Color Blind Color Corrections

An article by former Air Force Colonel William J. Astore titled “The Races of Man” inspired this piece.
He used a picture from the 1890’s of a picture depicting human “races” in various colors which showed the racial attitudes of the time, with white “races” as the most advanced.

Astore was showing both how far we’ve come since then in knowledge and how little we’ve advanced in attitudes. As color seemed to be a major delimiter, separating people from each other, I wrote a comment (mostly what I have below) about my experiences in learning to adjust color balances in pictures by understanding flesh color as the same pattern in red, Green, Blue color sliders, regardless of how light or dark the skin tones.

I added that if I could find example pictures from my work which would illustrate this, I would add the link back from their comment section. So here is my reply.

Colors Don’t Work Right for Me

I’ve been shooting since the summer of 1967 when I took a photo course, the only one I’ve had. The next year when I enlisted in the Air Force I hoped for a photographer position. Turns out I am color blind (red/green partial deficiency, as it is termed). So I couldn’t take a photo job.

Nonetheless, I shot picture, both color and B&W developing and printing my own B&W.  I was never able to get a good color pack for color prints just by looking. When I did work in commercial photo labs, I was the B&W section. But I did do a lot of color-to-B&W conversions, usually from transparencies for a color catalog shoot.

For that I had managed, using densitomer readings, to calibrate a set of color packs for various transparency emulsions, Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Fujichrome, AgfaChrome and so forth, so that they would look right on panchromatic B&W film. Otherwise the colors produce odd looking densities.

In 1992, when Photoshop was available on Windows machines I realized that I could do my own color corrections on photos using the RGB numbers. I figured I would also calibrate the RGB settings I needed for skin tones, just as I had previously calibrated color packs for different transparency films.

I got out daylight slides of all my friends from whiter than me and super pale to honey brown, medium brown, charcoal brown and near black, blue black. I just assumed I would need a separate calibration for each, just the way I needed a separate calibration for the various transparency films.

It turned out to be much easier (a relief for me) and also a moment of “Well, du-uh.”

Everyone, no matter how pale or how dark corrected to the same pattern: more red, less blue and the green slider on a straight line between the red and blue.

The slider values need to line up in a straight line
like this fictitious example below.
…………………….RED  90
.………..GREEN  80
….BLUE   70
NOTE: These are only example values. They vary greatly, but as long as you work to line them up, you will get the right skin color.

Although I am color blind and can’t determine the right color change just by looking, it turns out I am very sensitive to the aliveness of the color and the deadness of the color. So I could work the color sliders to the overall generic pattern so that the picture popped up as alive as possible (without letting the shadows go blue).

In other words, a matter of the concentration of colorant, not which colorant. (A colorant is a color used as an ingredient creating another color. i.e. red and blue, colors in themselves, are colorants when combined to make the color purple.)

I use Lightroom now more than Photoshop and Lightroom has a different color correction mechanism. They don’t have convenient RGB sliders for me to use. Instead, I have to put the cursor over an area of skin and use the numerical readings, imagining how they would line up (as in the example above). But the method still works, with a little more effort.

I’ve used that over the years to darken or lighten colors when sometimes correcting a picture when I’ve cut off a limb and need to borrow a limb from another picture.

UMKC Fall 2007 early Dress 31 Oct 2007 - Photo, Copyright 2007 Mike Strong,

UMKC Fall 2007 early Dress 31 Oct 2007 – Photo, Copyright 2007 Mike Strong,

Some years ago I did an example (above) photo showing the blending of two dancers (white/black) into one image corrected where I had cut off the forearm of one dancer and borrowed a forearm from the other. Below is the result shown larger.

Skylar Taylor and Miyesha McGriff - "Dance Symphony No 7" by Paula Weber - UMKC Fall 2007 early Dress 31 Oct 2007 - Photo, Copyright 2007 Mike Strong, - umkcF07b_045xac

Skylar Taylor and Miyesha McGriff – “Dance Symphony No 7” by Paula Weber – UMKC Fall 2007 early Dress 31 Oct 2007 – Photo, Copyright 2007 Mike Strong, – umkcF07b_045xac

That is Skylar’s forearm extended out from Miyesha. You can’t tell the difference. We humans are just us. All of us. And we are so much closer to each other than we realize.

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