As I look around the internet (or, world
wide web, if one prefers), I am always struck by the absolute lack
of understanding in the average modern person of the nature, properties
and behaviour of photographic images. There seems to be no
understanding-- or even awareness-- of the differences between a
chemically derived photograph (of many different types) and a digital one, nor of what processes
take place when the former is transformed into the latter. Moreover,
one encounters frequently this kind of quasi-religious, even one might
say cult-like, dogma that colours in various images appear and behave
consistently throughout the pictorial record! Were this medieval
thinking not so manifestly obvious across the 'web it would not be
possible to convince me that such exists; but it most surely does so.
But, how can this be!? Daily experience shows us that this cannot be
true. Take an image of the same object under identical conditions with
different devices (a mobile phone, digitial camera, even a chemical
camera if it can be found) and compare the results. No, they don't
match, do they? How can anyone believe that these images are going to
show the same colours, tints and hues? I find this idea to be utterly
Film emulsions (the chemical ingredients on the film stock being used
to gather light and create a negative image) and CCDs (the chip in your
digital device which collects light to make a positive image) have
varying sensitivities to various types, intensities and frequencies of
light. It is a mistake, in fact to assume that CCDs have less such
particularities-- testing over the last decade has proven that they
are, if anything, more susceptible to unique behaviour than the average
chemical stock. As a result, the colours present in any image will vary
considerably-- often wildly-- depending upon a gigantic number of
related variables. And that's just for digital images.
Travel back in time 60-70-80 years, or more, and contemplate period
chemical photography. An image taken on chemical film will depend upon
a) the film stock used in the camera; b) the camera itself; c) the
settings employed on that camera by the operator, ergo highlighting any
skill or incompetence; d) the lighting and atmospheric conditions at
the time of the exposure; e) the developmental process used to create
the negative image; f) the paper, glass or plastic stock onto which the
negative is developed into a positive image; and so on. One could
virtually make a list here
without end. And in all that avalanche of variables we are meant to
believe that colours and tones seen in these pictures will be uniform!? You couldn't make it
A small example of what I mean... All
of these wartime iamges show exactly
the same US Army Air Corps paints, namely QM-41 O.D. and Neutral
Grey [that is to say, Spec.3-1 (1941) and ANA-603].
"But", the Great Learned of the Internet say, "they cannot be the same
paint-- the colours don't look the same!" No, they don't. How on earth could they!?!?
These images were all taken on different film types, by different
camera equipment, by different photographers, under different
conditions and were developed using completely different methods onto
different stock. It is simply not possible under such a barrage of
divergent factors that the colours will be identical. Completely
impossible. That is even working from the assumption that none of these
images have been modified when digitised, something we would not expect
as they fly across the internet.
So much for uniformity! But, worse still, these images show us the
second part of the problem (at least in the modern era)-- manipulation
of a resulting digitised photo.
One may recognise this as a lesser cropped version of exactly the same
image above. So, which appearance is correct, assuming either is so?
The colour here is different to the first version, something which the
internet learned tell us is "impossible". And it's the same
photograph...! One or both have been deliberately manipulated to
demonstrate a different tone and hue. The exif information for both
JPGs reveal that they were modified in Photoshop. An exmination of the
original media-- or better the negative-- by an expert observer
expierienced with Kodak emulsions might well solve the problem, but
that is something we cannot do here.
Here are again two versions of the very same image, again modified
deliberately. Is this Liberator painted with 'yellow-ish' QM-41, or
with more 'greenish' ANA-613? One must presume that either image was
manipulated to become more in agreement with one or other
interpretation, thus forcing the
evidence to fit the preconception of
"what it should be". This type of behaviour is rampant in
modelling site discussion and activity, and it is the very bedrock of
hubris. I suppose one may not say that this kind of childish and
anti-scientific behaviour is the product of the modern age, but the
internet has exacerbated this particularly bad situation to
astronomical proportions. I
personally, how anyone could fail to see the monumental complexity of
photographic interpretation, let alone period photographic
interpretation, and the very considerable experience and expertise
required to engage in this activity which must be developed over years
and years of work on the topic. It is as if the average modern
person believes that one may become a brain surgeon by reading an
internet forum posting on the topic...!
The thought of comprehensively ignorant people arguing passionately
matters which they cannot understand would make for a fine comedy
sketch (or a political event), but it makes for a depressing reality.
Right, enough of the Grumpy Old Man bit, let us move on.
The Starting Image (from the WWW)
We have been deluged with complaints that this author's interpretation
of VVS green paints (AII Green here)-- all of which have derived from the
inspection of archaeological evidence, not photographic evidence, I
hasten to add-- cannot be correct, as they "don't look the same
in this picture". Really? Bearing all of the foregoing discussion in
mind, is anyone still confused by this fact?
I have chosen this particular image to analyse not because it was
especially fine, or demonstrates professional technique, but rather
because it is extremely common.
Colour period images of VVS aircraft are virtually always found on AGFA
film; at least so far as is known to date (we can only dream of a
Kodachrome colour image of Yaks, for example). The majority of these
images were shot by rank amateurs using popular cameras. In the world
of photography, common
usually means bad, and this
photo is a classic example of that body of work.
We must first bear in mind that this is not the original image. This is a
digitital facsimile of a copy (or copies) of the original slide, which
is itself a developed copy of the actual negative. Thus, we are at
least four steps-- each with
its own problems, difficulties and modifications-- away from reality at
this point, and we've not even begun our investigation. It should be
clear to any observer that this image does not present what is often
called a true-to-life appearance. That is to say, what the scene would
look like to the human eye if present. [Absolute Colour and Perceived Colour are enormous
concepts which are outside the scope of this article. We will assume
here that true-to-life means a perception of the actual colours present
to a human eye which functions without wavelength
sensitivity/insensitivity, which is surprisingly common in fact.]
Clues supporting this observation are everywhere. Firstly, anyone can
see that the colour and appearance of the sky is odd. A real sky does
not look like blue-wash aluminium dope. The colour of the German
uniforms (feldgrau) is well
known, and what we see here does not match that appearance. Moreover,
anyone familiar with the colour of grass across the huge areas of the
Ukraine, Belorussia and eastern Russia will recognise that this
appearance is incorrect, being too dark, which means that the colour of
the green paint in view is also (the main bone of contention when
discussing this photo). We have plentiful and outstanding surviving
examples of other paints in view in this image, too. AII (A2) Red is
well documented, and its appearance certain. The orangey appearance of
these national star markings does not match it. Parts of the aircraft
with different surface reflectivity, and wearing the same paint, have a
distinct tonal appearance (compare the dural sheet fillets to the
resin-cloth covered fuselage, for example). And so, and so... this is
the correct basis from which to begin our analysis of the image, and
try to understand how and why the colours in it are not true-to-life.
The image was taken using AGFA Neucolor stock. There are several
versions of AGFA Neucolor, as well, including C, B2
and G types. I do not know
which sub-varient was used here. In fact, I must state for the record that I am not an expert on AGFA film
emulsions. Should anyone experienced with these films observe this
article, their contribution to, and critique of, the findings herein
would be hugely valuable.
However, as a series product of AGFA manufacture and development, we
can understand that these related films share a number of properties.
The company itself discusses such behaviour in extraordinary scientific
detail, examples of which documentation may be found for instance in Farbfilmtechnik: Eine Einführung für
Filmschaffende (Schmidt, Richard; Kochs, Adolf 1943).
Voluminous documention exists elsewhere, in addition. These AGFA papers
discuss such useful data as monochrome tonality when employing this
film, tonal reaction to colour filter use, as well as physical
calculations and chemistry concerning light sensitivity, and so on.
Some proper science, as one might say.
Looking not only to this documentary material, but also examining
many AGFA Neucolor images, we can recognise several features of this
species of film. Firstly, there is the classic AGFA over-sensitivity to
blue light. It's a tell-tale giveaway when spotting this type of film.
Secondly, red colours always tend to appear orangey in tone, and less
vivid than reality. Thirdly, all green shades appear darker than
reality, perticularly greens with a lot of yellow in the colour.
Fourthly, the surface reflectivity of an object usually changes its
resulting tone in the image. An area with a matte finish and gloss
finish showing the same colour will not look to be identical. These
four main characteristics are common across all Neucolor types.
