Radio Interview Transcripts

MorePhotosRadio - John Paul Caponigro for WPPI


ANNOUNCER:  Welcome to the More Photos’ Radio Photography Spotlight brought to you by helping professional photographers with all their internet needs world wide. Also brought to you by Finally, an e-commerce solution for professional photo labs that makes sense. Now here’s your host, Damien Allen. 
DAMIEN: Good afternoon and welcome to More Photos Radio. My name is Damien Allen and joining me today on the phone is John Paul Caponigro of Caponigro Arts in Cushing, Maine. John Paul was named one of the 15 best artists of the past 30 years by Zoom Magazine in 2002 and received a Fellow Award from the Maine Arts Commission. John Paul won a Canons Explorer of Light and Epson’s Stylist Pro. His clients include Adobe, Apple, Canon, ColorByte, Epson, Gretag-MacBeth, LowePro, Kodak, and Sony. In 2006, John Paul was inducted into the Photoshop Hall of Fame.  Good afternoon, and welcome to the program, John Paul.
JOHN PAUL: Thanks for having me here.
DAMIEN: It’s a pleasure to have you here today, sir. Now you’re going to be speaking at the upcoming WPPI Conference with a class on Photoshop Color Strategies and Black & White Mastery. Could you tell us a little bit about what the class is going to incur?
JOHN PAUL: Sure. Actually you can find all about those subjects on my website. I have two DVDs by those titles, Photoshop Color Strategies and Black & White Mastery, and I run workshops along the same names. So that two hour session is going session is going to be an extreme distillation of a very rich subject, color, and I actually consider black and white to be two colors. Colors are visual response to the world and of course as visual artists what can be more important than how we handle color. In fact, a lot of artists create signature styles or distinctive looks by the way they handle color, and I think that is what most visual artists often aspire to is creating a look that people can instantly recognize as their own.
DAMIEN: What day and time will your class be held during the seminar?
JOHN PAUL: This will be Wednesday. It’s an early rise from 8 – 10, but it will certainly be colorful and exciting. It’s well worth getting up for.
DAMIEN: Why is getting just the right color so important?
JOHN PAUL: I think you should probably ask all the color management industries out there. 
DAMIEN: Because it keeps us employed.
JOHN PAUL: Well the entire industry is structured around trying to get the color right. Now there is a misnomer…a lot of people talk about color correction and defining what's color correct…what the correct color is is actually a very slippery term. So in many cases those color management people will talk about creating an unobjectionable results, getting an absolutely perfect match which can be very challenging and even more challenging to conform consensus around it, because many people will see it in different ways; not radically different, but different enough to cause small shifts in communication. So this whole getting it right, getting it color perfect is simply what we’ve been chasing for a long time. There’s a lot of money riding on it if you know you’re taking some of your images out to an offset press either your own images in a fine art book or you’re dealing with a commercial client and they want their fliers coming out looking the very best possible. There’s a lot of money riding on getting accurate color. That’s only a small fraction of what I’m going to be talking about. What I’m going to be talking about is trying to shift the terms color correct to color magenta, because in this digital age we have such extraordinary control over color. We have the ability to do things we couldn’t do in the past and this opens up many new creative options and all of these options can help you craft a signature style which seems to support your authentic voice and make your work look different from anybody else’s depending on how you handle color.
DAMIEN: Are there strategies to "remember" color?
 JOHN PAUL: Are there strategies to remembering color?
DAMIEN: Yeah, you’ve taken this picture, you now have to go back to the lab, you have to go back to the studio, you have to put this out. Is there a strategy to remember what the color your eye saw to make the picture look what your eye saw or what your vision of that picture was?
