What is good color?

When discussing color, different people have different reactions to the same pictures, be they photos or paintings. Where some enthuse „such great color!”, others won’t acknowledge color at all.

What determines color perception? Where is the borderline between objective psychophysiology and subjective preference? What distinguishes perception and attitude to the thing perceived? How does perception change with age and visual experience? How to develop good taste in color – and just what is good color, to begin with?

I’ll try to answer these and other questions in what follows. Let me preface it by saying that everything in this article is my personal opinion based on my studies and experiments with color as well as scientific research in the fields of psychophysiology, color theory and aesthetics, analysis of works of art, museum exhibits and films, conversations I’ve had with painters and photographers world-famous for color mastery and observations of how color perception changes in people as their creative powers develop. You have every right to disagree with me, but I hope you’ll find these thoughts useful or at least curious.

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Shooting strangers

If you are involved in street, journalistic and other genres of photography with a “human interest,” you have probably wondered how to take an expressive picture of someone you do not know without the end result looking dull and yourself getting in trouble. In this piece I want to share my thoughts and experience about shooting strangers.


Is it okay to take pictures of strangers?
Staged or spontaneous?
Spontaneous images
The target and the backdrop — combining them
Plowing over
Deconcentration, or the art of woolgathering
The Eye in the Gut
The Fake Video Shoot
The Selfie
The Front Man
The Surprise
The Provocation
“No pictures!”
Befriending Characters
Into the Home
By way of a conclusion


Getting a bit ahead of myself here, I must say that sometimes there will be trouble anyway, and there are ethical issues to sort out with oneself, not to mention legal. Is it okay to take pictures of strangers, anyway? Is that not an invasion of privacy? What do Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and people from other confessions think about it? Is it all right to shoot… take pictures of policemen? In airports, railroad stations, subways? How about supermarkets and private stores? What restrictions do different countries have in place? …There are lots of questions when it comes to shooting strangers, and few of them have definite answers.

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A Few Words On Selection of Photos

An Article for Beginners, Introduction for Those Who Keep Practicing, and Step-by-Step Guide for Every Occasion

“You need ten minutes to learn to take a photo. You need to mold a personality to learn to select one.”
(c) Gueorgui Pinkhassov


Some friends/colleagues of mine criticize the above wording viewing it as incomprehensible, inaccurate, even snobbish. They argue against the idea of somebody being able to learn photography in ten minutes; as for mature personality, they say the notion is arbitrary (what about the personality of a five-year-old child?). Such an approach by all means sounds reasonable, even more so, it is interesting per se. However, give me a five-year-old child and a modern camera, and they will be taking pictures in ten minutes flat. Will they act consciously in so doing? Should one act consciously? What should the balance be between the conscious and the unconscious in the process of taking pictures and selecting photos? From a personal perspective, these issues seem to be deep and important, and the above quotation implies their philosophical interpretation.

Generally speaking, it is hard, if ever possible to be an effective judge while discussing photography. One cannot tell how to do things right, as everyone makes his or her own choice. There are no off-the-shelf solutions, since every photographer exercises an individual approach. Time and again I see utterly “wrong” actions (objectively wrong, like incorrect processing techniques in Adobe Photoshop) bringing about the “right” result, shaped by the photographer’s creative insight rather than by his or her technical skills.

Striving for algorithmization is quite useful in terms of application tasks in photography and dangerous in terms of creative tasks. Since art starts where rules end, I believe creative growth relies heavily on personal experience, both your own and of those people whose works speak to your heart.

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Color photography outside direct sunlight

“It was octarine, the colour of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind.”

Terry Pratchett, “The Color of Magic”

Photographers, especially beginners, often hold the mistaken opinion that shooting is reserved for broad daylight – especially if you are looking to make an effective color picture. When it rains, in twilight or at nighttime you should (they say) refrain from shooting or, at most, settle for black and white. So photo tourists coming to a new country are often put out by precipitation forecasts and cloudy conditions. I say, it is an occasion to rejoice! Shooting without direct sunlight opens great opportunities for expressive color photography, and I have proof – not just pictures I myself have made, but work of acknowledged masters.


1. A few words in defense of the sun
2. Now that night is coming
3. Rafal Milah: “I can’t see colors in sunny weather”
4. Work in interiors
5. Leave a bit for contrast
6. Mixed-temperature lighting
7. Is rain the most anti-photographic weather?
8. The opposite myth: “Noon light is too harsh and colors are drab”
9. By way of an afterword

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Arctic experience in photography

Arctic experience in photography

While preparing for the trips to the Arctic Circle I was thinking a great deal about what kind of photo equipment to take with me. On the one hand, I wanted to take as little cameras and lenses as possible because it’s quite difficult to carry several cameras in severe climatic conditions, let alone changing the lenses which is practically impossible. On the other hand, travelling with only one camera, even if it is expeditionary one, is also risky – what if it gets broken or, for instance, all the batteries, including spare ones, go flat?

In the end, mostly by intuition, I chose two cameras: ‘big’ Canon 1D X (lens 24-70 f/2.8L) and ‘small’ Fujifilm X-Pro1 (lens Fujifilm XF 18 mm f/2 R X-Mount). I was tempted to take a film camera as well, just in case, but I decided to confine myself to the excessive reserve of power: I took 2 batteries for the big camera and 5 for the small one. Moreover I had an iPhone but it turned out absolutely useless at 53°C because 100% of battery had drained in 2 minutes.

