One of the best film photography tips I’ve read is to shoot red, as it nearly always looks good.
I wrote more about this a couple of years back, with a sample of some of my own favourite red shots.
With digital, just as powerful a tip in my experience is DON’T shoot red.
Most digital cameras I’ve used (and there have been a few) do not perform at all well with red, and generally leave them oversaturated, and/or significantly shifted from the shade of red seen by the naked eye.
Now I’m not one for always wanting to perfectly capture the colours as my eyes see them, and one of the joys of using and experimenting with different cameras and lenses is seeing how their unique characteristics render the images.
But I don’t like plain ugly or garish or unnatural looking colours.
Here are a few where I’ve walked that tightrope with shooting red, though red photographs are few and far between with my digital work, and in far greater abundance with film!
I do like this image overall, especially the shadows, the numbers, the texture of the stone, and the contrast between the living flower, and the gravestone, obviously marking the place of rest of someone who’s died.
But the red is too saturated, yet at the same time not as rich as it was in the flesh. As it’s only a small part of the image I kept it, but only just.
In this photograph, the red isn’t oversaturated. But then it’s committed the arguably even worse sin of being not vibrant enough.
I quite like the composition, but the washed out blandness of the colours is really disappointing. If I had the chance to shoot this again, I would wait for better light and see how that could improve it.
But comparing this to phone box photographs made with my favourite colour films it’s even more of a let down, it falls way short.
Next, this photo does kind of capture the vibrancy of the red, but then it overdoes it, and makes it look like the post box has had extra layers of red paint, and they’re still wet and running into each other.
Plus there are hints of pink and purple along the edges of the red object, which aren’t there in reality and just don’t look right. Not a great red photograph at all.
However, let’s end on a high. The above image is quite possibly my favourite rendering of red I’ve seen with a digital camera.
I wasn’t surprised to see it was made with a Minolta 35-70mm “Baby Beercan” lens, as they’re pretty fantastic, as are most other Minolta lenses I’ve had.
It’s vibrant enough to portray the colour as my eyes saw it in reality, but not oversaturated.
Plus that iconic shade of red used on phone boxes and post boxes across the land for decades, is presented in almost its full glory, certainly accurately enough to be instantly recognisable to an English citizen if they saw the colour alone and no other detail.
I expected this to be the product of a CCD sensor, and it was – the 14MP one in the Sony a350. Which makes me curious about picking up one of those DSLRs again…
But it’s still not quite as lovely as similar images I’ve made with film multiple times.
How about you? Do you avoid shooting red with digital cameras? Do you gravitate to or away from any other colours because they’re difficult to capture in the way you want them to look?
Let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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