JOHN PAUL: That’s actually really excellent question, because it gets down into one of the harder things, color memory. I’m going to just spell this notice that we can actually remember the color we saw within 3 minutes of the first start of this session. Our memory for color is actually quite slippery. So we end up using things like color check for targets, X-Rite’s Color Checker is an excellent kind of objective target which can be used in the studio or during the mid-day, but for a landscape photographer like myself who is often out in the very early hours or often the late hours under daring light temperatures, be it gold or pink or orange, it suddenly becomes useless and so I think it’s very important to develop perceptual skills and ways of taking notes about color on the spot that can help make that memory process and the understanding of the color relationships you’re looking at on site and then later enhancing offsite much more precise, efficient, but also free. Many people don’t want exactly the colors they see at the point of capture. They want to enhance them. After all Fuji made quite a profit with their Bellvia films and other similar products that boosted the saturation of contrast of an image to make it look more pleasing, more impactful, more expressive. So there are times when you want color accuracy and to be able to reproduce color very precisely and there are other times when you want color control and that’s where a lot of these color strategies that I’m talking about come into play.
DAMIEN: Doe lighting affect our memory of color?
JOHN PAUL: Absolutely. Lighting affects our color. Atmospheric effects affect our color perception. In fact, our color perception is so highly variable that diet, extra caffeine or sugar will change the way that you see color. You’re emotional state will change color. People literally do see red or redder when they are angry. There are a lot of things that change our color perception including context, both the context where we see the color in at the point of viewing and also the context that we edit our images in. A lot of people use very brightly colored desktops, kind of fun and exciting to have something interesting to look at all day long, but if you’re doing serious color-critical evaluation, you really need a neutral desktop and you’d need to be evaluating that in a neutral environment. If your walls are a bright saturated red, those reds are influencing the way that you see color, and over time they are actually changing the way that you physically experience colors throughout the day. These retinal after images cyan basically if you have red walls. These retinal after images build up and change the way that you see color. So you need to be aware of how to try and become more objective about color, and you need to be aware of environmental influences and you need to be aware of your own personal vices. Many times we have certain color preferences and if we aren’t clear about those, we may not be clear about how they are influencing the way adjust images. Like for myself, I know that I tend to like golden highlights. So I’ll often hold a more golden highlight up in clouds in my landscapes. That actually becomes a liability when I’m editing icy cold landscapes from Antarctica, and I have to know my tendencies and know when to deviate from them. So becoming aware of your own personal voice within color is extremely important as well as understanding the science and the biology perception.
DAMIEN: What are the six steps to good color management?
JOHN PAUL: I’d define those as a sign of profile, generated during the conversion process, setting up good color management policies in your editing software, generally Photoshop, perhaps Lightroom or something else. Navigating your printer driver correctly after you have done the one, soft proof before you even send something to print and then control your environment at the end of that chain. So all six of those steps are again up on my website and you’re actually alluding to another DVD title. Basically I’ve been teaching for 20 years and what I have been doing in the last two or three years is building a series of DVDs that supplements my workshops, gets people ready for them, serves as a great follow-up or even could be something that people could access before they could come to one of the workshops that I teach. It’s a way of putting all this information out there.
DAMIEN: Could you kindly share a tip or two on how to how to capture the right color with the listening audience?
JOHN PAUL: Sure. One of the most important things to do would be to shoot a color target like X-Rite’s Color Checker. Then you have a target that can help you determine white balance, black point, white point, more objectively.  If you don’t have an objective target like that, then you’re going to have to deal with the swag method, Scientific Wild Ass Guess, or just make it look good. Now it does make it look good is very often what people ultimately end up doing. In other words they prefer color looking a certain way and absolute accuracy isn’t necessarily the objective, but without the target you don’t have as good a baseline to start with and if you are trying to accurately re-produce color as closely as possible using product photography. Then you really need objective targets like an X-Rite Color Checker. So it can be as simple as just shooting. In fact a lot of times these days people are using those to create profiles, camera profiles on the fly. It’s kind of a new feature that X-Rite has been doing with their newer color checker, their color passport.
DAMIEN: As you said earlier in the interview that you consider black and white also within the color scheme. When is it appropriate to do a photo in black and white versus color?
