Text and Image Photography

New Images Photography

Eggleston’s Muted Tones Give Retro Look to Photos

William Eggleston tended to look for things whose colors muted from being sun-drenched for a long period of time. From old barricades to rooftop signage and vintage cars, Eggleston made good use of faded color. His landscapes, which usually contained human-made subjects—a house, road or sign,– were not only taken in the Southern United States. He photographed one Western town hit by perpetual desert sun—Amboy, California— a faded landscape (see photo to left, an emulated version of Eggleston’s, which I photographed), an old gas station and diner sit in the middle of nowhere under a chalky blue sky. The place’s distinguishing characteristic is the big Roy’s sign.  Eggleston’s photograph of the place is a stunning study of muted colors with continuous tonal ranges from the highlights to shadows.

Eggleston used color in what appeared to be inadvertent use. Up until the 1970s color was seen everywhere, in magazines on television and in snapshots, but the shots always had a purpose—to sell something to shoot an object for its beauty or subject because it has a relationship to the shooter. Shooting indiscriminately to highlight color had not yet been experimented with. Eggleston brought color to the forefront of everything one sees every day.  He used Kodachrome film and made prints with a dye transfer process (a now defunct process of transferring dyes from three images onto a one piece of paper that produced the richest tonal ranges of all photographic processes).

Digital photographs tend to have vivid colors, many times just too vivid. Dealing with the color is best done after taking the picture with an image processing program. The way you tweak colors in, say, Photoshop or Elements is dependent upon what kind of color you start out with. To get similar color as Eggleston has in his photos, there are a number of options you can use in Photoshop (grant it nothing is as good as the dye transfer process, but you can get near if you tweak long enough). You’ll have to use a number of tools.  The options are contained both in the Raw window of Photoshop and in the main program. In the Raw window consider adjusting the temperature, tint, exposure (to lighten/darken color), recovery (to darken the center of the frame outward), vibrance and saturation in the Basic settings window. In the HSL/Grayscale you can also work with color. When you click the saturation tab you’ll get window where you can tweak many colors. I find that the blues need less saturation than the other colors and the reds need more to emulate an Eggleston photo. Last are the colors in the luminance tab. Tweak those by eyeing them in an effort to mute the color in your shot.

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