FIFTY SHADES OF VANILLA
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE DAWN OF DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SO COMPLETELY CHANGED so many equations in the art of picture-making that it would take the rest of this calendar year to even take a stab at comprehensively listing them. Such an enormous roster would certainly include ease of operation, speed, enhanced learning, increased control, and a universe of choices and options. However, for me, it when I’m working in color that I realize that most of the effects that, years ago, were the exclusive products of the rich and well-equipped (call them the “darkroom generation”) are now at our fingertips at a whim. If the democratization of photography can be said to have begun with the first modestly-priced, more easily operated “everyman” cameras around 1900, digital process has certainly given all of us the power to deliver any look, any personal “reality” if you like, in any circumstances.
Color shows off this power this most effectively because we no longer are limited to a primary or official rendition of a hue, such as was the case in the earliest days of mass-appeal photo publications. Anyone who wanted to tweak a red to a magenta, for example, had to make very deliberate preparation before the shutter snap or complicated intervention after it (or both) to get that particular value. Now, a child can do it in a short series of clicks. Even the spectrographic presence of all colors, resulting (in light terms) in “white” is now subject to an infinite number of variants. Egg shell? Vanilla Ice Cream? Snow? Forget about being able to control all the other colors of the rainbow; plain old white is a complete spectrum unto itself.
White balance, for decades a difficult and frustrating calculation, is now completely automated on even the cheapest cameras, adjustable to tons of variants with a mere twist of a knob. Going even further, apps by the zillions allow for white to recall any atmosphere or mood with incredible ease and speed. In the two pictures of a mobius-strip-like stage canopy shown here, the top is rendered in “daylight auto” white-balance in the camera’s manual mode, while the lower shot, taken mere seconds later, required nothing more than clicking the mode wheel to “U2”, where I’ve stored the settings required to instantly render a fairly good replica of the warmer tones of Kodachrome film. Both of the canopies can rightly be called “white” by the brain, and yet there is a lot of wiggle room in delivering what might best be termed “white according to whom?”. For those of use long enough in the tooth to remember how laborious this all used to be, it’s a miracle.
Photography was once the domain of magicians and wizards, practicing dark and unknowable arts in shadowy, secret places. There were the limited play spaces that we, the general public inhabited, and then there was their separate, mystical realm. Now everything’s out in the open, and, once again, technology has dissolved the barriers between the tinkerers and the artists, giving us all a shot at playing the same game. It’s a lot more fun this way.
Leave a Reply