Red Filter Photography Trick

I learned photography in high school with a Vivitar 220 35mm film camera and numerous rolls of black and white film.  They had color film back then, but developing and printing it in a high school darkroom was not workable in 1978.

You may be thinking… What use in this digital age is a lesson about 1978 black and white film photography? Hold on.  There is a usable lesson here.

One day we were assigned to shoot landscapes and my teacher taught us this.  Look at a black and white photo, and you’ll notice that a sunny blue sky is almost always completely washed out to a complete blank.  This makes our photos – well – boring.  What you want is to darken that blue sky down  – not to black, just to give it a little more detail.  He told us we could use a red color filter (or red cellophane, or the red plastic off a broken LED clock) to accomplish this.  This caused even the whispiest clouds to pop out in the photo and become interesting.

I will show you how to do this in GIMP.

First, my original photo from my iPhone.  Nothing special, just a shot from my morning walk.

Nothing too amazing, now in GIMP, I will desaturate it.

Note that the sky and clouds are kinda washed out.  This effect was MUCH WORSE in 35mm film photography.

Now, I used this filter on the original color image…

…making sure to set all 3 settings (shadows, midtones, highlights) to 0, -100, -100.  I took the resulting red image and used desaturate on it again…

Wow, look at that sky pop out now!

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