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  1. #1
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    Question Color and digital reproduction

    This is something that has bothered me for a long time when looking at fine art on the internet - it seems that I find several different versions that almost seem like several different paintings. I want to see which colors the masters use, but find myself confused by the numerous representations. Often I wonder, which is the right one? And how can such big differences occur?

    To take some examples from some of my favorite works of art - the pieta made by rosso fiorentino. When seaching for this at the internet, I find these versions I - http://www.copia-di-arte.com/a/fiore.../pieta-13.html and II - http://www.artunframed.com/images/ar...orentino90.jpg. The difference is quite big. In I, the skin of jesus is almost of a very toned down cold bluish color, and in II, the skin of jesus is a warm yellow/orange. When trying to study the colors used by the great masters, this leaves you in a lot of confusion. How to determine the right one when you haven't got the original work of art in front of you?

    And when trying to find a picture of Renoir's Bather on a Rock I can find these three pictures:
    I - http://www.renoirgallery.com/gallery.asp?id=16
    II - http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/i...0323173700.jpg
    III - http://www.artofeurope.com/renoir/ren1.htm

    Enormous differences. But which one is closest to the one that Renoir did? It seems impossible to determine using the internet as a resource?

    How do you handle such things as these (because color is so essential to the piece; change the color and you change the work of art completely)? I know that I should probably see the original work of art to really know about the colors used, but I still don't understand why so big differences can occur. Do you know of any resources I can read to know more about how this does occur and how to be better at finding the correct representations? Or do I have to accept several versions?


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  3. #2
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    Paintings are notoriously hard to photograph. For one, there is the fact that photographs themselves are not usually all that great at reproducing color. The lighting of course is very important to how the painting looks - this isn't rgb space where every color is chained to a little speck of light and so looks the same even in the dark, these are real objects that look different in different lightings.

    There is the spectral reflectivity of the pigments and binder used. We, as humans, see three colors because of the way our eyes are made. In reality, there is a continuous spectrum of frequencies in the visual range of light - a very complex frequency spectra is dumbed down by our eyes to a single color of a brightness, purity, and hue.

    The color you are seeing may not even be in the spectra hitting your eye - it could just be a sort of a chemical-mathematical average that just happens to look like it is the same color of a frequency that may not even be there. It all sort of blurs together into our primitive biological senses, but there are some cases where we can notice the effects.

    Under different lightings, what you are doing is projecting light with a certain continuous frequency spectra at the painting which is reflecting the spectra from that light to the degree that it does and all these complex interactions are happening between the spectra of the light and the painting and the perceptual dumbing down that happens in the eye. You can take a painting into a different lighting that looks the same color, the same brightness, everything, and nearly completely loose colors from the painting because one was a broad spectrum light and the other was some fluorescent light or combined LED light or something.

    There may also be gamut issues. Almost certainly will be with stuff by someone like Renoir. He painted with colors that can't be shown on a computer screen. The color space has to be compressed somehow in the process.

    We won't get into surface texture effects or the weird depth effects that a medium like oil paint can create.
    Last edited by Robotus; November 5th, 2010 at 01:27 AM.

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    It seems that my favorite works of art is more relative than I originally thought.

    The gamut issue is interesting. How do you know that Renoir painted with colors that can't be shown on a computer screen - analysis? (maybe his palette contains certain colors that will inevitably be out of gamut in RGB) - or just by looking and noticing the difference? It would be interesting if it was possible to determine which artists used colors that our machines has most troubles reproducing. And even more interesting if there was a way to determine which artists used colors that rgb had trouble reproducing, and which artists used colors that cmyk had trouble reproducing. In this way, it would be easier to find your way through all the reproductions. Maybe some works of art are better reproduced on a screen, and some in print, depending on the palette used by the artist?

    Do I get just as many gamut issues in print - cmyk, as i do with rgb? As far as I have understood, no machine can reproduce the full spectrum of color that the human eye can see, and perhaps this means that I will always see loss of color or converted colors when I am looking at any reproduction. Most artists I know look mostly at high quality prints, but are those even better than high quality digital rgb-pictures?

  5. #4
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    I checked again about the Renoir thing. I was under the impression he painted with cadmium paints. I'm not so sure he did anymore. Still, a lot of his paints were quite high chroma and lends itself readily to being outside of a lot of color spaces. It is still probable that his palette extended beyond RGB space.

    http://www.huevaluechroma.com/index.php

    Is an excellent site to find out more about the subject. Highly recommended.

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    Well, one of the issues is going to be gamut as mentioned by Robotus.

    Another issue is value range. Cameras tend to have a narrow value range, for example if taking a picture of a dark blue canvas with light yellow dots all around you will either get a blue canvas with white dots or a black canvas with yellow dots. Cameras just can't grasp the full range and have to cut things off somewhere.

    Finally even if (big if) the values and colors could be captured digitally with 100% accuracy and faithfully translated into an RGB scale, the setting (lighting, walls, building, et cetera) also has quite a large effect upon the painting. If two photographers used the same method and equipment on the same painting but in different rooms, you'll get different pictures.

    All that one can hope for is the best under circumstances. Which is what you get and why there is inconsistancies.
    -My work can be found at my local directory thread.

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