Overuse of Color Grading (…look I clicked on a filter now I’m an artist.)

1/40 sec at f/4.0 ISO 800 80 mm color graded using split tones in Lightroom. Location Eastern States Penitentiary.

Everybody wants to be an artist, but sadly enough not everybody can be an artist. Actually pretty much anybody can be an artist if they were to actually take the time and put forth the effort to create something. Today we have a lot of “one click” artist wanna-bees. I love Instagram so much for several reasons; one reason for sure is it has helped me so much with my photography business. People find me, they contact me and I have a client to do business with. I like Instagram because I can build a network and I can reach a lot of people all around the world.

So many times I have heard it said “Instagram is for photographers” and that statement could be truer. Myself I rarely partake in using any of Instagram’s filters although I don’t begrudge anybody for using them. I edit most of my images in Adobe Photoshop and put finishing touches on in Adobe Lightroom so I really have no need for IG’s filters. However I do realize the vast amount of people using IG there is only a small percentage that would edit and do what I do. So for sure they want to use a filter to take their images to that “next level” and give it a “look and a feel” and again I have no gripes. Now with all that said we all no trends rise up and most often recede and some trends are so horrible we can’t wait for them to recede and fade away… hopefully!

I remember when I first got into learning how to edit skin in Photoshop, it was a time when the trend was to make the female skin look like plastic or porcelain, with no texture at all. It was horrible and I too was guilty of this horrible atrocity. For one it was a very easy effect to create and for two, all the magazine covers were doing it, so it seemed like it was ok to do it..

Then came along the overdone “HDR” with all the halos and graininess. I have to admit I still like to use the over-done HDR effect as an illustrative tool to this day, but not for photographic edits. Same goes for the smoothed out skin, as an illustrative edit it can be used, as a portrait… no way. But… I still see people using it.

So this brings us up to our current state of “what is being over used today?” I’ll tell you what it is… LUTs and color grading, these are being so over used it is pitiful. 2 years ago I barely knew what a LUT was, I did know what color grading was and for still images I performed most of my color grading by using “split tone” controls. Or I had other methods, some I learned from other photographers and some I just created through trial and error. Some of my color grading was and still is as simple as making a solid color layer and lowering the opacity. Does it work? You may ask… works good enough the clients love it and complements on social media are plenty.

But in both video and photos the color grading at present day can be atrocious if not done correctly. And when I say “correctly” I know editing is very subjective. It goes straight back to the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” quote. Photography, videography are all very subjective because they are creative and artistic, but with all that said I am so sick of the teal to orange color grading that is done incorrectly. And to be flat out honest I am no expert at color grading, but I am an expert at knowing what is distracting when you look at a photo or video that has poor color grading. It seems some of the worst videos are vloggers on Youtube. Some vlogs I can clearly see have had some high end color grading done and I envy it because I have not yet reached that level. While other vlogs are just… I want to say “horrible” but again it is subjective, so I will say “not to my liking.”

I wrote a post a while back about color grading and where it came from, it has been around a very long time. I what to point the finger at IG for the current dilemma, after all Instagram’s filters are just like color grading, but it is done with “one click” and using a given filter with the right image produces a great result. However this takes no real talent or effort and while one could make the claim it is creative, it is merely clicking presets till you find one that looks good. Either way it is kind of a moot point at this time… the fire has started all we need to do is wait for it to burn itself out and hopefully go the way of selective color and bad HDR. I remember the grossly overdone colored cinematic lighting that popped up in some of the 80’s movies and carried over into the 90’s. Using blue lighting to illustrate night time is ok by me, but making alleyways appear deep purple was just flat-out bizarre.

While I am learning more & more about creating and using LUT’s I still love my split toning, gradient mapping and other little tricks for my photo color grading.

Photo Notes: So this particular image I get a lot of compliments on. Many times the comments come from people who do not know about color grading, but they do know about Instagram filters. They ask what filter I used. Or have heard many times “this photo looks so cool I love the color, how did you do that.” The color grading was actually done in Adboe lightroom 4 using the split tone sliders and the saturation & luminance sliders in the HSL panel.

1/40 sec at f/4.0 ISO 800 80 mm

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