Bellagio: Dan's comments


Dan Margulis
 

In my portion of On the Law of Simultaneous Contrast of Colors I did a long series on paintings and photographs of NIagara Falls, concluding that the best examples of each relied on heavily exaggerating both the color of the water and its contrast. Why is this necessary? Because so many things about Niagara Falls can’t be captured by cameras that if we tried to portray the scene “realistically” it would be boring and in no way reflect how impressive the subject is.

Same thing here. Consider the things beyond a camera’s capability, and let’s have a competition between the two attractions.

1) The sense of sound: a continuous, thunderous roar vs. constantly changing, high-class music. Both impressive, but Advantage: Niagara.

2) The sense of constant motion. Both are impressive and fascinating, but Niagara is repetitive, so Advantage: Bellagio.

3) The inability to portray scale. The picture we’re working on hardly suggests the enormity of the Bellagio, but suggesting the size of Niagara Falls in a photo is impossible, so Advantage: Niagara.

4) The senses of smell/taste. Not much in Las Vegas, but there’s so much spray in the air at the falls that you can smell it. Winner by Default: Niagara.

5) The sense of touch. The spray of Niagara can sting the skin, but in a hot, dry climate, the breeze from an artificial lake and the mist from the fountains are an amazing sensation. Advantage: Bellagio.

For these reasons, I opened by describing Niagara as “an assault on all the senses.”  Compare that to the opening of the Bellagio’s own page, “The Fountains of Bellagio were destined to romance your senses.”

That page continues,
It is the most ambitious, complex water feature ever conceived and it’s absolutely free for any visitor to enjoy. Step back, or find a comfortable perch to sit, and watch against the backdrop of the Las Vegas lavender sky. Each performance is unique in expression and interpretation so no matter how many times you have seen the Fountains, they always have more in store to wow you with. Fall in love with this unprecedented aquatic accomplishment.

Assuming that we have been specifically assigned to illustrate this paragraph with this one photo only, it seems clear that #521 is the best. The water stands out, the hotel itself is played down without eliminating some of the strong color touches at the edges.

But of course we weren’t necessarily assigned that. It could be part of a series of shots taken at different times and from different angles, in which case something as exaggerated as #521 won’t work. Or it could be that we are supposed to illustrate the “Las Vegas experience”, of which the Fountains are only a part. In that case, John Castronovo said it better than I can:

I have to say that the one that really appeals to me is 528. The par version is a close second. I agree with Steve that any version that had dirty looking yellow or greenish water was displeasing. I do want to see a lot of blue in the sky and it all has to look rich and colorful, fun and exciting as possible to be appealing for Vegas clientele. i think 528 does all that without going overboard.

I agree completely. If it’s not just about the fountains but is promotional for the Bellagio as a whole, or for Las Vegas, then #528 is the clear choice.

And if you can’t quite agree with either extreme, you might like the par, because both #521 and #528 are lies, the real scene doesn’t look like that and everybody knows it, the version is setting a mood and we are allowed to exaggerate. 

Interestingly, when this much depends on interpretation blends don’t work as well as they usually do. You may think you want something halfway between #521 and #528, but blending them 50-50, IMHO, makes a version worse than either parent.

This makes choosing the par components hard. This is the first time I chose versions that are clearly not among the five best, because there had to be balance or the par wouldn’t look natural.

Then again, there weren’t as many credible alternatives to choose from as one would like. This group’s membership contributed 31 of the 35 entries shown. I rated them in three categories:

1) The original has little detail in the fountain. Did your correction add an acceptable amount? Yes 26, No 5

2) Is your handling of all other questions of detailing and weight acceptable? Yes 25, No 6

3) Is your overall color acceptable? Yes 11, No 20.

If this were a less sophisticated group, you’d expect a worse result on #1 because they wouldn’t know some of our tricks for adding highlight detail. But I sure hope they would do better on #3!

Almost all these failures were due to yellow water. Fortunately, several people have commented on what that color reminds them of, so it need not be specific here. Given the desert climate,  the water is supposed to be cool and refreshing, not dirty in any sense. Yet so many people remarked in their notes that they had measured the brightest part of the water and made sure it was neutral—yet, obviously, they neglected to measure the darker parts.

I chose this one to come directly after Sunset on the Beach because, among other reasons, it proves that just because adding warmth to one picture is good it won’t necessarily be good for another. If anything, this water should be cool—blue, not yellow.

Demonstration: I dropped a sampler point in the left side of the fountain, set it to read LAB values, and measured each version. This is how I recommend anyone evaluate color in such a case: 0a0b is neutral; positive values are warm, negative ones cold. Here, the A is rarely important; we concentrate on the B, blue vs. yellow.

A dozen different people submitted entries where this point measured 15b or greater—wildly yellow. There is no point beating those particular dead horses, but to show why yellow is bad, I’ve picked three versions where the reading is a more moderate 10b to 14b. And to show that it’s the yellowness and not the non-neutrality that’s the issue, we have an easy comparison. It happens that three entrants went in the other direction: their measurement is between (10)b and (14)b. So I suggest opening them up, and seeing which side you think wins.

THE YELLOW TEAM: ##507, 527, and 534.

THE BLUE TEAM: ##512, 521, and 528

I can’t see how any member of the yellow team would ever be preferred to any member of the blue team—even if we compare the yellow #534, which has excellent detail in the water, to the blue-magenta #512, where it is terrible. The solution would be to blend #512 at an opacity of choice, into #534 in Color mode.

That would make a dramatic improvement in #534, but not enough to make it one of the top entrants for a different reason that also applies to many other entrants.

Demonstration: The idea is to portray the water as white, or something close. One of the best ways to emphasize whiteness is with a dark background. The darker the hotel, the more pronounced the water will be. All successful versions have pretty much the same lightness values in the water, but they vary in the hotel. I’ve measured another point, something I think is typical at center left of the hotel. When we read L values, a lower number is darker, with a value of 0 being absolute black and 100 absolute white. #534 measures 48L, which is slightly too light (high) IMHO. I’d prefer something 40 or lower.

To see the impact, I’ve chosen six images where the color is reasonable and not eccentric. From darkest to lightest, they are:

#521 (30L)
#528 (36L)
#526 (44L)
#511 (52L)
#516 (56L)
#530 (56L)

Check them out, and see if you don’t agree that this is also the order from most to least dramatic presentation of the fountains themselves. #528 is fine as it stands, but each of the four lighter ones would be improved by a 50% blend of #521 in Luminosity mode. The impact of that blend would mostly be to darken the hotel.

The color of the water and the darkness of the hotel are the big items in this picture but I’ll mention three other desirable features.

*The name Bellagio in the bell tower should be enhanced so that it is readable. The majority of entrants did so.

*The darker foreground water is better if it can be made cooler.

*The garish blue, cyan, and magenta lighting at right is actually beneficial to portraying the fountain as white. So it shouldn’t be suppressed, it should maybe even be enhanced.

Comments on individual versions in a later post.

Dan

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