Thursday, September 8, 2011

True Blue

or Reality Check

The dwarf plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) isn't really this color:

It should be more purplish, less of a sky blue.  My camera seems to prefer this color, though, no matter how I fiddle with the white balance, and I like it fine myself; it just isn't true to life.

The sky isn't actually this vivid a blue, either:

If you don't want to over-expose a sunlit building, however, you have to shut some light out of the photo, and that gives the sky a depth of color it doesn't really have.  As if by magic, voilà—you have a perfect September morning.  (Actually, it was a perfect September morning.  But the sky wasn't quite that shade of blue.)

Even without help from the camera, all on its own, the sky was perfectly wonderful that day.  Yet somehow the photo's vibrant color has mixed itself into my real memories of the real sky; it's one of the layers of that memory.  I think back to the weekend with a glow of pleasure:  "What a gorgeous morning that was!  The sky was such a deep blue!"  And it was—just not the blue I have in mind.  Or at least, not one of the blues.

The plumbago, too:  its own, real-life blue-violet is lovely, and a delight to see in late summer.  In the dappled shade under the desert olive it looks cool and refreshing.  I love it for many reasons, and now one of them is the fault of the photograph.  Its gorgeous color (which isn't real) is a mirror of the sky's (which isn't real) on September mornings (which are).

As one of my most quotable friends likes to say (and as I often quote her saying), we create our own realities.  We mix the present up together with memory, expectation, imagination, and who knows what else, as we go bumping around trying to make sense of the world.  The act of creating a photograph (or perhaps of creating anything), the process of thinking through viewpoint and composition, aperture and shutter speed, of looking closely and wonderingly at your subject and then seeing the finished project—all that interaction becomes part of your reality.

Blue-violet/sky-blue:  they're both now part of my (not particularly vast) experience of plumbago.  One of those colors is based on what I actually see; the other on a foible of my camera—or, more generously, on using the camera, on engaging with what is out there to be seen.

Which is the truer blue?


  1. What a profound question! I came across the same conundrum when I photographed a deep blue agapanthus
    some time back. I still can't quite believe it when viewing the photo again. Would people think that I had touched up it up in Photoshop? My immediate thoughts are much more basic than yours! Great post!

  2. And I can never photograph my dark red roses just right. But sometimes I like what the camera sees much more than what I do. Not only is the color a bit more saturated, but the garden looks so much better in photographs than in real life! That's the reality I'm trying to create!

  3. And sometimes - I want to take the camera by the hand, not too gently - and show it - that flower, that one there is absolutely NOT the colour you have picked. Try again, and get it right this time!

    I see the pink/red Salvia, and move quickly to the next flower, the one the camera can see.

  4. Cerulean or azure blue? What color is the sky today? A friend's step-dad would never use Kodak film and favored Fuji film because he didn't like the colors that the former rendered his photos and for me when I did b & w, I was partial to Ilford. But some days, I prefer the UV filter of my sunglasses. The blues are bluer and everything is slightly crisper. Not reality, but it is for that moment.

  5. Janet, here we are, two perfectly honest people, feeling like frauds because our cameras can't get their acts together! Maybe the (gorgeous) "off" blues are a Canon thing?

    Holley, I love that--using the camera to show you how things could look. Saxon Holt, the photographer on Gardening Gone Wild, likes to say, "The camera always lies..."

    Diana, and how does that work out, giving the camera what for? ;) It's frustrating when the image in the viewing screen looks just right, and then you get it on the computer, and it's just...not quite. Sometimes I wonder if the difference is in the monitor more than the camera.

    GirlSprout, I'd heard that about Fuji and Kodak before--although I also talked to someone who said that Kodak was better for hot colors and Fuji for cool ones, especially green. Yes--sunglasses! If only they were rose-colored...