The Purple And Green Brontosaurus

_DSC8984ABrowsing in the plastic dinosaur department of my local hobby shop – as you do – I was struck by the wonderfully accurate colour rendition that had been painted on the various prehistoric lizards. It is just as I remember as a child…

The quarrelsome amongst you will say that this is not possible – there were no dinosaurs in the 1950’s and no-one really knows what colours they were. I can laugh at this ignorance – there were plenty of dinosaurs in the Calgary, Alberta zoo and we can all remember them well. If the concrete and reinforcing rod they were made up of has survived the harsh Canadian winter, they are probably there still. No dinosaurs, indeed…!

Similar objections are raised whenever we take colour pictures with our digital cameras. This might be a little closer to the truth were it not for the fact that the automatic white balance circuitry of most modern cameras is getting better and better. Where once we were well advised to take a whole raft of measurements, precautions, and extra equipment into a situation of natural light, we can now just give the thing its head and it will arrive at the right conclusion itself. I tried the experiment of doing this in a museum recently – estimating the colour temperature of the lights and then slowly dialling the Kelvin setting up or down and re-taking test shots. When I got what I felt was the best LCD screen rendition of the scene – and remember that this was the camera’s JPEG rendering of the raw file – I turned the thing up to Auto White balance…and got the same result.

If I’m really worried in the studio I set the camera to 5300ºK and arrange the exposure so that only the studio strobes actually illuminate the subject. then 5300º on the raw converter and all I have to decide is the film rendition I like the best. I take a McBeth shot if I’m extra nervous.

Of course it is somewhat of a comfort when I make the artistic decision to go all adolescent and make the scene violent colour with gels on the strobes. White balance hardly matters when everything is green and peach. You don’t want to do it after a heavy garlic meal, however…

 

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