The Kodachrome eye: red in the 1980s.

From the Kodachrome Toronto flickr pool, I’ll be periodically highlighting some of the great examples added to the gallery by other photographers.  The examples will honour the rights management assigned by the photographers.  What this means is if the photograph is copyrighted, it will not be displayed here.  At most, a link to the flickr page with that image will be provided.  All work that is showcased here will have appropriate attribution.

OK.  Let’s talk about some of the distinct ways Kodachrome got straight-A marks.  These are worth mentioning because they have proved to be very hard to mimic or replicate with Photoshop plug-ins (which have managed to emulate other kinds of films).  Even with other colour films, it has proved to be difficult (some suggest that Fujichrome Astia, still available, sort of comes closer to Kodachrome than most others, but still is no substitute).

One of Kodachrome’s unique qualities is the way it reproduces certain colours exceptionally well.  Red is one of them.  Not only does it capture red, but it also captures many of the subtle shades of red the eye is capable of seeing.  This is what gives that “punchy” effect here:

Winter dawn near Ontario Place, 1980s. Courtesy tycho_tma1 on flickr.

Admittedly, when I shoot using Kodachrome, I tend to look out for a few key colours for which it is particularly wonderful at capturing.  Red is one of these.  Everything from red lights, red apparel, red skies, and red neon really stand out here.  Of course, what you see on screen is really only a preview of this colour depth.  This being one of the limitations to digital technology (at least with most people’s budgets), the subtlety of these reds on a modern laptop screen can only approximate this subtlety.  Time and again, holding the film up to a light (or projecting it the old-fashioned way with a slide projector) is really the only way to get that idea.

at York and Adelaide, 2008

The mortgage-closing lifesavers. From my own slides.

This uncanny ability for some of these colours to stand out is why Kodachrome is classically tagged for being “lifelike.”  Some of the other hues where Kodachrome does well is blue and brown-yellows.  People tend to look realistic.  It’s not that the hues are really saturated, because skin tones never look saturated.  It’s that it captures the same kinds of subtleties in skin tone the way the eye sees them in person.  Later on, I’ll show some local examples of people over the years where that colour — both the saturation and the hue of unfaded film — really stands out as a great quality in why the picture just works well.  Actually, I’ll use a cinematic example which has nothing to do with Toronto, but which clearly shows both the punchy reds and the skin tones of the subjects in the music video:

Look out for the next post on Kodachrome colour giftedness.  I’ll probably give proper due for blue.  (yes, I can rhyme, but it’s often painful much in the way that dealing with a two-month garbage strike can be).

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