Fake Colored Photography

All photographs are fake. There, I said it right away. Or, as they say in business/technical writing: “Bottom line up front.”

I watched a wonderful Keith Carter webinar presented by the Los Angles Center for Photography recently. It was all about enchantment and bounced from photography to art to poetry to folk tales. I have always loved Keith Carter’s photography and did not realize how wide a spectrum his art encompasses from cell phones on walks to glass plates to photoshop.

Besides the book he suggested: Dog Ghosts, and Other Texas Negro Folk Tales: The Word on the Brazos: Negro Preacher Tales from the Brazos Bottoms of Texas by J. Mason Brewer, I stole a neat technique for making colors in photographs.

Keith said he downloads photographs of his favorite paintings and uses Photoshop color matching to come up with color pallets for some of his images. The colors are not real to the photograph of course, or even natural for that matter—which makes it even better.

Before I talk about using this pilfered technique, you might also consider some of the other things he talked about, namely “imperfect photographs are more interesting.” Maybe that’s akin to the wabi-sabi Japanese art aesthetic, but consider all the wonderful imperfect photographs by people like Dutch rock and roll photographer Anton Corbijn with his gritty B&W or street photographers William Klein and Daido Moriyama—but I’m a street photographer much of the time, so prejudice… Or maybe Sally Mann with her Deep South project.

One of my tastes in art runs to realism, Dutch Realism in particular. This experiment started out going to the MET website and downloading a passel of photographs of paintings, including Aelbert Cuyp’s Young Herdsman with Cows.

I had a photograph from late May, 2021 taken near Camarillo, CA with a friend on photo safari. It’s of an old refinery taken at 5:30PM. The particulars are: f/14, 1/200s, iso200, 48mm equivalent with an Olympus M5 III.

It is a pleasant blue, afternoon photo with marine clouds in the background. The photoshop color match with the cows transforms it into an interesting golden hour pic. I rarely take golden hour pics, so this gives me a way to fake it if I feel so inclined. Cool. I can pretend it is a movie with a special color pallet laid on it…the modern incarnation of all those old 40s and 50s B&W noir pictures. Using chocolate sauce for blood like the shower scene of Psycho may not work in color—or maybe it will. Hum, another experiment…

The refinery photo is a little stiff and square, but the color match hides some of that with the exotic color pallet. An interesting crop in the middle of the frame popped up in the process. It’s even more square and may or may not be better than the original. It was discovered playing with Topaz Gigapixel to make the derrick and sky cleaner and sharper…violating the whole premise above of imperfection in photography/art! So there you go, contradiction on top of fakery…such as it is.

If you are so inclined, try the painting color matching and see it it suits you.

Here’s the original:

Here’s the cows:

With the cow colors:

And last, the crop: