Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Reviews of photography products that enhance the enjoyment of taking pictures. Published frequently but irregularly.

Kodachrome, Browsers, Color, Memories Tweet This   Forward This

14 August 2013

When National Geographic photographer Nathan Benn was featured on the New York Times Lens blog the other day, Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer observed that the blog's color was off. The images "have had their color jacked up digitally ... so they look a lot like digital and unlike Kodachrome," Johnston wrote. He continued:

Kodachrome never rendered anything like the paint-set blues and greens in #2, the man's electric blue jacket in #4, or the office worker's magenta sunburn in #9. (The numbers refer to the pictures in the Lens Blog's Nathan Benn portfolio.)

In a note today to Johnston, Benn said, "I don't know why most images there are so garishly saturated. There was some error in making the JPEGs and it doesn't matter now how that happened."


Well, OK, except you do expect accuracy from the N.Y. Times if not from your browser (which may not be color-managed, applying any ICC profile embedded in the image or defaulting to sRGB and using the monitor color profile).

"Accuracy" is a loaded word in this context. Some poor guy at the Times gets some digital image files with no reference to what they should look like and dials in the numbers (you know, Auto Levels) before applying an sRGB profile to the image.

The trick is having some reference to the original to match rather than some image file to optimize (looking "a lot like digital," as Johnston put it). And that reference would, in this case, have been Benn's book, Kodachrome Memory.

But the other half of this is today's lesson. Your browser has to play along. Jeffrey Friedl, who we featured in our Wigglegram article, wrote in his detailed technical article Digital-Image Color Spaces:

Regardless what color space you use for your images out of the camera or in your own image-editing and image-printing software, when preparing an image for presentation on the Web, be sure to convert it to sRGB if it's not already there, and be sure to embed a color profile.


In the Lens blog piece, Benn described himself as a black-and-white photographer who was told to shoot color at National Geographic. Kodachrome specifically. And in his note to Johnston, he remembers it's characteristics:

Kodachrome II was the most beautiful color film I ever used. Not the most accurate. Kodachrome 25, the replacement, was introduced in 1974 and colors were more accurate. Neither did green well, but great red, yellow and blue! KII was warmer and that often worked well, especially in "magic hour" light.

Before you start sobbing (Kodachrome being only a memory itself now), remember that a number of software companies have undertaken to provide Kodachrome effects in various plug-ins, including DxO's FilmPack 4, Alien Skin's Exposure 5 and Digital Film Tools' Film Stocks 1.5 (which has both still and video versions).

Finally for Kodachrome fans, Benn cited "a fascinating book about making Kodachrome by Robert Shanebrook, who was the one of the guys in Rochester who made the stuff." Making Kodak Film, while out of print, can still be ordered through Sept. 30 for $29.95.

BackBack to Photo Corners