Do you color correct? what’s your limit?


In digital era, we have complete freedom in color alteration, but has this freedom liberate photographers? Or does it sacrifice authenticity?

This is a huge topic that i wouldn’t be able to cover in great details, nor can I claim myself to be at mastery of it. And there are huge difference in opinions on whether color of photos should be altered digitally. Not starting a debate here. Instead since I have some years of color alteration experience, partially in photography, partially in motion pictures/ TV commercials, I would like to share what I observed.

Coloring before the digital Era:

Before we have digital cameras and apps for color correction, your photos can vary in color too. The main choice here is what film you uses, it produces different colors, different taste of grains, different dynamic range, and different detailing. Type of films also produce different feels: negatives, B&W, slides; and then you’ve got Polaroid type of wash-out color; also lomography has altered their film slightly to produce certain colors. Then there is alternative way like cross-process (usually means processing your slides in C-41 chemicals used in negatives), redscale (loading your film with front-back face reversed), expired film, and even more exotic methods like washing them with other chemicals, heating the film, etc.

And then it’s digital color correction. My analysis is that they follows in one of the following categories:

Basic correction & RAW converters

It’s “allowable” by most photographer: correcting exposure and color balance. Most considered this as essential and maintain the integrity of their photos produced by specific lens and sensor. Why authentic? traditional film development machines or technicians automatically correct exposure for you too. And you color balance by using film of different color temperature too e.g. tungsten film. Besides, there are also RAW converters that “bake” your sensor raw data into usual image dynamic range. The process usually also includes also exposure and white balance correction.

Film simulation

VSCO for lightroom is one example for re-creating stock film looks by dedicated lab effort. It’s one of the best you can find to make your digital photo look analogue.

Mobile Apps of Preset filters

Many mobile apps like instagram, LemeLeme, Analogue Color, etc, do that. They borrow a lot from different coloring approach, only that a lot of them goes too aggressive and overly contrasty or tinited, mostly very “digital”, destroying details and authenticity of original photos: why? cus smartphone screens are small, camera is only good for small screen too. what’s why aggressive color is suitable for it for quick attention drawing. For my taste, a rather “correctly-done” app in this category will be Hipstamatic as i discussed in another post, or VSCO cam app, etc

Desktop Applications of sophisticated color correction

the all-well known Lightroom, Aperture, Capture One falls in this category. There are more out there, and some do specialization e.g. Nik Silver Efex Pro is purely for B&W manipulation

In-camera Preset filters

Most modern camera comes with color corrected presets besides standard mode, few of them are usable in my opinion. Ricoh GR and Fuji X serious camera, IMO, produces some of the most usable filters. GR have beautiful X-Pro (cross process) simulation and black and white modes. And Fuji has mainly stock film simulation mode that is usable for many traditional photographers. And Fuji also has B&W mode that has different color filter options (what does this mean?). A lot of others resembles the what the mobile apps does and easily produce over-saturated/ contrasty photos.

Color grading in TV commercials, music videos, and motion pictures

This is one of my favorite approach as it borrows great techniques from the video world: There are “colorist” a dedicated position on handling color grading video work, which is a much more demanding and sophisticated process. They use completely different software, from low end to high end that is worth more than a million dollar with hardware trackballs and control panels. The point here is their use of color is very creative while conforming to rules of motion pictures. TV commercials and Music Videos are usually more adventurous and stylish, and varies greatly depends on the goal and client products; while movies is less allowable due to the fact that if aggressive color adjustment goes overboard, the film can look detached fro reality, or audience may find it uncomfortable and weird to look at it for 90 mins. Anyhow, all these color grading are valuable inspiration on how your photographs can be colored. Useful concepts like secondary color correction, split-range color balance can be applied in photography creatively.

 HDR, RAW, Logarithmic Colors

They all relates to wider-than normal dynamic range for imagery.
HDRI photography is a method of bracketing captures and post-combine them into a compressed range.
RAW is a file format that contains a wider dynamic range data than “normal” image formats like jpg, png, tiff, etc.
Logarithmic colors is a color space definition mostly used in video. It’s used so that the video contains more dynamic range at the time of recording video, by extending the tonity range of shadows and compressing the tonality of highlights from a broader dynamic range. And converting it back to normal colors in post yields highly usable range of colors akin to RAW. especially useful for color grading and recovers plenty of shadow details that the old film shooting usually yields. interestingly, the Logarithmic color space can act as a low-contrast color style, as you will see below.

The topic is too huge to start 🙂 I can write each of them separately in many post. Anyhow, to share a glimpse of what I wrote, the following are some examples of my color correction approach. You can see the caption below each photo and knows what I’ve done to the picture 😉

Happy coloring 🙂


 VSCO – Polaroid PX-680 preset with modified contrast and tonal range


Logarithmic color space out of Blackmagic Pocket camera as a low-contrast style


VSCO preset of Fuji Superia-100 


 Lightroom preset of Cross Process


In-camera Cross-process mode of Ricoh GR


In-camera Cross-process mode of Ricoh GR


Lightroom manual adjustment, borrowing color grading techniques from TV commercials





VSCO Polaroid PX-680 with strong fading of blacks


 Lightroom manual correction by lowering contrast and other adjustments



Lightroom preset of Cross Process


Lightroom manual correction by lowering contrast and other adjustments




Lightroom preset of Cross Process but greatly modified




Half-way between Logarithmic color space and REC709 space by Film Convert Pro


Lightroom preset of Cross Process but greatly modified


VSCO preset of Fuji Astia-100 



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