“Is the color real?” is a corollary question to the “Do you manipulate your images?” question I quite often get. The short answer is yes, the color is real. The long answer is “sort of”.
First of all, no method of recording an image in a camera is totally color accurate. In the film days, Kodak's Kodachrome films differed from its Ektachrome films which differed from Fuji's Velvia and other films in how they handled color. The red color in an object will look noticeably different in each of these films. In a digital camera, sensors and in-camera processing result in a different look for different cameras. But note that nature also presents a terrific variation in the color palette presented to the viewer throughout the day. A good example of this is in two images I took in a recent trip to Glacier National Park in Montana, USA.
The shots are of Grinnell Point, viewed from across Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park. Neither image has been altered beyond Adobe Lightroom's default processing. Below is the first shot, taken at 5:59 AM.
The next image is the same scene, photographed at 6:17 AM
The color difference is dramatic and might make one wonder if the first image had been enhanced by the photographer rather than by nature!
But note that I do not leave my images as Lightroom initially renders them. I edit the image to present my interpretation of the scene and to make the best possible print I can. That is why it's called fine art photography. And, by the way, it doesn't get easier than this. The shots were taken from in front of Many Glaciers Lodge where I was staying. And, the coffee shop in the lower level opened at 6AM!
People often ask me if I manipulate my images. The short answer is yes. I use my camera's Raw mode for my image files and process them in Adobe's Camera Raw or Lightroom computer programs. This always requires further adjustments beyond the software's default adjustments as I am after an interpretation that represents to me what I saw when I took the image. Some images require minor tweaks, some require more work.
One example of this process is the following image of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA (available from my website). The original image, after processing in Photoshop's Camera Raw plug-in looked like the following.
I toured the ruin between rainstorms (note the sky in the upper left of the image and the water in the lower center), but the sun spotlit the ruins through a break in the clouds and detail in the adobe bricks is lacking in the center of the image. A strong curves edit in a Phototshop layer, shown below, restored detail in the overexposed area but degraded the rest of the image necessitating painting the correction into just the area that needed it.
The result is the following image which shows much more detail in the sun lit part of the ruin. An improvement or not? You decide.