the negative; likewise, colour vibrancy is also difficult to judge with many monitors not optimised or profiled for correct viewing. View the negative or an actual print and consider web images as approximations of the actual work.
     
  5. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    There is no saturation control with film. Some would underexpose color slide film to get better color saturation but really there is no control. Some films are more saturated than others.
     
  6. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    The answer is unequivocally, YES... but just like anything else in the world of printmaking, the devil is
    in the details. It all depends on the specifics and whether or not you have the time and committment to
    learn the ropes of fine printing. And you will need to find the sweet spot between your chosen subject
    matter, an appropriate fim, and and appropriate paper. This requires some experimentation. The wonderful thing about printing color in the darkroom is that you have to think about what you are doing.
    People nowadays just assume they can instantly do anything by clicking a mouse a few time, and you
    know the saying, "garbage in- garbage out". Quality takes time and thoughtfulness regardless of your
    technique or chosen equipment. But if you are even remotely considering a color darkroom the very most important thing you first need to have is good ventilation. The chemicals are not mild like those
    typically used in black-and-white printing. But otherwise, the equipment investment need not be
    extreme. Modern RA4 color printing is quite simple. Learning how to judge and use color is an altoghether different subject. Most of these Fauxtoshop hyper-saturation idiots nowadays confuse color with noise - they crank up the color volume so high, they in effect become deaf.
     
  7. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    To follow up: printing texture with color neg film and paper is analogous to doing it in black and white.
    It depends on holding the microtonality of the midtones etc while still squeezing the entire subject range onto your print. There are various ways to do this. But this topic can easily be confused with
    the whole gamut question of resolving subtle distinctions between related hues - the chroma equivalent
    to texture, and something which is inevitably directly related to the same variables of contrast and
    tonality. A lot depends on your personal sense of color vision. That is why I referred to "noise". Too
    much saturation can actually destroy all the nuances of color which make it effective. Now I'm not advocating soft films or paper as the means to solve this, but understanding how color actually works.
    You can just as easily lose it by printing bland. That's why I implied you need to discover some magical
    intersection where all the ingredients come together. And this differs from person to person, depending
    on what you are trying to achieve. But the web is the last place on earth you want to learn about color,
    or try to evaluate it, visually that is. It's an abominably crude vehicle. Do you have any art background
    mixing pigments etc? or per color theory?
     
  8. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    If you want good colour saturation, you need to capture this at the taking stage. Try using a polarising filter.
     
  9. rmolson

    rmolson Member

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    I haven’t done any color printing in years But when I did do some color negative work I found that the negs I developed at home had more saturation and contrast than the ones done commercially Due no doubt to more vigorous agitation Following that same logic I would think it might be possible to modified contrast and saturation somewhat by the agitation during developing of the print the same way.
     
  10. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I'd try to simplify the film question first by noting how there are already deliberate choices in this dept.
    Kodak offers Ektar 160, for example, as a low-contast wide-latitude film primarily engineered for skintones. At the other extreme is something like Ektar which has quite a bit more saturaton, a much
    cleaner spectrum, but is perhaps not the best choice for people photography. I wouldn't try to fuss much with film development options per se. C41 is pretty locked in, though someone might know a tweak or two. Then when you come to papers you do still have a few basic choice between softer portrait papers and more contrasty commercial ones. Beyond that, one starts entering the realm of
    advanced printing techniques which might scare off a beginner. If one wants to experiment with color
    neg film without having to actually print it, I would strongly recommend at least a mid-quality scan by
    a pro lab. Poor scanning is perhaps the single biggest factor in misinterpreting what these films are
    actually capable of. Of course, it's even better to outright print your shots, but this requires enough
    confidence to make the commitment. In some ways it's even easier an more affordable than black and
    white printing, but do it well takes experience and good color vision.
     
  11. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Sorry for the typo ... I obviously meant Portra 160 (low saturation/low contrast) versus the more
    saturated and contrasy Ektar 100. Portra 400 is somewhere in the middle.
     
  12. brucemuir

    brucemuir Member

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    OP may be seeing digi prints that tend to blow the reds quite easily.
     
