“True Colors,” a phrase made famous by Cyndi Lauper back in the ’80s, doesn’t typically apply when it comes to creating composites with impact. In this unique tutorial, award-winning artist Felix Hernández reveals how he uses color to evoke a psychological response from viewers of his amazing images.
DEPARTMENT: COMPOSITES TUTORIAL
SECTION: COLOR GRADING
SKILL LEVEL: INTERMEDIATE
The reason why we love an image is often because of the feeling it elicits from us, and an important part of creating that feeling has to do with a process known as color grading. Color grading sets the mood and tone in which an image speaks to us and is often not based on reality. So frequently, true colors aren’t used; rather, only the colors you choose as an artist to transmit a desired feeling through your image.
There is no one specific way to go about color grading. You can use different approaches directly in Photoshop or you can play around with third party plugins. But before you go running to buy plugins, it’s important to understand how color grading works, and for that, there is no better way than to do it manually.
Having said that, we have to be aware of the difference between color correction and color grading. Color Correction is the process you use to achieve proper color in your image, in a “true color” way, without color cast. Color Grading is the process of altering or enhancing the color of an image. By altering the color, you set the mood because color plays a very important role in our psychological perception of what we see. In fact, to do a good job color grading your image, you first need to color correct it, and that means eliminating color cast and fixing other color issues such as mismatched skin tones, etc.
To “sell” a composite – i.e. make it look “real” – there are a lot of details you have to address, overall color being one of them. But sometimes, creating believable color can be so challenging that many artists find it easier to convert their composites into black and white if they can get away with it. Of course, that isn’t an option with commissioned work where the client’s brief won’t allow you to avoid a colored image.
Before we start moving sliding bars and clicking buttons, we have to set the mood in our minds. Every image is different and you have to ask yourself some questions such as:
What mood do I want to convey?
What do I want to communicate?
In the case of a commissioned project where the main subject is a product, do I need to respect the “true color” of that product?
You need to take into account that color plays a significant role in perception, so learning and understanding color theory is a must for anyone who communicates through images.
Read more in Issue 3, COLOR