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Color and Saturation

Posted: April 21st, 2010

In the imaging world I often see people making comments about someone else's image having the colors too saturated, or too weak, or too strong, vivid, etc.

Truth is, in general terms, there's not much secret in getting the right amount of saturation we want. Here, right means what is right for us.

Depending on what tool you use, doing a saturation adjustment is accomplished by either moving a slider left and right, or drawing a curve...Seriously, how could anyone get that wrong? And wrong to the point that they will benefit from our feedback telling them they went too far or stopped too short?

Often times, any feedback about saturation is, therefore, in my opinion, just a waste of time. It's not contributing anything to the author's goal, just a statement about what our own goal would have been. Now... does this person want his or her image look the way we wanted, or the way they wanted?

Now... I said before that making a saturation adjustment is easy, but this too requires some know-how... Acquiring the right saturation level we're looking for sometimes it's not just about sliding away the saturation slider, and sometimes reaching that level of saturation may need some techniques so that noise is not also magnified, but my point is that I am assuming the person behind the image adjusted the saturation right where she or he wanted, and my feedback about how I feel about the saturation level is just as good as if I had said "I like your image" or "I don't like it"... In other words, a rather useless feedback.

There are a few cases however where feedback about saturation can be useful....

One of such cases is when the operator simply isn't sure if he or she gave the image the right amount of saturation. In that case, my feedback would be "well, what does it look right to you?" but there may be a few factors leading to the operator asking that question: maybe this person has little experience and they're trying to assess how their interpretation matches with other people's opinions. Or maybe the person was using a monitor that isn't well calibrated...

Another case would be when we know the goals the author was trying to achieve with the particular saturation intensity she or he used, and they're asking us if we feel such goals have been achieved.

Other than that, unless I have a strong feeling that such interpretation missed some valuable opportunity to depict something that would have contributed to the image being more consistent with that person's view, I will simply judge quietly whether I personally like his or her style/interpretation more or less, but take such interpretation at face value: this is how the author wanted to represent this image.

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