  13. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Perhaps all the usual suspects... he hasn't specified. Regardless of the mode of reproduction, the inherent problem with color negs per se is that they're like having power steering on a narrow road.
    A little too much tweak this way or that, and you're off the road entirely! To use another analogy, it's
    like someone tone deaf who keeps singing louder and louder, even though they can't hit the right pitch
    or properly differentiate the respective notes to begin with. By merely saturating (so easy nowadays it
    seems), yet being unaware of how this affects the nuances of the gamut, all the related subtlety in the
    hues gets blocked together, and the power of the color realtionships is killed. Sometimes less is more.
    This should not be confused with the concept of contrast per se. I can work with either soft or highly
    saturated hues, and still retain a very clean range of distinctions between similar hues. But how one
    goes about this is somewhat different when printing color negs versus chromes. The problem is not
    really one of analog versus digital reproduction at all, but more about how the ubiquity of the very low
    common denomintor of the web has created a generation which is almost color-illiterate.
     
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  15. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Loss of detail is due to clipping at either end (highlights or shadows) of one of more colour-channels. It's pretty easy to do in digital by cranking the saturation slider and there are plenty of people not paying attention in their postprocessing that will produce technically poor images. A saturation increase is a deliberate pushing of the channel values away from the grey line in colour-space and that will typically push values out of gamut especially near shadows and highlights. Values out of gamut means colour clipping, which means loss of detail.

    RA4 absolutely can produce high saturation. I have a few wet prints here from Ektar and they are eye-bleedingly saturated, about on par with Velvia* though obviously the paper can represent much less total dynamic range. Yes, it has visibly more saturation than Provia. For example that image is a scan from the negative whereas the wet print is more contrasty (the tree reflections are close to black unless I dodge) and more saturated. There is no loss of detail anywhere in it.

    It also helps that the only papers easily available in sheets are high-contrast, which increases saturation slightly. So even if you're printing with a lower-saturation film, the results are pretty strong-looking. Obviously though if you're shooting a high-contrast scene, you're going to struggle to get the whole image onto the paper without dodge+burn because the contrast is fixed (save for some rude tricks in developing the neg or print) and high.


    * obviously it's the Kodak palette with strong reds instead of the Fujichrome palette with strong greens & purples.
     
  16. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    ^ I think blown highlights are tempered (but not always possible) with luminosity, not commonly saturation. Blown highlights won't necessarily respond well to tweaking; if they're gone, they're gone: re-shoot the scene.

    A scene with Velvia, for example, can be over-saturated with the indiscriminate use of a polariser (particularly awful with Velvia 100F where browns turn a ghastly red and greens shift to mush), and in doing so it will also flatten the illumination, introducing more problems. I strongly favour fitting the film to the scene; that is to say, one film will not be universally suitable for every scene; thus I freely inter change Provia 100F if I have reason to politely record the scene's colour's with not so much garish overtures v.i.z., Velvia.

    I don't get blown highights or blocked shadows in any of my scenes because I've tweaked multi-spot metering and everything is accounted for: highs, mid-tones and lows. Water with blown highlights is a very common malaise; where it is involved and highlights are desired to be controlled, my trick is to baseline shift a meter reading from water and give —0.5 stop from an overall metered scene matrice. Colourimetrics and printing is thus very straightforward.

    And now...it's Friday! The cameras are packed, the go-kart is primed and I'm ready to shoot through to make the best use of the remaining summer-like days of autumn. Bon voyage! :smile:
     
  17. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Control in general is an acquired skill and necessary througout the workflow. And yes, I too always start with a spot meter and very good idea of what my chosen film is, and is not, capable of. As
    Clint Eastwood famously said, "A man has got to know his limitations".
     
  18. rwreich

    rwreich Subscriber

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    Thanks for the responses, and my apologies for not responding sooner! I've been putting a darkroom together in my basement and haven't touched the computer for a little while!

    The reason I've asked in the first place was mainly to anticipate the kinds of issues that I might see when the darkroom is done and running.

    Someone already said this, but I don't need it look like a box of crayons. I want it to look real.

    The images that I see that make me wary are scanned and probably manipulated. I just wondered what they'll really look like after printing instead of on the monitor.

    Thanks all for posting your responses, I think I've found them all to be very helpful in managing my expectations.
     
  19. HTF III

    HTF III Member

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    I have an angle that derives from laziness, trust, and, resigning myself to the idea that's there just isn't much film these days to even consider the question. So I boil down all the pontification surrounding the matter and settle on what I would have; or should have used in the first place. By whatever name EK named their good stuff. At one time it was Ektacolor, then Vericolor, now Portra. Soon to be nothing, I'm afraid. Frankly a roll of Kodacolor was always good enough for me. When Kodak is gone, I suppose all we'll have is some Fuji of whatever they might still make. Any of it is preferable to doing the digital deal.
     
