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Categorized | Articles, Ethan Meleg

Out of Focus – Saturation Infatuation (full story)

©Ethan Meleg
This American Robin photo looks exactly like what I saw when I clicked the shutter ;)

Story and photography by Ethan Meleg

I shoot 98% of my photos in RAW format, which means they require post-processing in order to share them with the world.

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Ever since I ditched film and dipped my toes into digital photography, I’ve found post-processing to be an enormous pain in the butt. I’d rather shoot wedding or baby photos (I truly detest both) instead of sitting at my computer fruitlessly attempting to tweak a RAW file to look somewhat like the scene I actually saw with my eyes when I clicked the shutter.

There’s one post-processing tool in particular that I have a very serious love-hate relationship with. It’s a simple, innocuous little widget conveniently nestled in the tool palette of virtually every photo-processing software program known to humankind. 

The tool can be a godsend for an image or the worst thing that ever happened to digital photography — it’s a fine line between those two ends of the spectrum. 

Yes, I’m talking about the saturation slider.

The saturation slider is a wildly seductive beast with the power to lure you into a vivid state of polychromatic intoxication. It starts out very innocently — just a small nudge to add a modest punch to the photo. Soon, however, you find yourself thinking: ‘Well, that looks good, maybe a bit more will make it even better.’ Then you rationalize needing another little hit, and another, and another. Finally, you say to yourself, ‘Oh, heck, I think this photo would look REAAAAALLLY good if I just added one last bump.

My mom might even like it on Facebook.’ Before you know it, you are staring at some insanely obnoxious and unrecognizable post-apocalyptic rendition of your photo, and you have no idea how you got there. 

It’s like when you pour yourself a glass of wine, and the next time you look up you realize that you’ve polished off the entire bottle. 

Newcomers to digital photography are usually the worst offenders for over-saturating photos. A quick look on social media, especially Instagram (a haven for photographers who are infected with saturation infatuation), is all you need to confirm this. The truth is that I, too, throughout my professional photography career, have found my finger trembling while some magical force pulls the saturation slider towards a scintillating state of euphoria. 

I fight this internal battle all of the time — how much saturation is too much? Sometimes I’ll go conservative for a few weeks, pumping out dull and lifeless photos that fail to do justice to the beauty of nature. Then at other times I flip the other way, cranking out otherworldly, over-saturated photos that cause me to feel the same shame as when I eat an entire bag of Oreos in one sitting.

“Everything in moderation, including moderation,” they say. That’s exactly how I feel about the saturation slider. 

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