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Mick Payton and colour balance?


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Mick Payton and colour balance…

26 Jan 2021 8:24AM   Views : 527 Unique : 347


A dozen years ago or more, the local branch of Calumet organised a lecture by Mick Payton, on erotic photography. It must have been a bit of a money-spinner, given that the costs were basically his fee and a model’s fee, and there were around 40 of us present.

I think I already knew who he was, as he’d won prizes in the Erotic Photographer of the Year competition: I didn’t know he lived just up the road from me (he’s since moved to Wales, and who can blame him?) And he was a fascinating speaker, mixing anecdote and a bit of technique. He’d become a photographer, he said, because when he was a driving instructor a pupil had told him she was going to pay £120 for a portfolio: he offered to do it for £100. The next day, he went out and bought a camera and some film.


So, a bit of a likely lad: I felt we could get a bit of a double act going, a bit like Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt, or perhaps the Persuaders. He sounds like he comes from Walsall (he does) and I definitely don’t (though I hail from Lichfield, only a few miles north). He’s great with the chat, and a cheeky type: he can say (and get away with saying) things I’d never risk. He can duck and dive, fast on his feet. I tend to plant my feet and look around a bit.

A piece of technical advice that I remember from the day was about whether you can have an area of complete blackness in a picture. Of course, traditionalists will tell you that you MUST have a full range of tones, and detail visible in both highlights and shadows: Mick’s view was that pure black is fine, providing you meant it to be there. And the fact that he’s made more money from selling beautiful pictures of naked people than most camera club judges have made from their dayjobs suggests that’s a valuable tip.


If you want, seek out his website, or one of his calendars, and judge for yourself. The point is that technical niceties sometimes have to give way to artistic vision. And so to colour balance…

Back in the old days (all of them, not just ‘the day’ that so many people refer to), working with film required photographers either to take pot luck with the colour ‘look’ of their images, or to take positive steps to control it in their selection of film, their choice of light source, and the judicious use of very pale filters to correct what wasn’t quite right. For those who used colour print film, there was scope to tweak things in the printing stage, too.

If you were a real perfectionist, you could even buy colour temperature meters! These allowed you to establish precisely the colour temperature of the available light, so that you could work out exactly what filter you needed to use to ensure that a sheet of white paper came out pure white on the film. I’m not sure if any of these devices worked with flash: I know that many studio flash units give a subtle colour bias in the results – even really wonderful units, like Bowens and Elinchrom.


All of this was tricky to navigate: should you aim for perfection, with a pale straw filter making the sunlit snow pure white? (You still had to worry about getting the exposure right, though!) Was it OK to use daylight-balance film with no filter, and let the true look of the light come through? Some people chose one or another emulsion because of the colours it gave – the old E-2 process Ektachrome-X emulsion was favoured by British portrait and glamour photographers for the warm tint it often gave to pale English skin. Suntan in a Kodak box!

This has been brought forcefully to my mind by three different things in the last few days. First, scanning some slides with a distinct yellow tinge, shot with Bowens flash gear 15 years ago. Of course, it might be to do with the processing – there are ways it can go wrong, and ways to tweak colour in reversal processing. Second, shooting snow scenes on a dull day, with my usual daylight white balance. The light really was that cold! And it keeps coming up as a Critique Gallery issue – what’s the right white balance. My answer?

What do YOU think?



dudler Plus
17 1.5k 1812 England
26 Jan 2021 8:28AM
A mix of digital and film pictures here - recent digital images show the result of daylight white balance on a dull grey day, with snow. To my eye, that's a pretty accurate rendition - but it's not technically correct.

A young Joceline takes on a green cast under a weeping willow - a situation that is as difficult with digital.