  20. RPC

    RPC Member

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    rwreich,

    As someone pointed out don't try to judge image quality by looking at internet pics.

    If you do color negative printing in your darkroom, you can choose different films to give you different levels of saturation. For example, Kodak Portra films for modest, Fuji Reala for higher and Kodak Ektar for the highest. I have used all of these printed on Kodak Endura paper (now discontinued in sheets) and Fuji CA II paper (still available) and all combinations give pleasing results with no loss of detail at any saturation level.

    The important thing is to expose the film properly at the correct exposure and color temperature, and use care when developing and printing. You won't be disappointed.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2013
  21. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    A couple thoughts.

    First is that "all things are relative" and second is that "each medium has its own pallet".

    So to the first point, I find that if I want colors to look richer, that printing slightly darker helps, this isn't really changing the saturation but is changing the relationships of the tones to our world. Conversely by printing slightly or even significantly lighter you can make things look more pastel. These effects can be applied locally or globally and this can control detail too. The other control I find fun here is color balance. For example in the real world cars that are supposed to be "red" many times lean toward orange, red, but too yellow for my taste. I can print it with more blue and by my standards "improve the red". Similarly you have to decide which version of real color you want. If you are shooting in a bar where the lighting is warm, do you really want destroy the mood and reality of the scene to correct the skin tones to studio perfect normal? I'm not suggesting one or the other is the right way, simply that both are actually, truly, and absolutely correct answers, your preference is the judge.

    Second is the color pallet thing. I really enjoy Portra, and I enjoy Superia, and Fuji Pro films, and have done shots I really like with Kodak disposable cameras that I didn't know what film, other than ISO, was inside. Unless you have very specific expectations you will find that most films give very good results. Sure, if I do a wedding gig I'm probably going to order fresh Portra for the job but if the shipper runs over the package with a forklift I'd happily reach into my fridge and grab 20 rolls of 5-year-old Superia 400 and do the job. What I understand is that most of the problems I have with any film are failures on my part, say scrimping on exposure or forgetting to set exposure or setting exposure without remembering that I have a polarizer on or not considering that films respond to different colors differently so in that bar under nice warm light I might forget that I need a bit more exposure. Did I mention exposure? :wink:
     
  22. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    So I'm doing an RA4 printing session this evening with some Pro 160S (a very neutral film) that expired in 2007 (thankyou to whoever on APUG sold it to me on the cheap!). It's a tad dense and requires much more cyan filtering due to its age but the colours are still accurate and (on the papers I can get) slightly more contrasty and saturated than I want for a portrait. It looks like a mildly-boosted digital photograph with similar punch to Provia. Getting enough saturation is not a problem, personally I find getting it down to an acceptable level more difficult.
     
  23. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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  24. HTF III

    HTF III Member

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    I use the Porta NC, and set my luna-pro at 125, and I'm happy. I suppose when the knuckleheads on the Kodak board finally crash and burn the company, I'll have to do something else. I'm NOT looking forward to that day. Looks like it's coming though.
     
  25. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    Not entirely on topic, but I would like to express that the actual perception of saturation can be increased by setting the "black point" of the viewer, whatever that means.

    It is my impression that the same print, seen against a black background, appears to have more saturated colours than against a white background. By the same token, slides are projected in total darkness, and as soon as some light enters the projection room the perception of saturation (and contrast) decreases noticeably. I understand the real saturation and contrast - in scientific laboratory terms - of the images is the same, but the perception is different.

    So if you have a series of prints that you are showing to somebody, or exhibiting, and for one of these prints you would like to give a greater sense of saturated colours, you can show it against a dark(er) background. Or you could show it in the dark, lighted by a spot light.

    I also suppose that the same applies to slides seen through the loupe on a light table. Our brain tends to set the darker zones as "pure black" and the lighter as "pure white" and we have a perception of high contrast which, I suppose, in turn tends to give a perception of high saturation. If we see some pure white (part of the light table without a slide over it) near the slide both the perception of saturation and of contrast tends to be lowered (although if we measure them they are the same).

    Unless that's just the result of my hallucinations.
     
  26. HTF III

    HTF III Member

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    There was a color TV in the 70's that advertised a "jet black screen". I forgot which. You do have a point, however unfeasable.