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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chris Borgman: Shockingly Vivid

Inside Chris Borgman’s super-saturated world, it’s not what colors you use, but how you use them


“It’s usually done in steps,” he continues. “Baby steps. If you try to push through a bunch of color all at one time in the process—say, with the makeup—and then you don’t reinforce this with RAW processing and retouching, you’ll get a dull picture of a model with really tacky makeup. If you’re going to shoot a guy with a pink shirt and lime green pants, you better be able to support that styling with the right lights, background, RAW processing and Photoshop work. Otherwise, you’ll get a pretty plain picture of a really bad dresser. Of course, if that’s the goal—and it could be a great image—then go with it and make it work. If you shoot a relatively flat scene in JPEG mode and try to really push it only in Photoshop, you may not be real happy with the final image. If you shoot with hard light creating lots of contrast and shadows and then try to pump it up later in Photoshop, your histogram will be off the charts with no room [to] move.”

Adds Borgman, “My personal recipe for color is usually the same—look for or create a scene where colors are interesting and have potential for selective emphasis. Make sure the light is right—bright but not too much contrast. Background should always play a part in the color palette. Of course, shoot RAW.”

Describing part of his usual workflow, Borgman says, “I use a collection of adjustment layers of levels or curves—I prefer levels because the histogram is in your face—and selective color—for isolation—and hue/saturation to pull back the saturation a little. I’ve also been playing with Lightroom 2. I don’t get the exact same results, but I can get some really nice effects. I also can create presets and then apply them to a group of images from a shoot.”

If you ask Borgman his theories about color, don’t expect a shrug and a short answer. This subject hasn’t just occurred to him; he studies it and works at it and takes the pursuit of perfected color very seriously. Still, knowing how to create great color is only part of the equation.

“Here’s the real issue,” explains Borgman. “Getting those wonderful colors on your monitor to print in CMYK. Most magazines don’t have the time to convert your RGB file to CMYK and then tweak it so it looks like your Epson print. Until more presses can correctly handle RGB files, I suggest always delivering CMYK files to your client. For images with a gamut of typical colors or muted colors, CMYK conversion usually isn’t too much of an issue. It’s when you start to push the colors beyond ‘acceptable’ and then convert to CMYK that you can get some funny results—especially in the green spectrum. I went to pick up a press proof for a promotional piece I was sending out and the scanning/pre-press tech was trying to explain that my colors weren’t real. Huh? He explained that my colors didn’t have normal values and hues and that my colors were more illustrative than photographic. I didn’t really understand at the time, but I said, ‘Good, that’s what I want.’ He seemed a little shocked.”

While Borgman occasionally tends to shock with color, it’s not the only trick in his book. Much of his work is more subtle, yet still involves creating with color. As important as understanding how to create color is knowing how to put it to work correctly.

“Make sure color is appropriate for the subject,” Borgman advises. “For me, bright colors mean fun, happy, quirky—so that’s where I go with it. Take a good picture. A punchy orange isn’t going to make a poorly composed picture wonderful. Don’t overcolorize or single out a color to make it pop. I like two or three main colors to work with, but I punch up the density of the entire scene.

Everything gets elevated, then I work with individual colors until completed. Also, your market may not want it. A fashion or catalog photographer has to be careful of too much color because it can throw off the actual colors and become an issue for the client. Advertising and travel photographers can probably get away with a lot more.”

It sounds like Borgman may not know how to make an image that isn’t centered around a colorful subject on a colorful background. In fact, it’s his refined use of color that shows he’s not just flailing around with a paint bucket and saturation sliders to amp up his images. He uses color when and where it’s appropriate to create the right feel for an image.
My personal recipe for color is usually the same—look for or create a scene where colors are interesting and have potential for selective emphasis. Make sure the light is right—bright but not too much contrast. Background should always play a part in the color palette. Of course, shoot RAW.


 

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