Tiger feet in kitten heels, or something of the sort - a yellow tinge from Bowens flash, or maybe from my processing. And a north light portrait of Delta - would a little more warmth make this more accurate, or merely more appealing?
kaybee Plus
16 7.6k 26 Scotland
26 Jan 2021 10:33AM
"To my eye, that's a pretty accurate rendition - but it's not technically correct." ....... and thereby lies the rub.
We all see things differently, whether it be in subject, detail or colour.
So, do we present a picture 'correctly'?, what we see as 'correct'? - or what we think others will see as 'correct'? -- and does it really matter?
I take pictures for myself and if I like it, that is it - job done.
However, somebody who is being paid to produce the image (or trying to win something) has to take into consideration the person who is forking out the cash (or the prize) and the use it being put to. These two factors may not fall into line with the photographers view of what is right and wrong but they are the ones that matter on this occasion.
dudler Plus
17 1.5k 1812 England
26 Jan 2021 11:33AM
So right, Roy.

It's really simple when there's a customer: follow the money. I see a good number of people confused about what they ought to be doing... Your approach makes it simple, of course, and is ultimately the way that anyone interested in lovely images has to go. Though, occasionally, an individual may have a quirk, such as a love of faux HDR or ultra-low contrast that makes their work harder to love.
26 Jan 2021 12:55PM
Any "Traditionalist" looking at the original SOOC jpegs of many of my images would possibly have a heart attack... I shoot low contrast "standard colour" jpegs and often underexpose, to preserve highlights as far as possible and to give myself more room for tonal/contrast adjustments when processing. And I rarely give a fig about WB setting, leaving it on Auto 99% of the time. I have other quite unacceptable working methods ( Shock Horror.....I don't even shoot in RAW!!! ) but that's another discussion.

The bottom line for me is that I'm more interested in visual imagery in general than in photography per se, so for me a camera is a tool, the equivalent of a painter's sketchbook, nothing more... the final image emerges in the digital darkroom, and looks a certain way because that's how I want it to look. So "accurate rendition" and "technically correct" are concepts that rarely interest me..

So I basically take the same view as Roy, and I agree that one's approach ultimately must be tailored to the intended use of the image.
dark_lord Plus
16 2.8k 751 England
26 Jan 2021 2:30PM
Clearly there are cases when colour balance is important.
At other times there is a place for being more 'creative'. I uise inverted commas as 'creative' can mean as little as warming an image.
I have a semi-written blog on colour balance that will make it here at some point.
My latest upload was taken with daylight white balance and looked so neutral (as did others taken at the same time) I didn't even consider trying to 'correct' it or warm (or even cool) it.
There are those who ignore white balance because they don't grasp it.
Poorer colour vision amongst men is an issue. At school, we had a teacher who led photography workshops who admitted he wouldn't do colour processing because his colour blindness meant he wouldn't be able to properly judge if the colour was right. As far as I recall his mono work was very good.
26 Jan 2021 3:52PM
Just to clarify, as there may be those who have not grasped my meaning. I don't give a fig about WB setting. That's in-camera, in the field, and I leave it on Auto to save time. If the final image is to be in colour, then I will adjust WB in post where I deem it necessary, although Auto WB on the Fuji turns out to be accurate in most cases. Or so it seems to me... I may, I suppose, be colour blind and not aware of it.
dark_lord Plus
16 2.8k 751 England
26 Jan 2021 9:19PM
Not getting at anyone Alan, a general observation Smile
I'll expand a bit on my processing. I always leave my white balance setting on Daylight and adjust in post if needed. It gives me a baseline if you like. Sometimes, after using the sampling tool I then change the image to a warmer tone anyway.
pablophotographer 9 1.8k 398
26 Jan 2021 10:16PM
I must be from the minority that adjusts white balance in the camera then. The notion of the issues of white balance and lighting temperature presented itself to me when I shot a picture with an outdoors daylight colour film inside a building which was illuminated by fluorescent light tubes. It was a lot of discarded lottery tickets in a bucket. The title of it, "Pot Luck", came into my mind before I even think out the framing of it. But instead of white wall, the background looked towards orange and the colour of the lottery tickets looked nothing like the originals. 😢😢😢 Pot Luck literally! 😂😂😂 But that it was my chance to learn about filters 😃😃😃

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