As well, the appearance of the over-all image on this film is usually
quite 'soft', one may say, with a distinctive pastel type appearance.
Here is a famous photo (on Neucolor film) from a series of German
propaganda images taken in Paris directly after the occupation during
the summer of 1940. The cafe La Vielleuse still exists, by the way, as
does all of its period advertising material, and the vivid dark red
colour of these itmes may be confirmed (as opposed to the orange
appearance in the image). The washed out looking sky colour is evident,
as is a pastel appearance. The professional skill used to create this
image (camera settings, equipment, development) is manifestly obvious.
Here is a Neucolor shot which was allegedly taken on B2 stock
somewhere in the Ukraine. The unusually dark appearance of the grass
and leaves is evident, as is the odd sky colour behaviour. The image is
less pastel, one may observe interestingly, but the original exposure
settings look to have been quite amateurish (which we can surmise will
affect the appearance).
Digital image processing software depicts and analyses colour in a
manner which seems a bit counter intuitive-- in monochrome. What!? Did
we read that correctly? Yes. A digital colour is-- very crudely
speaking-- the result of a pixel's intensity and super-position mapped
to a colour space. Ergo, software like Photoshop have tools to analyse
and compare these factors, and in such a way to estimate a "corrected"
intensity (appearance). This is the Auto Colour feature, and it can be
found in most such image processing software. Auto-colour tools are not
magical, they do not always suggest a better appearance, and they
sometimes make a hash of things. But, they do make choices and changes for a specific reason-- as defined
by the coding and complex algorithms which underlie it-- and therefore
they can be superb aids for photographic colour analysis.
Here is the resulting appearance after the use of Photoshop's Auto
Colour feature. Some aspects of the image do look more true-to-life,
but when comparing this appearance to our known colours the image is
still far from convincing.
Here is the same image as processed by Micrografx's Auto-Colour
feature. We see quite a bit of 'tearing' (pixelation) along the
fuselage which is likely due to the very poor exposure settings used
when taking this photograph. The appearance of the grass colour is
notably improved, but the red colour is not, and neither the feldgrau of the soldiers' uniforms.
Neither image, of course, reveals a true-to-life appearance. What
they do suggest are modifications which would be required to obtain
such an appearance. By contrasting the two processed images we gain
more information about the reference picture.
Software such as Photoshop have built into them some tools for applying
common photographic lens filters. Back in the days of this image,
coloured lens filters were ubiquitous in photography, and indeed they
are common enough now. Mainly these were used in conjunction with
monochrome photographs, but not exclusively. Be that as it may, one can
use these self-same tools to create custom photo filters which intend
to compensate (so as to move towards a true-to-life appearance) for the
known behaviours of various film types. Filters to try to rectify the
notorious appearance of Orthochromatic photos are very common, for
example. Filters of this kind have been created for AGFA Neucolor.
Now, allow me to clarify for our modern readership that filter tools
are not fool-proof. They do not hand us the solution to colour
investigations on a silver plate! These tools are used to assist with a
proper analysis of photography, and no more than that. As well, these
AGFA filters were not developed by myself-- I have not a fraction of
the expertise required with Neucolor emulsions to even attempt such a
filter. I cannot, therefore, be an expert judge regarding their
accuracy nor function; I will simply try to observe if a better
true-to-life appearance emerges.
Here is the starting image with an AGFA Neucolor Slide Stock
Filter applied. My first impression is that the resulting green colours
are greatly improved. The various mid-tones do not seem to be
altogether better, and the sky remains washed-out (albeit, tonally
better). The AII Red colour is still orangey.
Therefore, the next step is to apply a common red light filter
which shifts all of the hues in the image while attempting to match the
known red shade. Here is the AGFA filter corrected image with a red
light correction filter added.
