Essay: Fun with the partial color filter

Essay: Fun with the partial color filter

Today, let's talk about partial color.

No, really, let's do this.

Please don't pretend you are not frowning right now; after all, partial color probably counts among the Top 5 Cheesiest Photography Filters of All Time ®. Especially among... ehm... "creative" wedding (so called) photographers, partial color has been abused to excruciating levels of bad taste.

Well, I'm here to, somehow, defend the poor thing, and, hopefully, convincingly argue it can be fun, inspiring and creative to use.

First of all, let's make it clear we are considering a in-camera filter here. The difference between a picture manipulation made in-camera vs. one made in post-processing, is quite obvious, in my opinion. In the first case, you actually "see" the photo to be produced, in real time, provided of course you use a mirrorless camera or, in general, one with a dependable live-view function. This turns the whole practice from a after the fact attempt to make something interesting, to a purposeful creative experiment.

Second, let's finally abandon of the luddite mentality of making a picture "as pure as possible". There are no "pure" images. There are images a viewer sees, already made by someone else, and judges for one-self if they are interesting or not.  In-camera filters/treatments are just tools, simple as that.

Now, why on earth use a partial color filter? There are a number of interesting reasons, in my view.

On a purely academic level, having one object, or a specific number of objects, colored in an otherwise B&W frame, serves as a study in the dynamics of color. In an historical perspective, there was serious debate, and even resistance among artistic photographic circles, when color photography started gaining momentum and widespread public acceptance. Color was considered by some to be vulgar, to betray the essence of Photography as an artistic medium. And, truth be told, we all know how difficult it gets sometimes to provide convincing storytelling while using color. Mainly because, abstractions aided by B&W rendering (i.e. passing responsibility to the viewer) are gone.

There is a huge discussion of hues, tones and color dynamics where we shall not delve. The aspect we are looking into, with partial coloring, is that a specific color can be overpowering even at limited amounts. Take for example the photo of a red traffic light against a sea of green foliage. This characteristic is pushed to the limits with partial coloring.

So, the prime objective is adding drama to a picture.  This can have several contradicting forms. For example, you can make something that's "tongue in cheek" and funny in an exaggerated kind of way. Or you can create dramatic or even bitter-sweet images.

But there is also another psychological consideration which results in appealing  images, in my opinion. This is when you can create the illusion that the B&W background somehow looks "natural", in-context. A picture that the viewer should have to look twice, to determine there is something "wrong". 

To further demonstrate this, here is an older photo, where partial coloring was made in post-production.

Olympus E-M5, 12-50mm kit lens, post processing in LR + Silver FX Pro

The interesting feature is that, the "normal" photo wasn't very "different" to the one provided here. The partial coloring only served to illustrate the perceived dynamics better, erasing the effect of distracting color casts in irrelevant parts of the background. Because, let's not forget: images are "made" in our brain. And, sometimes, "partial coloring" is a kind of way our mind chooses to construct memories. When you think of your favorite toy as a kid, you remember its shape and color, over anything else in the context of your memories. First date with your first love: the color of her dress or lipstick.  Your first own car: its shape and color against an immaterial background.

And here is, I believe, the most interesting facet of this whole photographic experiment, because, in using in-camera partial coloring, one actively seeks specific colors, in essence reversing the process the mind uses. And, hopefully, making some good images in the process.

Hope you enjoy!

(All photos in this gallery taken with the Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm or 27mm lenses and use of different in camera partial color filters. Minor post-processing of JPEG files, e.g. sharpening, minor cropping, adding a vignette, etc).


Mighty IBIS

Mighty IBIS

Music through the lens: Datfunk

Music through the lens: Datfunk

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