Saturation test

I often notice desaturated photographs in magazines and advertisements, so I decided to test the technique on my images to see how far can I push the boundaries of narrative photography. So here are my tests from 0% to 100% (original) saturation.

1) Speaking about first image I prefer 70-80% saturation because it’s closer to natural colours. I was using a flash bouncing of a wall and that made colour look brighter than they actually appear for the eye:


2) I think second image fits best in 90-100% saturation, original  colours don’t look too bright because the photograph was taken on a cloudy day and a flash was slightly highlighting the person. Moreover I want all the images for my project to look corresponding each other and original second image looks similar to 80% saturated first image in regard to saturation.


3) For the same reason I’m choosing 80% saturation for the third image. I like 70% as well, but the skin is starting to go pale and that makes the image differ from the previous two.


4) This image was taken in a studio and at a make-up artist’s request should be bright and warm. Makeup and wig colours are chosen by the make-up artist, so I don’t walt to desaturate them a lot. However saturation diverts my attention from model’s gaze, so I’m choosing to desaturate it just a little bit, 90%.


5) The photograph below was taken for the same make-up artist and has the same source of inspiration – Queen Elizabeth. It has a lot of “gold” (in makeup, on the hand and collar) as a link to associate the look with the queen. But as soon as saturation is decreased golden colour becomes just metallic. So to keep narrative part of the portrait, I think 100% saturation suits here the best.


6) I find next test revealing how significant saturation might be regarding narrative portraits. In the original photograph you see a girl wearing bright hair, but as the image becomes less saturated, especially 10-50%, you see bright hair worn by the girl. Her skin, eyes and makeup go pale while hair still look quite bright. I think 80% saturation would work well if it would be a hair dye commercial. But as it’s about the person, 100% saturation works best, otherwise her face is lost beyond the colour of her hair.


7) This image might be a subject of the same dispute, but instead of hair here is a lipstick colour. And 80% work really nice here, skin still looks natural while lips stand out. But again I don’t want to see the person lost behind her makeup.


8) For me the next choice is obvious, probably because I grew up spending a lot of time looking at classic European and Russian paintings. If speaking about colours, they were often made using warm colours and oil paints which don’t faint with time, so I prefer original 100% saturation photograph, it promotes the story of the girl being a painting.


9) The last photograph depicts a couple on their wedding day, a wall of an old shed acts as a background rich in the textures. At the same time there are 3 bright colours in the image – green, red and blue. And I think it is a little bit too much – all these textures and colours compete with each other. So I prefer 80-90% saturation images because then the colours don’t distract attention from the newlyweds which is fair because it’s their big day.


Thus, saturation may affect not only visual perception of a photograph, but also its narrative direction. For my main project I’m going to decrease saturation by 20%(+/-5%) because it makes photographs look similar to what we see with our own eyes in the daylight. Less saturated images would make subjects less familiar while I aim to develop empathy in a viewer to make images more “readable”. I think 100% or oversaturated photographs would have similar impact and would look “too good to be true”. Moreover the project is about people that have migrated to Britain, particular to Bradford District and because of few sunny days I rarely see bright colours here, so slightly decreased saturation also corresponds my personal perception of the place.

Below are examples of low saturation photographs in magazines and commercials:


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