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
Same thing here. Consider the things beyond a
camera’s capability, and let’s have a competition between the
1) The sense of sound: a continuous, thunderous roar
vs. constantly changing, high-class music. Both impressive, but
2) The sense of constant motion. Both are impressive
and fascinating, but Niagara is repetitive, so Advantage:
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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
*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
*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
Comments on individual versions in a later post.