Cupid’s Color: How to Photograph Red

I don’t actually know if Cupid loves red. Maybe he prefers pink. But since we’re ambushed with the color red in February in celebration of Valentine’s Day, we really ought to talk about photographing it. Red is famously one of the most difficult colors to capture authentically on film, especially in natural lighting. And trying to do that makes a lot of photographers see, well, red.

Photographic the color red Lawrence Photo

It’s worth the effort!
Photo Credit: Jim Gaston

Vibrant red things often seem too vivid in photographs, especially when photographed as close-ups. This trouble has a lot to do with the sensor in digital cameras. The filter has a sensor that splits and arranges the visible light spectrum into red, green, and blue—but not into equal parts. Instead it tries to work the way a human eye would.

Since the human eye is most sensitive to green, there are twice as many green sensors. There are fewer blue sensors and even fewer reds. Zoom in on something red, and the red sensors will have to do the heavy lifting with very little help from the green and blue sensors. It confuses the camera. Detecting little green or blue in the photograph, the camera’s meter will think the scene is darker than it really is and adjust accordingly. That’s how you end up with blown-out reds.

There are a very few suggestions that can help photographers with this issue, and many of them get very technical, downright encyclopedic. We’ll leave those to the masters. One simplified but often successful technique is to intentionally underexpose the image. You can do this, of course, by manually reducing the exposure time. Correction for the underexposure parts of the image must then be made using your photo-editing software. Some people also suggest setting a custom white balance with the aid of a photographic gray card. (We stock these in our store.)

Got any tricks up your sleeve for photographing red? Help your fellow photographers capture great Valentine photos by sharing your tips here!


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