Just a hint of colour

This is a story of an image that started as an ill-begotten shot taken with poorly matched tools. No, not the above one, the one below, shown here straight out of the camera:

Besides an arbitrary composition (which was fixable) it had poor acutance and flat colours. And it was generally dull. In fact it was dull as hell. Shot with a Hector (now got rid of), handheld at high ISO from a balcony of a villa facing the Indian Ocean. This was part of the Seychelles series I worked on during two visits to the islands, the last one in 2015.

If you look at it you will notice just two general hues: the orange-yellow glow of the evening sky and the desaturated blue turning into muddy grey of the sea. The bird is silhouetted out of the background.

As the classic photographers would have you believe, the paucity of the gamut gives an image a “cinematic” look. Movies have been shot in a style where colours are artificially converged to a few by turning the colour circle strategically while emphasising/de-emphasising parts of the spectrum. But in the above image the gamut is entirely “as shot”, straight out of the camera. And it doesn’t work, neither structurally, nor emotionally. But the remedy is quite within reach.

Step 1. Check the horizon (it’s straight purely by accident). Re-compose: push the horizon down to the golden ratio and the bird to a horizontal third by cutting the island on the right (you will have noticed that the avian is horizontally aligned with the point on the left where the island meets the water).

Step 2. Observe that the visual interest is served not by the colours per se but by their complementary nature, as well as by the lines and contours across the frame. This observation is the clue, or shall I say was the visual cue that made me try the high-pass filter. To my surprise it all worked as I had wanted.

See the top image, and look closely by opening it in the browser’s separate tab, which should give you the high-res version. A large screen is required to see the halos clinging to the emphasised lines, bringing back the lost acutance and delivering just a hint of colour.

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