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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Al Satterwhite - Fields Of Color

Al Satterwhite made his mark with saturated color design. His refusal to be categorized has allowed him to leave it virtually everywhere.



Of course, once you get back to the computer, you can do all kinds of things, like take out telephone poles and things in the background that don't add to the shot.

“This is both good and bad,” he says. “It's dangerous and safe at the same time because you can start altering things, and if no one is there but you, no one knows. I think the problem is that people tend to overdo everything, and because of this we're getting a distorted view of reality in some way. It's not to say that people who shoot film are any better, but they just don't have as much control and certainly aren't as fast.”

Satterwhite emphasizes that one doesn't have to shoot digital to make a living as a photographer, and that there still are a lot of advantages to shooting film.

“I still like shooting film and then scanning it, because I think I get better resolution and better shot detail and capture,” he says.

In fact, it's film processing that Satterwhite used to establish his saturated color effect.

“When I was first starting, I began experimenting with color and film,” he says. “I ended up liking Kodachrome 25, which is no longer made. It was really slow, which made it ultra-fine grain and made it great for big images. I've always shot 35mm, and I've done covers, double trucks, three- or four-page foldouts, bus posters and billboards—all shooting 35mm. Those who say you're limited by 35mm are just wrong.

“With the Kodachrome 25, I could underexpose it a little bit and the colors would really saturate,” he continues. “You had to be really careful if you got too dark—the labs were always complaining they couldn't do the separations, that they couldn't reproduce the effect. So I was used to working on the edge. Another little trick I used to do was I'd dupe it. I had a couple of custom-made duping machines, essentially used to take a picture of a picture, but instead of using duping film, I was using Kodachrome 25 to shoot Kodachrome 25—so it wasn't a real dupe because the colors would shift. I would get a more intense red, a more intense yellow, blacker blacks. And though shadows would start to block up a bit, I could control that with flashing and, basically, overexposing the film.”

The result was Satterwhite's signature look. He'd use telephoto lenses like 180s, 200s or 300s, and shoot them wide open so there would be almost no depth of field.

“So what you see is really tack-sharp because that's where your eye goes,” he explains. “Everything else in the picture is out of focus, and you're only going to look at that primary object. This concentrates the viewer's eye because, one, it's the only place it can really look and, two, it realizes the idea of sharpness because the field of focus is so narrow.”

Because of this, Satterwhite had to make sure that whatever lenses he used were extremely sharp wide open.



 

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