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Finding the Picture with Brooks Jensen

Finding the Emotional Color

I am an old-school black and white photographer. For the first 32 years of my life in photography, I never shot color film for anything serious. But digital cameras changed all that and whether I wanted it or not, color became a tool I simply couldn't avoid. In 2002 I purchase my first digital camera and began converting all my color image captures to monochrome. It was comforting and familiar. But every once and a while, after converting an image to b/w I'd have to admit that I kind of liked it in color! I started paying attention and discover what legions of photographers had learned before me — that color conveys an emotional content that can be poweful and important in a photograph.

And the colors don't need to be "real" in order to do that. Here is an image from the plains of North Dakota as the camera captured it. Accurate (well, close) and I might even say "scientific" colors. But that wasn't the need for the project I was creating.

I wanted to use this image in a multimedia video about the ceaseless wind and desparation of settler life on the Dakota plains. I titled the video Hope Eternal. The emotional color I needed had to be far less "cheery" than the blue skies in this image. So, I pushed things around to create an emotional response that resonated with the emotions of the project — still an RGB color image, but drab and lifeless, with just hints of color. Now I had the "correct color" for the project — not a natural color rendition, but an emotional one.

Tech data:

Olympus C8080WZ at 13.2mm. ISO 50. f/8 at 1/3500th sec.