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Learning photography. What really matters

Someone has sent me a link to an article recommending interesting blogs about photography. I liked the beginning:

There are numerous ways to improve one’s skills – from free online lessons to real courses at photo schools. Books, video guides, workshops – but what really matters? Do sessions that promise to refine your skills pay off or are you just lining the pockets of clever people with more experience than yourself? Should you spend time reading free articles by various gurus or is that just another self-promotion trick? Today we are going to talk about what you can learn for free.

Argh. What a great opener – and right away winds down to a list of free blogs, articles and books (mine is also recommended). In my opinion, that’s not nearly enough. Materials like that are good and valuable accessories, but they don’t lay down the foundation. You may ask, what is the most important thing then? How should one go about learning photography? Because it’s mostly newbies who ask those questions, I would answer as follows on their level – that is, keeping things simple:

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When I just started to devote myself to photography, I was worried about an infinite number of questions as any entry-level photographer: what equipment to buy, how to set up the camera, what to shoot, how to process and so on. As many beginners, I was trying to find answers from more experienced colleagues, vexed my friends and the friends of them with questions, asked people on the photosites, read endless articles and books.

After six months of immersion in subject my brain was literally «boiling» from the abundance of information and new terms, but the world of photography has become more and more difficult, complicated and confusing. It seemed to me that I would remain worthless incompetent if couldn’t understand all this, and continued to «burn the midnight oil».

A year later I was already tolerably versed in all the variety of equipment, shooting modes and even in Photoshop, but the more I knew about this, the more questions arose, the more I was away from the photography. It became clear much later, after years of searching and experimenting.

Now, having gone through hell, I know the correct answers to the initial questions. They are much easier than I had expected. Here you could say: «What a pity that I had no one to explain it to me». I don’t regret about time spent, because this is my personal way. But if in due time I had a really experienced friend, perhaps this would have been a bit shorter.

Almost every day now I hear the same questions with which I began myself. Friends of my friends write me same kind of letters: «You are a professional photographer, tell me what camera to buy for my nephew, he is 15 years old and is carried away by photography».

So finally I decided to sit down and write the answers to some of the most recurrent questions. These are the answers I would have liked to get 10 years ago. Maybe at that time I would have probably considered them «wrong» … but would have at least have a thought about them. Hoping for the same, I wrote this article to the most novice photographers. So, here come the «wrong» advices to those who are just starting photography, or maybe haven’t even begun, but already thought about it.

1. What camera to buy?
2. What lens to choose?
3. How to set up the camera?
4. What other equipment the photographer needs to have?
5. What to shoot?
6. How to process pictures?
7. What is a good picture?
8. Where and to whom to show the pictures?
9. Where and what to learn?

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RPP for begginers

I spend a lot of time studying color from aesthetic and technological points of view. Eventually I figured out that the really good results can be achieved by studying several points of view to color.

On the one hand, you must study the artistic properties of color – study the works of the acknowledged masters of color photography, view beautiful movies, visit museums and exhibitions, study the history of painting and art, and reading books. All this creates a visual experience, refines your perception of color and artistic taste, sets your priorities and criteria, creates a solid aesthetic base for working with color photography.

On the other hand, you should be able to use all this knowledge when shooting. You must not only understand, but feel how color is binded to light. You should know how to find colorful scenes, master lighting and feel the right moment to push the shutter release button.

And for last, but not least, you should know that the process of creating a beautiful photo in color won’t be completed unless we have the technology to implement our ideas. Speaking of color photography the most important parts are RAW conversion and post-processing your shots.

It is really odd, but in the era of digital photography, when we have a handful of ways to process our images, the post-processing is the most troublesome part for many photographers. For two years now I am writing a book about causes of this trouble and quality ways to overcome it. The book would be called “Living digit”. It will be available in Russian this fall. I also look forward to publish it in English in about a year.

Briefly, most of the problems in modern digital photography are associated with purely technical approach, deprived of any aesthetic component. It is believed that the manufacturer should give maximum picture editing possibilities and let the consumer create nice colors. Problem is, that the average consumer does not have any education in arts and have no idea of what colors look nice or even how to get the desired result. In the days of film photography things were all different – photographers were supported right from the beginning, because the film itself and the film processing technology contained some pre-programmed resulting colors that would look good . And this result was researched and designed not by engineers, but by artists and professional photographers.

Today the big manufacturers are not interested in such research and are not determined to bring aesthetics to digital photography. Lack of understanding of color harmony creates lots of ugly colored photos and lots of moaning about “how beautiful colors were in the era of film photography”. But things are not as bad as they seem. Some little-known enthusiasts and professional photographers with vast knowledge and work experience try to create alternative means and instruments to process digital photos.

One of such instruments – Raw Photo Processor (RPP) software. I found this software on my long quest of creating beautiful colors. Yet one must understand that no software can have some magic “Masterpiece” button and create a work of art in one click. The beauty of the picture is determined by photographer, the scene itself and the way of processing the raw shot. However, some smart software can greatly simplify things. I like the logic and results of RPP, thats why I recommend this software to other photographers. This does not mean that good result can’t be achieved by use of other instruments. This means that I believe RPP to be the shortest way to it.

You are about to read the translation of my article, once published in my blog in Russian and found very interested by other photographers. If my English-speaking readers found it interesting as well, I will continue to translate my articles about modern digital photography. In fact, I have lots of them!

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