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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Photo tours

The familiar phrase „photo tour” doesn’t always mean what people expect it to, and in some ways the meaning is very different. A „photo tour” is a kind of catch-all, like „engineer” or „manager”. But because it’s often bandied about in the photographic or near-photographic circles, it may be a good idea to discuss what „phot tour” stands for – just so you know what to expect during one and whether it’s what you want.

There are two parts, the photo and the tour, and together they refer to a sort of cloud of all possible events where photography can meet travel. Depending on how accents are placed, this can mean anything from a regular tourist tour where are you allowed to take pictures to full-scale workshops in the open air.

In the former case you can expect to be taken on a route with old people and newlyweds, who will take out point-and-shoot cameras when the guide says and snap pictures of themselves with monuments in the background. In the latter – in-depth photo training with like-minded enthusiasts, art history lectures, daily picture reviews and other photo practices all the way to painting and drawing. Somewhere between these extremes roam bands of landscape photographers with knapsacks and tripods, catching sunsets and sunrises. Any of that can be called a photо tour.

As you can guess, sometimes the accent is on the „photo,” sometimes on the „tour.” Basically:

Photo TOURS are tours with a camera
PHOTO tours are photography lessons on the go

The balanced position is to combine discovery of new places, lessons in photography and discussions with other lovers of photo. But I don’t think this balance is always a good idea. Some people care more about interesting routes and exotics, and the photographer guide can give advice two-three times during the whole trip. Others want to study under a particular photographer, and they’re pretty indifferent to the choice of subject matter. But almost always people have preferences as to what kind of company they’re going in.

Company is the thing. The clearer a tour’s format has been positioned, the more likely it is to attract like-minded people who will be comfortable and interested in travelling together. So if you’re considering a photo tour and you have questions, don’t be ashamed to ask the organizers. The more you know on the shore, the smoother your sailing.

Here are some questions anyone will find worth asking:

1. Where are we going?

Of course, the route must be interesting to you. Even people who sign up to study under a well-known photographer look at where they will be travelling. It could be one city or an extended non-stop outfit or an auto rally through several countries. Make sure you want to go there. Pay attention to how quickly the tour’s program changes locations and overnight stays. The more hopping from place to place it includes, the closer it is to the „tour” end of the spectrum. Few locations means closer to „photo.” Both kinds of tours are legitimate, choose what’s more appropriate to the way you are feeling now.

2. Who is the photographer guide?

If you haven’t heard of the photographer guide, don’t rush to conclusions. Look up his pictures on the Internet and read up on him (/her). It’s impossible to know everybody and here is your chance to expand your scope. You may very well like the style and decide to learn from this photographer or just travel together. Being interested in him as a person is an important ingredient. There are plenty of good photographers in the world, but not too many are ready and willing to share their how-to. Those it would be pleasant and interesting to camp with for a week are even fewer.

3. How is this different from a regular tourist tour?

However the accents are placed, a photo tour must be different from a basic tourist offer in some way: tried and tested locations for photography, scheduled shooting times depending on the hour and weather, unusual routes, interesting events (festivals, celebrations etc.), special permissions to shoot in hard-to-access places, joint museum tours, an atmosphere of art (with medieval castles, theaters, film studios), professional models to pose, make-up artists, stylists on board, impressive staging and so on. And, of course, a photo tour must include lectures and picture reviews. This is important enough for a separate article.

4. How much time are we going to spend reviewing pictures taken on the tour?

A photo tour of any kind is always photographic practice. Any advice on photography is useless without looking through and evaluating actual pictures you take. This can be done „in the field” on the camera screen, but it’s much better to dedicate special times to it. And a large projector works better than crowding around a laptop screen. The presence of a quality projector is sure proof the tour’s solidly on the „photo” side of things. On the other hand, if it is, say, a trip to the mountains, a projector is probably not an option – not necessary either. On the whole, get some idea of what the tour is about – basically tourism or basically photo training.

