The Essential Color Manual for Photographers, by Chris Rutter, ISBN: 2-940378-11-8

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, February 2007
Published by: RotoVision
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$29.95, UK£25.00

Author Chris Rutter has been involved in photography for over 20 years. He has a degree in Photographic Science from the University of Westminster, and his work has appeared in a number of leading magazines, including Digital Photo. Rutter is also the Technical Editor for Practical Photography magazine, the UK's top-selling photography title. He describes himself as a "quiet, unassuming insomniac with a steely determination to spend as much time as possible away from the office," and that he has a "healthy appetite for the great outdoors and a genuine fear of having his own photo taken."

The Essential Color Manual for Photographers is another excellent book in the Essential series from Rotovision. The book has been created to provide photographers with an understanding of color as it relates to the digital and photographic worlds. The book features 10 chapters, dealing with key color concepts. In the first chapter issues like color theory, color spaces and systems are explained simply and effectively. Concepts like color blindness and other limitations in visual acuity are also covered, all of which I found particularly useful as inclusions.

The second chapter deals with image capture technologies and how they handle and affect color. The chapter also discusses ISO equivalency, image compression artifacts and very briefly deals with film based image capture. This chapter although brief, does provide an overview of the current state of the art. However, the coverage of film capture, while useful, lacks depth.


The third chapter deals with the quality of light and covers concepts such as color temperature systems and white balance, along with coverage of optical color filters. The information here, although brief, does a very good job of explaining why scenes look so different at varying times of the day and also provides a good jumping off point to explore this further in other reference books.

Chapters 4 and 5 deal with Digital Considerations and Workflow — issues such as color management and calibration. These chapters do a very good job of explaining color spaces, gamut and bit depth. They also cover device constraints and the importance of device calibration and profiling. I found that the visual examples for bit depth failed to adequately convey the subtleties of this issue, although the histogram accompanying the images helped somewhat.

The sixth chapter looks at what basic tools and controls can be used to tune your images colors. Here the reader is introduced to and attention is paid to tools like the Hue/Saturation dialog, Levels, Curves and Color channels.

Chapter 7 is the first one delves more deeply into the subject of color and covers theories like complementary and harmonious colors. It also details situational and thematic color handling such as dealing with skin tones, mixed lighting situations, limited color palettes, using color to evoke a mood, and the issues surrounding the capture of seasonal color. All through this section (which runs about 38 pages), the subjects being discussed are supported by some very well chosen photographs which richly illustrate and help reinforce the reader's grasp of the theories being explained.

The next two chapters deal with specific techniques. The subject matter is handled well and provides you with some excellent and useful ways to enhance a broad range of images. Techniques like color balancing, saturation, film type emulation, black & white conversion, and duo and tritones are clearly explained, providing valuable information and well organized explanations. Other techniques such as color popping, solarization, cross processing (where you process print film using slide processing or vice versa), and the digital emulation of infrared are given detailed coverage as well. Most importantly here, the issues are well discussed and again provide the reader with plenty of fuel for their creative work.

The final chapter introduces us to the works of four distinctly different photographers and provides web links so that readers can further explore the work of these well chosen talents. I enjoyed following up the book with and exploration of their online portfolios.

Cons: I would have liked to see more in-depth coverage of digital technology and workflow. A couple of the examples could have benefited from better source images.

Pros: Clean design, layout and writing. Excellent coverage of the subject of color. Superb selection and use of examples. This is another excellent book from Rotovision and one which will help to clarify the issue of color for budding digital imageers and photographers. Like the previous Essentials book it uses language and examples which make it approachable for readers of all skill levels. Highly recommended for all photographers who work with digital technologies.

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