We have heard it a thousand times... "Those colors must be Photoshopped." Just recently, we received yet another similar comment on one of our posts - the color looks "over-cooked" in Photoshop. I'm willing to bet that most of you have heard the same thing. We're used to the question, so it doesn't bother us much - but it's a worthwhile point for discussion.
Now, before we get into this - we don't think there's anything wrong with taking artistic liberties with your colors. This is art, and the artist makes the rules. But - it seems that sometimes people fail to realize that nature itself can "over-cook" the colors... in a good way, of course. The key is to realize that brilliant colors occur under certain condition. When you learn to take advantage of those conditions, you won't need help from Photoshop. Let nature do it for you!
Take a look at the two photos below:
The colors are quite different, right? So, what's going on here? Both these photos are from the same location. Jay used a circular polarizer for both images - and processed them with the same RAW parameters. He even used the same version of Adobe Camera RAW. You can take a look at the settings he used below...
So, if all the parameters are equal - why do the two images look so different? In this case, it comes down to two major factors - seasons and light conditions.
The photo on the left was taken in mid-summer. On that day, the skies were bright blue. Strong directional light from the upper right overexposed the greens on the left - and the shady right side ended up underexposed. The dry weather also meant that the moss had died out for the season, so the rocks are brown. Deep green, summer foliage surrounds the waterfall.
The photo on the right was taken in Spring. Jay took the shot in between rain showers, when everything was wet. Overcast skies meant filtered, non-directional light - so the whole scene is bathed in very soft light... and the diffused light makes everything seem to glow just slightly. At this time of year, the waterfall is at it's peak - and the moss and spring foliage has a fresh golden color. A bit of morning mist adds a moody effect.
In this case - and for most of our images - vibrant colors come from nature itself.