For those wishing to take color skills to the ultimate level, here are the two dates for Applied Color Theory classes in 2017.

• ATLANTA, Wednesday, March 22 through Saturday, March 25, 2017.
• SAN DIEGO, Wednesday, August 9, through Saturday, August 12, 2017.

These classes—four long days, limited to eight persons—have changed the lives of many a photographer, many a retoucher, and many a Photoshop authority. This will be the 23d year I’ve been teaching them, in a dozen different countries, in four different languages. And never the same way twice. Every group has its own character, faces its own challenge, exults in its own successes. I never got tired of it, because I never found it repetitious.

Of course, the class has changed drastically over time, adding new techniques and interesting imaging problems. In 2011 we switched from three to four days, in view of the increased complexity in our field. But the format is the same. I teach what I can, then the group works independently on a set of images, and then the results are compared. This routine is repeated seven more times over the three days. By the time the class is over, we’ll have compared our results on 28 different images. The first 12 are the ones that every class works on. The last 16 are customized to and chosen by the class. Often they include images that class members themselves have provided as representative of their own work.

All of us who are serious about the topic have developed our own methods which seem to work well for us. Unfortunately, we have nothing to compare the results to. Many methods, some quite crude, still can make original photographs look a lot better. The question always is, how much better could it have been?

Nothing can answer that question better than seeing what others can do with them. In principle, you ought to be able to get what you think is the best result, because nobody else can read your mind to know what you’d like to do with the picture. In practice, especially during the first two days, there is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from students whose work did not measure up to their own expectations, in comparison to that of others.

Four days, 40 hours. It remains the fastest way that a professional—or someone who wishes to produce professional quality work—can upgrade color correction skills. If you’d like to consider signing up, click here.

{ 16 comments }

The U.S. presidential campaign offers an interesting insight on opponent colors, and on how best to present data. The conventional way of doing it leaves much to be desired.

Residents of other countries have difficulty understanding of the American system, where in effect the election is always decided by voters in a small minority of states. Every state carries a certain number of “electoral votes”, which are what actually elect the president. Almost all states, however, are winner-take-all: the candidate who wins the state, whether by one vote or ten million, gets all its electoral votes. And the majority of states are so strongly associated with one party or the other that the results are known long before the candidates are even chosen.

Given these rules, residents of the four largest U.S. cities, and eight out of the top ten, basically have no voice in the presidential election: they live in states where the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Neither party will spend much time or money in such a state. Both need to figure out which states could conceivably be swayed by an advertising push. Journalists also need to understand which states are the keys. Therefore, maps like the ones about to be shown are important.

Ideally we would like to represent the two parties by complementary colors: an orange party and a blue one, for example, or a green and a purple one. Unfortunately, this is not possible in the context of U.S. politics, where one party is always referred to as red and the other blue. We often speak of a “reliably red state” like Alabama, or a “definitely blue state” like California, to indicate that there is virtually no chance that the candidate of the other party could win.

I have prepared two competing versions of an electoral map. The numbers are based on nearly complete returns from the 2012 presidential elections. I have divided the states into 11 categories. The reddest and bluest ones are those in which one candidate led by a margin of at least 15 percent of the total vote. Less distinctly colored ones are those in which the winning margin was at least 3, 6, 9, or 12 percent. The eleventh category is for the two states (Florida and Ohio) in which neither candidate led by as much as three percent of the total vote.

Nine out of ten of the maps I’ve seen are along the lines of the top version. They start with the logical position that a state that the blue party is likely to win, yet not so overwhelmingly as in California, should be portrayed as less blue, and that an even closer state should be even less blue. Typically, they also make these questionable states lighter, because the blue used for California is rather dark.

Those familiar with the opponent-color structure of LAB know that “less blue” is synonymous with “more yellow.” In the context of these two political parties, however, “more yellow” is not a great idea. A state that is less blue is not more yellow—it is more red.

In the bottom version this issue has been corrected. States whose results are similar but not identical to those of its neighbors are not so misleadingly distinct as in the top graphic. Notice, also, that despite using the same data the top chart seems to show a “bluer” United States, while the bottom one seems redder to the casual observer. The reason: a full red is a more vivid color than a full blue. A neutral, or even a slightly pink neutral, seems closer to the blue than it does to the red.

A representation of the outcome of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, prepared in the way that most such maps are today. Note that although the two use the same data, this version seems bluer than the one below.

A representation of the outcome of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, prepared in the way that most such maps are today.

An alternate version that assumes that the colors of the two parties (red and blue) should be mixed when a state is up for grabs, as opposed to portraying the state as merely "less blue" or "less red."

An alternate version that assumes that the colors of the two parties (red and blue) should be mixed when a state is up for grabs, as opposed to portraying the state as merely “less blue” or “less red.”

Three final notes. First, I pointed out earlier that it would be helpful to use colors more complementary than red and blue, but that political realities dictate otherwise. However, nobody dictates the kind of red and blue. There is no reason to woodenly select whatever red and blue your software suggests as a default. Making the red more orange moves it closer to being complementary to blue and making the blue more cyan makes it more complementary to red. Although they aren’t the same hues as in the top version, the choices for the bottom are surely “red” and “blue”, not some other color. But notice how Kentucky and Illinois are better differentiated, and how the states surrounding Illinois make more visual sense.