The appearance looks much improved. The star marking on the
fuselage looks much more like the true-to-life colour, and so does the
grass. Of very notable improvement is the feldgrau colour, which now looks
pretty good really. The sky is still bleached, as are the parts showing
AII Blue (cowling part and ramp demarcation), as per the usual AGFA
Now, can we improve on the appearance of this version of the image? We
know that AGFA Neucolor is blue insensitive, and the poor over-exposure
of the photo has exacerbated this problem. If we therefore apply a mild
blue light filter to the image-- seeking to correct this unintended
shift in hue-- what will get? The following image is the result of this
Does this version of the image demonstrate a more authentic,
true-to-life colour appearance? It's a very fascinating question. To my
own eye, I would propose that the grass' green colours are better, but
those on the airframe are a bit desaturated. The German uniform colours
seem to be pretty good, and where the sky actually appears (rather than
a big glare), it looks to be improved. The under-surface colour is an
unrecoverable wash-out. The appearance of AII Red is closer. That is of
course my opinion; it impossible to prove any colour hue with such an analysis.
|AII Green (typical)
As an extra exercise, it might be interesting to apply the same filters
to an AGFA photo of excellent quality. Here we have an image taken on
Neucolor slide stock of exceedingly professional competence; the
exposure and focal composition are first class. One would assume that
the camera in use was, as well, and that the image was deveoped in a
quality lab. This is a digital facsimile, of course, so all of the
previous caveats are required, but on balance this looks to be a fairly
My initial impression is mainly that this is very good
image! The red colour is orangey in the AGFA tradition, but much better
than the previous photo. The sky looks especially authentic for this
type of film, and this makes me wonder if the photographer might have
used a light blue lens filter? Or considerable skill in setting the
aperture? Impossible to know. The various green colours are dark, a la
AGFA film, and the feldgrau
area mid-tones are indistinct. The propensity for areas of different
light reflection to shift tone is very much reduced-- albeit present--
and again I wonder about the very high photography skill level evident
in this shot.
In the next image the AGFA Neucolor Slide Stock
Filter has been applied, precisely as above. I believe here that the
grass' colour is hugely improved, as is the airframe's colour. The red
areas look better, but still the feldgrau
is not distinct, just as occurred on the previous image with the same
filter. It seems clear that this characteristic of these AGFA films--
to shift red hues towards yellow-- is critical in the appearance of the
final image. A thorough reading of AGFA's technical material will
likely explain why this is so.
And finally, the image now with the red light filter applied (as
above). Some strange effects can be seen in the image where the Pikpast
watermark appears, so these have been highlighted for clarity. Beyond
that small problem, I think this image is fairly authentic with respect
to true-to-life colour appearance. At the least, it isn't bad.
I hope that this exercise demonstrates how and why period images cannot
show us true-to-life colouration. The idea is a naive a pipe-dream:
virtually impossible to do with modern images, so one can just image
what the chances are on 70 year old chemical photos! No. The Internet
Learned must adjust their perceptions on this topic: colours which show
an irregular hue/tone appearance across historical photography are normal. That is exactly what one should expect.
This fact explains why photographic colour analysis is what it is.
There is an almighty misunderstanding by would-be internet "experts"
regarding the use and nature of such analytical work:
Firstly, that photo colour analysis is used to determine the appearance of an unknown colour on a period image. This is completely incorrect. Colour analysis is used to recognise a known
colour or lacquer on a period image (the former being impossible).
Actual colour is determined by the examination of physical evidence.
Only. It may be the case, under very advantageous conditions, that an
expert with very considerable experience with a given film emulsion may
be able to roughly estimate a colour-- or better to say a range of
plausible colours-- from photographic evidence alone. No more than
that; and even then this is absolutely the best case scenario, rarely
seen in historical reality.
Second, that photographic filters are used to achieve a
true-to-life appearance of colours in a period image. Completely
incorrect (as we have just seen). Photo filters are used to identify the film and process used
to create a period image so as to assist with colour recognition. They
may also be used to extract hidden detail from a given image, or to
analyse other similar features (surface reflectivity, material, etc).
The misconception of these properties and uses of photographic analysis are so common that I suggest they are standard in modelling forums and internet sites. Worse still, it seems to be impossible to convince the new generation that hard work is
required to achieve anything, presumably because they have never heard
of such a thing and therefore it must be irrelevant. An "expert" in
today's world is someone who can search on Google effectively and
obtain popularity cudos ("likes"); these stupid old ideas about
science, learning and experience are obviously not required....