Posts in Category "Bright Ideas"

Color Science, Explained (Part 2)

The Importance of Color Science for Video 

In a previous post, we interviewed Lars Borg, Principal Color Scientist at Adobe, about the intriguing field of color science. In this post, Lars shares a few things that everyone working in video ought to know about color science.  

We learned from Lars that “color” is actually an interplay of available light, colors, and the context in which we see them – all of which makes color subjective to a lot of different variables. We wanted to know, with such a deep topic, what ground rules can filmmakers and video enthusiasts derive from color science when it comes to basic color correction and color grading?

 

Looks are essential in cinematic storytelling

In the past, the film stock played an integral role in creating the “look” or character of a film. In the transition from film-based movie making to digital video, our relationship to color has shifted too. “The concept of the look is integral to film-based photography. You’d pick your film stock, say Fuji Velvia or Kodachrome, because the resulting look was pleasing to you. Some of the ‘look’ stems from the fact that the film’s spectral sensitivities don’t match the eye’s.” For example, some film stocks are overly sensitive to red, resulting in richer skin tones. Now, digital systems can emulate the look of film stocks.

FilmLook_sm  

Look preferences vary by region and change over time. “It seems like there has been a slow shift towards more accurate colors in reproductions, partly enabled by highly color-accurate digital cameras.” Lars muses, “I recently flipped through a cookbook from the 60’s. Some images looked awful against my current preferences – too much contrast, unnatural colors. Not something I longed to eat. Contemporary food pictures seem to be much closer to the actual food colors.”

“A Look can change a day-time scene to a night scene, or turn back time by applying a sepia tone. The color palette could change as the main character goes through different phases of life, from hardship to happiness and back. You can tell the intended mood of a scene from its Look alone. The villain’s lair is dark, gritty, contrasty, de-saturated, while his unsuspecting victims live in a bright, colorful, low-contrast, Disney-esque world. A grim Look is used for the kill.” This concept of storytelling through motifs isn’t confined to visuals or cinema – think of the musical cues of an opera, or the soundtrack leitmotifs in a TV series.

TwoLooks

How far back does this concept go, Lars wonders? “Did the cave painters use Looks? Needs further study. Looking for sponsors.”

Want to capture custom Looks easily? Try the all-new app, Adobe Hue CC!

 

Contrast and saturation matter

Viewers have come to expect Looks or image enhancements. In today’s world of RAW media, images with no color correction often look flat, and viewers almost always prefer a bit of a contrast boost. “This might simply be because it’s easier to see the details when the contrast is higher,” Lars says. So if you do nothing else, don’t be afraid to tweak the contrast.

 ContrastBoost_NEW

 

Manage your editing space…

“We know that if you take an image or an object, and make the surrounding brighter, you perceive the object as being more colorful.” Even if you have a perfect calibration, and are working under color management, if you are working on a video at home under inconsistent lighting conditions, contrast will appear radically different from day to night, “So aim for a consistent viewing environment, where the lights are controlled and low.”

 

… and adapt your media to the viewing environment

“To some extent, a filmmaker creates an environment and a context.” But the filmmaker also needs to consider the conditions under which their media will be viewed, and try to optimize for that experience. Will your target audience be watching on the big screen, or on a mobile device?

Back in the ‘50s, TV studio cameras were pretty insensitive to light, and television screens themselves were fairly dim. “For people viewing in the living room, the colors appeared desaturated—they were not the same bright, compelling colors that were actually present in the studio. So the TV system included a Gamma adjustment to increase the contrast, making the images more compelling, as well as boosting the saturation slightly, so in the living room, they looked more like what you would expect and prefer.”

 

Color management is important.

“You can give someone three RGB values, which you might think is a well-defined color, but it’s actually specific to the video standard that you are using,” Lars says. If you switch from HDR (high dynamic range) to digital cinema for example, the meaning of that RGB triplet changes, even if the proportion of reds, greens, and blues remains constant. “Colors are like a currency exchange rate. Say I have $50 in my pocket, but is it Australian or Canadian dollars? You need to know which to evaluate the true value. Your color management system is the currency exchange for RGB values. And if your display drifts, its ‘exchange rate’ drifts, too.” Not surprisingly, when it comes to color, it’s all about context: “With Ultra High Definition TV, colors can be more saturated. With HDR, they can be much brighter. If you go to digital cinema, it’s something different again.”

 

What do you think of these key takeaways? Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Color Science, Explained (Part 1)

 

The theme of the 2015 release of Creative Cloud pro video tools is “Creativity just got a lot more colorful.” With color being such a hot topic at Adobe and beyond, we interviewed Lars Borg, Adobe’s resident color expert, to tell us more about color science and (in Part 2) what filmmakers and video enthusiasts can take away from such a deep field.

