Pictures don’t lie. Or do they?

Monitor being calibrated

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”

- Dorothea Lange

Do you base your clematis purchases on the photograph of the flower in a gardening book or catalog only to be disappointed when it finally blooms?  Is a picture worth a thousand words?  Not if the coloring is completely off the mark.  At that point, an accurate description would be more useful when selecting your clematis.  The problem not only exists in books and catalogs but in magazine articles as well.  Often the photographs printed contain much more eye-popping colors than are seen in real life. 

There are some valid reasons for the color-reproduction of pictures of clematis (and other flowers) varying.  Some of the factors that can influence a photograph’s coloring are: the camera and/or the lens, in which USDA Zone the clematis is growing (meaning plants grown in different zones can vary in color intensity), weather and even the time of day.  Funny as this may sound, some pictures you will see are actually taken in greenhouses, so this too can definitely impact the coloring.

I think it is safe to assume that the majority of pictures we see in print these days are those produced by digital cameras.  Even though digital technology has come a long ways since Kodak first released its professional digital camera system in 1991, there is still one thing that they cannot do: give us perfect color every time.  Realizing that digital cameras (as well as film ones) cannot always capture the coloring of a clematis correctly brings me to the subject of re-coloring and re-touching photographs.  Is the practice of photographic correcting an improvement or is it misleading?  When does a little “tinkering” with the coloring become “doctoring” the pictures?  Will it ultimately do more harm than good?  I believe gardeners do care when viewing the coloring of flowers whether it has been accentuated and/or manipulated?  When I used to take all my clematis photographs with slide film I was a purist and deemed it necessary to make an “improvement” only when it was used to the remove small flecks of pollen, spots of dirt or eliminating annoying objects in the photograph’s background that could distract from the beauty of the flower.  I personally consider enhancing photographs with the aid of colored lenses a poor practice unless it is intended to be an artistic or fantasy shot. 

What is required for taking an accurately colored picture?  In my opinion it involves a decent digital camera, a calibrated monitor, utilizing the correct scanning process and finally quality printing.  These factors combined or individually can ultimately affect the outcome of the coloring.  Sadly, even then the coloring will never be perfect because it just a fact of nature that cameras cannot duplicate exactly what we see with our own eyes.  So, why do these poorly colored pictures exist?  My guess is that it could be a multitude of reasons: budget constraints, expediency, ignorance and/or apathy.   Ultimately, the most important factor is probably cost.  Accuracy can be expensive when it comes to printing color pictures of plants.

For those of you who have made mistakes buying plants based on pictures you have seen I am sure you would agree it would be worth every penny if you were provided with a fair representation of a plants coloring before you purchased it.  But rather than dwell on the entities that are taking these “shortcuts” I would like to acknowledge the publishers and mail-order companies that are “going the extra mile” to offer us credible pictures that “do not lie” and are as close to Mother Nature as possible.  Since it is more expensive and time consuming to produce these type of photographs I definitely want to take the time to THANK the companies that do offer good pictures.  Let them know that you appreciate them and their efforts because everyone likes to hear something positive and of course the ultimate compliment would be to “buy” your plants from them!  I believe providing dependable pictures is a win-win for everyone and that hopefully in the near future that the pictures of clematis that we see in print are an accurate representation of what the photographer saw through the viewfinder when the button was pushed.

Do You SEE What I See?

When viewing color pictures on a monitor or display device we all see differing colors depending on the brand, model and how it is calibrated at the factory.  The only way to fix these coloring presets is by using a monitor calibration methods(s).  This process is usually used to match what we are viewing on our monitor when printing it.  I have listed a couple of websites for those of you who may be interested in finding more about this process.

Why do I calibrate my monitor?  Because I want the color to be as consistent and accurate as possible when viewing pictures of my clematis.  Calibrating my monitor every two weeks gives me a sense of security because I know that the coloring will not shift over time and that I am not just relying on some arbitrary color preset.  So, here’s hoping you see my pictures of clematis the way I do.