JOHN PAUL: That’s a real interesting question. There are so many reasons to do black and white images, and the most important thing is you have to like them better that way, but then it’s a very simplistic answer. The interesting asked questions like why do you like them better? In the early stages of photography before color photography was perfected, since black and white was more accessible, easy to do it was out in the media black and white televisions, newspapers, etc. So in a funny way it became the hallmark of photographing truth and that’s only over time in the last 20 – 30 years has slowly returned, because we see in color. And a lot of those old processes still inform our understanding of what black and white is and how we should do it. Many people think that black and white is more neutral or objective, sometimes distant; other people associate it with kind of surreal dream like quality, some people dream in black and white and it is a transformation of the world that we see. It emphasizes only one aspect of color, luminosity and eliminates the other two, hue and saturation. It has a whole set of connotations that a viewer who is not technical like the photographer who is producing the image still shares and relates to in certain ways. For the photographer it is important to understand that black and white is an aspect of color and then it comes from color and in the old days we used to shoot black and white film. We got a certain set of black and white relationships. Today to get the best black and white image, we need to shoot in color, enhance it in specific ways. Actually we want to boost saturation as high as we can without causing any kind of pasteurization so we have more control over the black and white or color to black and white conversion. We actually have an unprecedented degree and control over the tone structure of an image and how it is converted from color to black and white and then this infinite variety of toning options. A lot of people put color back into their black and white images. I always used to kind of puzzle me when I would be looking at a historic prophecies like sienna types which are brown, I’m sorry cyan types which are blue and platinums which are brown and they’d still be calling them black and white images. I’m like wait a minute these are brown and white, these are blue and white. Only a few of them are gray and white. It’s very interesting that we make this huge division in photography based on 20th century media. We are now using 21st century media and some of our thinking needs to be restructured as well as our technique which is in many cases adopted from previous traditions. It’s great to know where we came from, but we are not liberated now and have extraordinary possibilities, extraordinary control today, and it begs to be thought of in a different light as well.
DAMIEN: Why black and white affect our senses and psyche so much?
JOHN PAUL: It’s very interesting. Actually some of it is hard wire. If you look at neuroscience, black and white is one of the things that encodes position of space volume and form. So the thinness of something that could be outlined and contour, the light and dark modeling that is painted like Leonardo used to champion the light and dark as well as there was another term he used called schemata which was the accreditation that gave form of realism. So part of it is hard wired into us, and it’s actually the component of color. If you look at color, it has three distinctive components: luminosity, hue and saturation. And luckily you’re starting to see this line move into the softwares. Luminosity is the one that we are least contextually sensitive to. Our eyes do adapt to moving from a light environment out into a dark environment, but we’re never going to confuse day for night or night for day. Our eyes will adjust and we can start to see more at night, but we are never going to confuse it for being out in daylight. Where our eyes are much more adaptive when you talk about light temperature or hue, we move from a warm yellow light in an interior out into a very cool blue light in an exterior, our eyes adjust within say 20 seconds and pretty quickly we can no longer tell which color temperature was influencing our perception as easily and we start to need to rely on things like targets. So black and white is kind of a prime foundation, and you’ll actually see it in the world of painting as well. I know that in going through a painting myself a lot of times many of the different schools would emphasize start with drawing in black and white first and then add in what they call color. What they meant was hue and saturation. Add the other two variables in there you’re going to set in a good strong luminosity or tonal foundation and that component affects all the other decisions that you make.
DAMIEN: Now you are an award wining artist, educator and authority on creativity and fine digital printing. How did this path open up for you?
