An Experiment in Photography - Saturation and Desaturation

The modern digital camera is an incredible tool, but like all cameras it is really just an instrument to collect data.  While many camera manufacturers make claims about the ability of their camera to make the perfect picture, in reality it is the person who makes the image using a camera to collect data about the scene.  Once the data is collected it must be processed to create a final image that reflects the photographers intent, weather it be a realistic reproduction of a scene or imparting an idea or emotion to the viewer.  What used to take place in a dark room now takes place on a computer with a digital camera.  Specialized equipment was replaced with equipment available to everyone.  The results are many mediocre images made with digital artistic applications, but also some truly spectacular images of the world around us created by everyday people.

The creative act of photography begins not with a camera but with the human mind.  For me it is the visualization of a final image while looking at a scene.  Observing the play of light, shadow, and color and realizing the potential for an image.  On many occasions, whether flying or walking I will suddenly see an image while just looking around.  It will flash in my mind as my head is turning and I will stop, back up and find the specific view that grabbed my attention and being composing an image in my mind.  Then it is out with the camera and start collecting data.  I try to cover the whole scene, overlapping the edges with several images to ensure I miss nothing that later might be useful during data analysis and realizing that the final image will be cropped into a proper and pleasing scene.

Once the data is collected it is back to the computer where all the images are combined with an image compositor into a single large image of the scene.  The image is then examined and cropped to produce a final view which began in my mind.  The next step is processing which involves a decision on whether the scene is to be a reproduction of reality or will try to impart an idea or emotion.  I generally strive to communicate an idea or emotion with my images, with the goal of highlighting the beauty of the Chiricahua and Pelocillo mountains.

The digital manipulation of color is frowned upon by many but I would argue that: 1.  Everyone sees the world differently and my interpretation of reality does not necessarily match yours.  2.  The cameras ability to reproduce reality is flawed by it's software (it represents the view of someone else) and its' hardware.  While I generally do not manipulate color, sometimes when trying to evoke an emotion I will alter saturation levels, either of all the colors simultaneously or individual colors to bring out a specific highlights.  The image below is one I have been working on for about a month, exploring different methods of presentation to evoke different ideas.  In this case the original dataset I collected was altered by selectively saturating or desaturating specific colors which resulted in an artificial, but personally pleasing interpretation of the Chiricahua mountains.

Original 5-image panorama stitched and cropped but unprocessed.

Selective saturation and desaturation of individual colors in this panorama of the Chiricahua mountains (click image to enlarge).


  1. Hmmm, guess I like the blue sky better. I noted that the desaturated photo also goes a little bit LESS south as the yucca in the foreground is missing. I really like the Chiricahuas picture at the top of your home page that has the Yucca in the foreground on the right side.

    I'm glad the final product pleased YOU as that is important!!

  2. Thank you. Yes I did take the Yucca out of the partially desaturated image. I never know what will interest people so I try my photographs several different ways. It only reinforces the idea that everyone sees the world differently. The yucca in the image at the top of the page has died so I need to find another one to use in the foreground.

  3. Wow! I never knew a Yucca to die! We knew a guy who dug them up with his backhoe, only to have them come back from deep roots later. One year there was so little rain we had Gambel's quail and other birds on the Yucca just outside the front window, going after the petals for something to eat. I got many photographs of that.

  4. I did not know them to die either but the top of this one did and just the stem is left. Perhaps it will come back from the roots.