Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In which I drop color saturation and lomography

You know how I sometimes use the blog to explore a topic that I know absolutely nothing about? Well, this is one of those times. Louis Gray may drop science, but by the end of this post I'll be dropping color saturation and lomography...and then some.

This morning, one of my co-workers sent an email to another co-worker regarding a brochure that the second one assembled. To avoid giving away company secrets, I will pretend like the co-worker was an Associated Press writer, and therefore I will restrict myself to quoting no more than four words from the email:

lowering...saturation of...colors

I considered going to the second co-worker and indignantly declaring, "I cannot believe that you used such high color saturations!" But I thought better of it. I have, however, made a resolution, which I expressed on FriendFeed:

1 co-worker told another to lower the saturation of a brochure's colors. I confessed to the first co-worker that I had no idea what he was talking about. However, it sounds like good advice, so for the rest of the day today I will advise people to lower their color saturation.

But perhaps I would be better served by attaining an understanding of the term. Luckily for me, North Carolina State University was willing to provide me with a free education on the topic:

...This definition of color really describes just one dimension of color: hue. Hue is described with the words we normally think of as describing color: red, purple, blue, etc....Hue is also a term which describes a dimension of color we readily experience when we look at color. It will be the first of three dimensions we use to describe color.

You also perceive color changing along two other dimensions. One of the dimensions is lightness-darkness. How light or dark a color is is referred to either as a colors lightness or value. In terms of a spectral definition of color, value describes the overall intensity or strength of the light. If hue can be thought of as a dimension going around a wheel, then value is a linear axis like an axis running through the middle of the wheel (Figure 9).

The last dimension of color that describes our response to color is saturation. Saturation refers to the dominance of hue in the color. On the outer edge of the hue wheel are the 'pure' hues. As you move into the center of the wheel, the hue we are using to describe the color dominates less and less. When you reach the center of the wheel, no hue dominates. These colors directly on the central axis are considered desaturated. These desaturated colors constitute the grayscale; running from white to black with all of the intermediate grays in between. Saturation, therefore, is the dimension running from the outer edge of the hue wheel (fully saturated) to the center (fully desaturated), perpendicular to the value axis (Figure 9). In terms of a spectral definition of color, saturation is the ratio of the dominant wavelength to other wavelengths in the color. White light is white because it contains an even balance of all wavelengths.

These three dimensions of color: hue, saturation, and value constitutes a color model that describes how humans naturally respond to and describe color: the HSV model.

Here's an alternate explanation from

Saturation indicates the range of grey in the color space. It ranges from 0 to 100%. Sometimes the value is calculated from 0 to 1. When the value is '0,' the color is grey and when the value is '1,' the color is a primary color. A faded color is due to a lower saturation level, which means the color contains more grey.

Flickr has a picture which illustrates the HSV model:

Whoops, wrong HSV model. And technically, this isn't even an HSV model; this is a picture of a Pontiac G8 GT, and it's actually the GTP that's equivalent to the HSV Clubsport Model.

However, the North Carolina State University page has a good diagram of the HSV color model; go here to view it.

Now despite my advice, there are instances in which high saturation is desirable. In this case, we'll go to another university, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA):

In analog fiber optic links, high optical power is desirable to improve the link gain and signal-to-noise ratio. However, today's fast photodetectors tend to saturate at very low optical power because of small active areas and high optical power density. Additionally, although high speed operation has been demonstrated in surface-illuminating type photodetectors, they are limited by the trade-off between bandwidth and efficiency. Recently, waveguide photodetectors have overcome the above trade-off. However, their main disadvantages are the low optical coupling efficiency from optical fibers and also low optical saturation power. Thus, the increase of the internal quantum efficiency is often offset by the low coupling efficiency. The above disadvantages have led to the need for new ultrafast photodetectors with high efficiency and high optical saturation power.

This invention is an ultrafast photodetector, also known as a optical-to-microwave transformer (OMT), which will simultaneously improve the bandwidth, efficiency and optical saturation power. Using separated input and output transmission lines and a unique velocity-matching circuit structure, very high bandwidths (several hundred GHz) can be obtained without sacrificing detector efficiency. This invention also increases the optical saturation power by one to two orders of magnitude. This high power capability gives photonics a new dimension in its microwave application.

But what about situations in which an image is overly saturated? Well, among certain circles, that's desirable too:

“Lomography” is a term quite unknown to most of us, but many practice it. The name was inspired and derived from the Russian “LOMO” cameras. Lomography not only refers to photographs taken with the LOMO camera, but can also apply to casual photography taken with any ordinary camera.

The characteristics of Lomo photographs are oversaturated colors, extreme optical distortions, rainbow-colored subjects, off-kilter exposure, blurring and alternative film processing, all things usually considered bad in photography. In short, Lomography is the act of taking photographs without thinking, and ignoring the established rules of “good” photography.

And there are plenty of examples of lomography on Flickr. Here are three:

And since this is a business blog, perhaps I should look at the business of Lomo. Or more specifically, the company previously referenced. LOMO has a U.S. distributor called LOMO America:

Established in 1991 and incorporated in 1997, LOMO America, Inc. is the exclusive North American distributor for products manufactured by LOMO PLC in St. Petersburg, Russia. We are currently the largest stocking LOMO distributor in the world. We specialize in providing microscopes, endoscopes, night vision devices and spotting scopes/telescopes, but we can also provide many other products and OEM components manufactured by LOMO PLC.

LOMO PLC itself has an interesting history, once you calculate the dates:

LOMO stands for Leningradskoye Optiko Mechanichesckoye Obyedinenie (Lenigrad Optical & Mechanical Enterprise). For more than 80 years LOMO has designed and manufactured optical devices for various applications. Beginning with its foundation in 1914 LOMO was largest optical device manufacturer for Russian Army. Times have changed and now LOMO works not only for military and space programs but also for science and industry and for the consumer products market.

In other words, if you read between the lines, LOMO served the evil Russian Soviet commies all throughout the Cold War. And if this really really upsets you, then perhaps you should just get in your Volkswagens and drive away.

Well, if nothing else, at least I have a vague understanding of what color saturation is, so that when I advise people to lower their color saturation, I'll sound convincing.

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