 

Colors are a lot more than wavelengths on a spectrum. There’s a whole scientific field dedicated to the understanding of color, light, and ultimately, human perception: “Color science is based on how the eye reacts to color and light stimuli. It also includes how we ‘fool the eye’ – like that dress – based on what we are expecting to see, as well as how the eye adapts to different conditions, such as sunlight versus dark night,” says Lars Borg, Principal Color Scientist at Adobe. Color science is a cross-disciplinary field involving chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, and psychology. It plays a key role in the design and production of most man-made materials—everything from textiles to digital imaging – as well as in defining properties of natural materials.

LarsBorgHeadshotLars Borg has been with Adobe since 1989, and has been an important contributor in the fields of graphics, color, video, and image processing. He’s responsible for the algorithm powering the all-new Adobe Hue CC app, which allows you to capture color and light information from the world around you (or from reference images) to transform video. While Lars says that his field of work is better called “color engineering” since he isn’t a researcher, he certainly knows a lot about the subject. “Not surprisingly, good image reproduction needs good color management. To create better tools, I had to learn about color science on the job.”

When asked what he likes about the field, Lars notes that applied color science is fun. “It’s intellectually challenging, pragmatic, social.” Social?! “People understand color, even if they don’t understand color engineering or science. Compared to other technical fields – for example, computer security– you can talk about color with lots of people, because everyone says ‘That’s red’ or, ‘That’s reddish-orange.’ Everyone is very engaged when it comes to color. You can ask people ‘What’s your favorite color?’ No one asks ‘What is your favorite computer security?’ People are willing to discuss color and color associations even when they don’t know anything technical.” Indeed, having a technical background in color doesn’t automatically translate to good taste: “They are frighteningly unrelated,” Lars admits.

Color is a complex topic, and while it’s universally experienced, highly contentious, and has an entire field of science devoted to it, it can’t be easily explained. “Color” is actually an interplay of available light, colors, and the context in which we see them – all of which makes color subjective to a lot of different variables. “For example, you are in the house, the lights are on, and the walls in the house look white. Then you go outside, it’s evening, it’s not totally dark yet, and you look back to the house, and the lights in the window are yellowish. The eye is great at adapting to different situations.”

When you factor in human biology, it gets even more nuanced. In humans, the X chromosome carries the gene for color vision. Women have two X chromosomes, giving them an extra color gene. But men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, making them much more likely to experience color blindness. “You also have visual artists who are color blind, and what they see when they make the art and what their audience sees are different. It’s all very interesting and complicated.” Back in 2007, Lars was involved in implementing a mechanism in Photoshop CS3 to simulate the two common types of color blindness. If you turned it on, you could see what someone with color blindness would see. Lars continues, “That said, even ‘normal color vision’ varies, which means that we don’t necessarily all see color the same.” This phenomenon is called observer metamerism.

Color vision varies among individuals, but color perception also changes over the course of a lifetime. As the eyes age, the ability to perceive certain colors change: “If you are a baby, you can actually see ultraviolet light. If you are a teenager, you can see very bluish light, but as you get older, your eye lens turns yellow, blocking the blue light. In a dimly lit closet, grandpa can’t tell dark blue socks from black socks.” Lars pauses. “So, Martin Scorsese, now at 73, is making movies seen by people who are 17. How can he possibly see what they see? I don’t think he can.”

Outside of biology and genetics, the colors we see are also affected by technology. Some colors that are perceptible to the human eye cannot be reproduced on a digital projector – rich blues or cyans, for instance. These cyans can be captured on film stock, but film doesn’t handle reds as well as digital projectors do. Laser-driven projectors enable us to reproduce more colors digitally than ever before, but colors like neon blues still fall outside the capabilities of even the most expensive displays.

One more thing to consider: our understanding of color is uniquely human. “Color is not something that is definable outside of the human visual system,” Lars says. So if you’ve ever watched an Animal Planet special on how animals see, take it with a grain of salt: “We don’t really know what colors other animals would see. We know something, but it is based on human perception.”

 

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll share some key color science takeaways for working with video!

 

Extending SpeedGrade with SpeedLooks

SpeedGrade CS6 has been out for a few months now and we’re already seeing some great third-party additions. SpeedLooks, created by LookLabs, are a great example, and help to illustrate the power of color grading to dramatically transform your images.

I chatted with colorist Jeff August of LookLabs recently to learn more – quick plug: Jeff will be giving an online seminar on color grading for video editors on August 16

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Move up to Creative Cloud

Adobe is making it simpler to keep your software up-to-date. And a lot cheaper.

Adobe CS6 has been so well received by reviewers and production professionals around the world, and you now have several options for buying it. Along with boxed versions (or “shrink” as they call it here), and purchasing online, you can also subscribe. That last option is a great model. I encourage you to take a good look at Adobe’s Creative Cloud Membership.

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