JOHN PAUL: I come from an artistic family. My mother was a painter, turned graphic designer, and she oversaw the production in many great photographic books. O’Keefe, LA Porters and landscapes, the list could just go on ,most of my father’s books. My father was also a fine art photographer, kind of the youngest of the west coast and east coast schools. In the east coast he hung out with Myer White and on the west coast he would hang out with Amstel Adams and the F64 Group. So I had a really fantastic education through my family. Not only listening to different types of artists, seeing them produce their exhibitions and books, seeing the back end of it between galleries and museums, I learned an enormous amount by being in the dark room with my father, and then being on press with my mother when she would oversee the production of those books. I learned most of what I understand about an offset press in my case separation from being there and watching what she was doing. So when Photoshop came along in 1990, in fact, I think our Photoshop 20th anniversary is coming up in about a month, when it came along it was kind of a dream come true. I’d seen sci-tech machines on press, how can I possibly get a hold of that kind of technology. What if an artist can use that instead of a corporation, and then in 1990 I got a Macintosh and Photoshop and it was there. It all kind of came together. I’d studied art in school, painting, I’d studied photography during the summers with my father, and I learned an awful lot by working in my mother’s studio and seeing her work when I was a kid. That all gelled into one thing, and that’s what I’m doing today.
DAMIEN: What’s going to be new for John Paul Caponigro in 2010?  Are there other workshops and conferences? Are there some new projects coming up for the studio?
JOHN PAUL: Yeah, there are a lot of things happening. I’m working on bringing all of my images online on my website so you’ll have a keyword searchable gallery. That’s going to be exciting. I’ve got a whole new series of workshops out in the field. I’m going to a lot of desert locations this year throughout North America and I’m also going to Iceland and maybe two other deserts. I’m doing kind of a desert journey in 2010, and in 2011 I’m going to go back to Antarctica. I just finished up a long standing project in 2005 I went down to Antarctica and made three different voyages with four other colleagues and that has turned into a blur book that may be published by a major publisher and it’s a traveling exhibition with it’s own website at this point. So the Antarctica project is kind of reached what I call a critical mass, and I certainly don’t consider it to be over, but it’s at the point where it’s starting to be widely distributed and as I’m wrapping up a lot of the work I’m doing with water, I’m starting to move back out into the desert. As well I’m also doing more DVDs. We just released two DVDs Fine Art Digital Printing and Extending Dynamic Range – HDR Imaging. There is another one Fine Art Workflow that is coming out that’s done with a colleague of mine, Nat Colbert, who has been a master printer for 20 years and they’ll be other DVD titles that come out throughout the year.  One of them is going to be a DVD on creativity which is…creativity and color are really my two big passions and so to start to shift away from the technical into the creative. It’s very exciting to me. There are a lot of wonderful things to be shared there, and I know that as I do that I learn a lot more from the participants who come to my workshops and share insights with me. On my blog or my Twitter stream I put out daily tips on creativity on Twitter and not a fascinating possibility.
DAMIEN: Would you kindly share your website address and contact information with the listening audience, John Paul?
JOHN PAUL: Sure. It’s The blog is right there from the blog you can pick up the Twitter stream and you can find out about upcoming shows, DVDs, and there actually I think we are close to 200 right now. I say get over a 100 free lessons, free when you sign up for my free enews insights which goes out once a month. Actually it’s closer to 200 now. We’ll update that number in the next month or two and it’s going to hit 200 – 250. I stopped counting when I hit 100 and I realized we had just reached a new milestone. Right now on my blog there is a whole stream of printing tips and a lot of common quick solutions to common problems that people run into and pertaining to this seminar, on the blog which I’ll put some more links into my lessons, if you just search for color psychology there is a whole set of posts on there about color psychology. It’s a really rich, interesting field and I asked a number of my alums to comment on those posts. When you think of yellow what do you think of? You’ll see all of their comments as well as a lot of the words collected around there what each color means. Just some really rich color resources there.
DAMIEN: We’d like to thank you for joining us today and giving us an education on color, John Paul.
JOHN PAUL: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
DAMIEN: We encourage our listeners to attend John Paul's class and learn more about Color Strategies and Black & White Mastery and to attend the WPPI Conference in beautiful Las Vegas NV March 4-11, 2010. John Paul’s seminar will be held at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, March 10th.  You’ve been listening to More Photos Radio. My name is Damien Allen. Everybody have a great afternoon.
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