Bill Carter, Washington

Daffodil Photo Background

February 18, 2013
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Categories: Daffodil Enthusiasts, Displays & Specialty Exhibits, General

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I find no consistancy with photographs of daffodils.  Some prefer a grey background others prefer a blue background.  The background color really impacts the color of the flower.  Has anyone evaluated what sort of background color is best for digital photography to get the true colors of the flower correct?   I think it would be beneficial if a someone would evaluate various backgrounds colors and suggest a background color that could be used as a “standard”.     I’m sure my wife could do this (and may) but I wondered if any one has done this yet?

4 responses to “Daffodil Photo Background”

  1. Kirby Fong, California Kirby Fong, California says:

    Black is another popular color for a background, and certainly the color of the background will affect how you perceive the color of a subject.  However, exposure and lighting will have a major impact on the flower color.  Underexposure will make the color look darker, and overexposure will make the color look lighter.  Incandescent lights make everything look more orange, while fluorescent lights make them look greener.  It will help a lot to use daylight balanced light sources for photographing daffodils.  If you’re really concerned about getting a neutral photo with a digital camera, the camera’s white balance should be set to match the color temperature of the light source.  My personal experience is that automatic white balance is close enough as long as the light source is daylight balanced.  A few years ago I did take a photo of a daffodil with the intention of capturing its color accurately.  It was one of Bob Spotts’ green daffodils.  I photographed agains an 18% gray card, a specially printed card for photographers that’s guaranteed to be neutral.  After opening the file in Photoshop, I removed any bias so that the background pixels had an equal amount of red, green, and blue.  This gets the color balance right but still leaves the brightness in question.  I have calibrated my computer monitor but have not used a profile that approximates the printed page.  Computer monitors are generally much brighter than white paper.  Through proper color management using a profile for a color printer, it would be possible to print the photo so that the gray areas on the paper reflect 18% of the light that falls on it.  Assuming the original flower did not have any colors that were outside the gamut of the printer, the printed image should be accurate provided you viewed it with the proper intensity of daylight balanced light.  For most people, there’s even less hope of seeing accurate color on a computer monitor as they do not balance the whiteness or adjust the brightness of their monitors to some standard viewing condition.  Also, most people do not develop color profiles of their monitors and display images with applications that use color profiles.  I doubt that there are any web browsers that use color profiles of monitors or that honor the color space of the image (if that information is embedded in the image file).  So there are a lot of complex problems that make it difficult to render colors accurately for viewers.

    The industry has tried to deal with part of this problem in a way they hope will work for most people.  Most digital cameras capture color images in a color space called sRGB.  The sRGB gamut was chosen as a least common denominator for monitors and printers.  The intention was to get decent color for most people on most devices.  Although many cameras can automate the white balance and exposure, they can still be fooled by unanticipated scenes or lighting conditions, and a daffodil against a solid color background is not one of the typical scenes cameras are looking for.

    I think gray, blue, and black are all suitable backgrounds.  Choose whatever pleases you. Set your camera to automatic white balance or daylight white balance and use daylight balanced light. For a single flower that mostly fills the frame, use center weighted metering.  If more fussy, meter an 18% gray card and set the camera for a corresponding manual exposure.  Take the picture using the sRGB color space.  That should get an image that will be good enough for the viewing conditions (viewing applications and computer monitors) that you cannot control.

  2. Bill Carter, Washington Bill Carter, Washington says:

    Thanks Kirby.  I need you to talk to my wife since she is the Photographer.

    So do you use an 18% gray card as a typical baclground or does it just depends on the light available

  3. Kirby Fong, California Kirby Fong, California says:

    No, I normally do not use an 18% gray card; they’re expensive due to the precision printing, and they don’t come large enough to use as a background for anything larger than a single daffodil. I normally use a blue background because I think blue complements white and yellow fairly well and because blue is less likely than black to cause automatic exposure to overexpose.  A black background however can give you a more dramatic picture of a flower looming out of the darkness.

  4. John Castor says:

    I do have a 18% gray card, about the size of a business card, which I ordered from B&H Photo-Video for around $10. I use a blue background, if I can, somewhat like Kirby’s. The way I use the gray card is as follows: I mostly shoot RAW files. Bill, your wife is probably familiar with these. This means you can do the white balance adjustment after the fact, using editing software like Photoshop Elements. I shoot one picture with the gray card standing near where the daffodil is or would be. I have a little flexible clamp to hold it in position. Then when I am converting/editing the images in Elements, I first open up the image of the gray card and apply the custom white balance tool that allows me to use my mouse to select a part of the gray card and tell the program, “Make this gray!” This adjusts the white balance so the gray card is really neutral. Then it is easy to make the white balance settings for the RAW conversion of the other pictures the same as that one. Save the converted files as JPEGs and you are good to go.