5. Where can I see the pictures of people from the last tour?

Coming up with an original, interesting route to take photography students on is a rather complicated task. It takes resources to set up, too. So almost all tours are made repeatedly. If the organizers can’t show you pictures taken the last time around, it probably means there aren’t any. It’s also an indication that this tour stresses the tourism component. Or maybe the photographer guide couldn’t inspire the students to pictures worth showing. Or places and events aren’t so exciting. All these limitations are normal and may be fine with you, just make sure you know it in advance. Looking through previous groups’ results is a sure way to discover what you can expect and what level of pictures you may be able to take on this tour and bring home. Regardless of a tour’s accents, a common picture album and picture exhibitions are a very good indicator of quality.

6. Who else has signed on?

Unless you’re first past the post, ask who else has signed on. At least get a general description. What matters at this point is not specific names (and the organizers probably won’t reveal that until you have joined up yourself), but the general feeling with which the group is described. It’s a fine idea to get to know each other online before the tour. If the organizers allow it, make sure to visit each other’s sites, Facebook and Instagram pages and link up.

6. What is the level of this photo tour for?

A sensible question, but practice shows that difference in technique is not a decisive moment. Complete newcomers to photography are certainly going to have a bit of a harder time the first few days, and professionals will be a little bored. But usually photo tours create such a comfortable environment to develop in, old hands and newbies quickly get on the same level, at least enough for everybody to know the terms and general photographic methods. Besides, experienced photographers like passing on their knowledge.


To make the picture complete, here are some words that are used instead of or in addition to „photo tour”:

1) Photo journey. Used by those who want to move the accent off „tour.”
2) Photo expedition. Hike-a-lot.
3) Master class. Photo tour with a clear stress on photographic mastery.
4) Workshop. The same thing as a master class, perhaps stressing joint practice a bit more.

So what should you go for, the photo or the tour? In what proportions? How to mix and match? This depends on what you want, where your priorities lie. Either part of the equation or any combination and be interesting, useful and pleasant.

As for recommendations, at the moment I suggest choosing from this short list of companies and people who provide quality photo tours:

Photo Planet
Ivan Dementyevsky
Vladimir Trofimov

There is a vast number of other people and organizations in the photo tour business, and a lot of them are probably deliver the goods, but I’m citing those I know very well myself and have absolute confidence in. I won’t mind seeing other names and links in the comments, though – feel free to post your recommendations.

May you choose well!

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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How to use curves

This article is mainly addressed to those new to photography, although may be useful for more advanced photographers.

There are plenty of articles written on curves today, but at the same time not enough. Most of these articles are about Curves tool in Adobe Photoshop. But curves themselves are much broader and important term. Although it is really easier to study how they work in Photoshop, it should be comprehended that curves are integrated in almost any photography software, one way or another. Even if you do not see familiar instrument, it probably exists and affects image. Even when you adjust Brightness or Contrast in Lightroom, you are actually control some kind of curve. Not to mention displaying picture on your screen is impossible without gamma-adjustment and managing brightness-contrast characteristics through display ICC profile, which are also controlled by curve. Moreover, when you shoot on film, image which you see after developing is affected by characteristic curve of particular film you have used.

Thus, despite what kind of camera you use and how much attention you pay to developing image in either dark or light room, understanding curves is rather crucial. And not only for photographers: scanning clerks, color-correctors, designers, print workers and many other specialists who work with raster graphics use curves. Hence, curves is primary (often the only one) and most effective tool to process pictures.

One can write a whole book on curves, and I will not be surprised if it already exists. This article is by no means exclusive or, moreover, comprehensive. In fact, my laziness made me write it – it’s easier for me to write one article than to explain the same thing to students every time. Articles I have read do not serve my teaching purpose, for one reason or another. Another reason why I wrote it is that none of the articles I happened to read presented an adequate guide to Curves. Most of them are too focused on Curves in Photoshop, not elaborating enough on key relationships between curves shape and its effect on picture.

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