28th November 2012

‘Normal’, adjective, conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.  Well that was a big help, not.

I was working on my DPP exercise Optimising Tone and Colour the other day and one of the phrases that came up was, “……and if the white balance setting gives it a normal appearance without an obvious colour cast…..”, and it made me wonder what ‘normal’ is.  The dictionary definition certainly doesn’t help much, nor did the text in the DPP manual, as it too used another word that wasn’t defined either, ‘standard’, together these two words have a very wide meaning to whoever interprets them.

Why did this strike me now as odd?  Well, part of an exercise further on is to take an image that requires multiple processes to be performed upon it to produce the best result possible and then to describe what you did.  Not a problem in and of itself, but I must admit that the resulting two images did make me wonder what ‘normal’ is.

The camera sensor renders whatever is placed in front of it as carefully as the designers and manufacturers can make it.  But how do they set the norm for colour interpretation?  Presumably there’s some international standard somewhere that says standard red is made up of so much of this and so my much of that and has so many lumens of light and each manufacturer attempts to meet those standards.  But we all know that cameras from different manufacturers give a different rendition of any particular colour, this was even more well-known when film cameras were the norm when a photographer chose the emulsion they used to meet whatever colour tones they wanted.  In which case, what was ‘normal’?

I’ve read a few definitions of what ‘normal’ means when it comes to colour tones and photography and it would appear that it means whatever the majority of viewers find as acceptable without it looking abnormal to them.  So grass has a range of tones that are acceptable as does a pillar box, and provided the rendition that you, as the photographer, finds acceptable, then that’s ‘normal’.  No problem?  Well there might be.

A potential problem arises when the phrase ‘personal taste’ comes into the equation.  My idea of what a colour tone should be is in all probability going to be within the range considered ‘normal’, I’m not an abnormal person I hope, and my ‘personal taste’ is probably the same as some others, but not everyone.  Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t have come to my attention but because I was comparing a before and after image I noticed a difference which led to this train of thought.  Was the camera sensor interpretation of the colours the correct one to use, or was my ‘personal taste’ the overriding factor?

‘Personal taste’ is the defining factor between what makes something truly acceptable and just tolerated.  For instance, a childs behaviour is a matter of debate as to what is acceptable and what’s not, similarly the way the ‘norm’ in motoring is to disobey the speed limits, so the same holds true for colours.  If my ‘personal taste’ is at one end of the spectrum of ‘normal’ and another’s is at the opposite end, will there be a dislike of what I have produced by the person who is opposite to me?  Possibly, but not probably, as the ‘normal distribution’ of ‘personal taste’ encompasses both, and so there shouldn’t be too much of a dislike.  But has that ever been proved?  I certainly don’t know and it would seem that there has to be some validity to the argument that it’s unacceptable within society because ‘personal taste’ defines what’s accepted as poor, good and brilliant and colour perception, being as important as it is to humans, must have its part to play.

Now, back to the two images I was talking about to begin with.  I thought that the grass colour rendered by the camera was a little dull and so I introduced some vibrance in processing making the grass ‘greener’, as it were.  I’m happy with this and I’m sure the majority of people wouldn’t be bothered either unless they saw the RAW image side-by-side with the processed image and then there might be some debate about why, or even some negative and positive comments.  What’s this got do with anything interesting?  Well how about what ‘personal taste’ an examiner may have by comparison to yours, what about the ‘personal taste’ of an influential critic?

You may say that’s the luck of the draw and have to accept it.  But what if the personal taste of the examiner is enough to make your mark just 1% lower than say the difference between a first or second for your degree?  Now that is frightening.  I’m not saying it does by the way I’m just postulating.  So what do we do?  Do we stick with our ‘personal taste’ or attempt to make art that fits the median point of  ‘normal’ to encourage more acceptance?

I know what I think, but that’s for me!


2 Responses to ‘Normal’

  1. Catherine says:

    I vote for staying with what each individual photographer wants to view a s’normal’ when it’s their own image. So far as examiners go I think there’s a lot built in to make sure that personal taste doesn’t interfere and there’s ‘objective’ assessment. Can’t vouch for judges in photography competitions though as I don’t know anything about that – only what I’ve read!!

  2. Eddy Lerp says:

    What about ‘normal’ when you’re viewing some else’s image Catherine?

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