Second, the bottom version is easier to correct, if needed. For example, if you wish to show what would happen if three percent of the national vote shifted to one party or the other, it’s no sweat with the bottom version, but the top version is problematic.

Third, as elections often teach us, the past should not be forgotten. The idea of charts that use mixtures of the colors that are used to symbolize certain categories was original to my friend M. Chevreul, who published it in 1839. I wasn’t even aware that such color graphics were possible at that time, but he was a strong advocate of them as being ways to make data clear in ways that text cannot. Where is he now when we need him?

{ 3 comments }

In September 1994, I took three days off from my day job in New York, and spent them teaching color correction to six people in Atlanta. We were using Photoshop 3, with no adjustment layers, no multiple undo, no actions, and computers with 16 mb RAM.
Sterling Ledet gave the name “Applied Color Theory” to the class. The concept was that we learn by seeing how others approach the same originals that we do, and whether we prefer their results to our own. When the entire group decided unanimously that a certain version was bad or good, we took that as an indication that it was, in fact, bad or good. When there was disagreement, we discussed why we disagreed and how a client might take either position. And, we decided that we would not be limited to eight hours a day: the sessions would be long, and tiring. For three days, one would eat, sleep, and correct color—nothing more.

The reactions to that first class were so positive that we scheduled another, and then another one after that, and so on. By the time I decided to wind down my career a few years back, Applied Color Theory had been offered more than two hundred times, in close to a dozen different countries, in four different languages.

And never the same way twice. Every group has its own character, faces its own challenge, exults in its own successes. I never got tired of it, because I never found it repetitious.

As time went on, the curriculum changed. Exercises were replaced when more instructive ones were found. But a few have stood the test of time. Of the dozen images that today’s classes work on in the first day and a half, three date from the last century, due to their consistently high ratings on evaluations that ask the students which images they found most useful.

In 2008 the curriculum was overhauled to emphasize the Picture Postcard Workflow, which of course was a work in progress at that time. Classes got to play with early versions of the PPW panel, and in 2011, due to the increasing complexity of work, we expanded the format to four days.

I announced semi-retirement about this but still teach the class in the U.S. one or two times per year. This year, the dates are:
• ATLANTA, Wednesday, April 27 through Saturday, April 30, 2016.
• SAN DIEGO, Wednesday, August 17, through Saturday, August 20, 2016.

The four-day class remains the fastest way that a professional—or someone who wishes to produce professional quality work—can upgrade color correction skills. It’s a big investment in many respects, but it’s also been a life-changing experience for many over the years. If you’d like to consider signing up, click here.

{ 0 comments }

Photoshop 修色圣典

by Dan Margulis December 25, 2015

Chinese readers will be interested to know that the translation of Modern Photoshop Color Workflow is on press now, and should be available within a few days, from the same publisher who offers Photoshop LAB Color (and is working on the second edition) and of Professional Photoshop. The Chinese market apparently has a lot of […]

Read the full article →

Averaging and the Complementary Background

by Dan Margulis November 26, 2015

A recent post on the appliedcolortheory list, discussing my suggested procedure for making gross changes in the color of a product, noted that it used Filter: Blur>Average, which the poster said he never used under any other circumstances. I will now show a related use of it that can really help out certain product shots. […]

Read the full article →

PPW: Blending Strategy in a Flower Image

by Dan Margulis November 11, 2015

Most people who try out the PPW eventually come to the conclusion that it is better to do two or more quick versions than one slow one—even if each quick version has to be somewhat sloppier than it would be if we were more careful. The principle can go further: if we are making versions […]

Read the full article →

A New Beta Version, and an LAB Post

by Dan Margulis August 31, 2015

Two quick updates. First, in connection with the publication of the second edition of Photoshop LAB Color, Peachpit Press asked me to do a promotional article. It’s called “When Too Much Is Just Right: A Decade of Changes in LAB Color Technique,” showing several examples of why it pays to adopt a policy of producing […]

Read the full article →

Photoshop LAB Color, Tenth Anniversary Edition

by Dan Margulis July 6, 2015

The tenth-anniversary edition of Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace is now available for pre-order here; the supposed publication date is 25 July. I attended the pressrun in late June, which came out well. It’s now just a matter of when the bound copies get to the […]

Read the full article →

Russian Translation Released

by Dan Margulis May 20, 2015

The Russian edition of Modern Photoshop Color Workflow is now available here (site is in Russian language only), in limited quantities at first with more in a few months. I received my copy last week (note in the lower right corner of the cover, that this is my “personal” copy!) and the printing looks good. […]

Read the full article →

Beauty, the iPhone, the Hammers, and Change

by Dan Margulis November 26, 2014

This post is nominally about a certain application of the Picture Postcard Workflow, but really it is about change for the better, change for the worse, resistance to change, and willingness to change. It features the old, the new, and even the hackneyed. The most iconic image in the Canadian Rockies, taken from in front […]

Read the full article →