I just went to a gallery where the photographer had incredibly colorful/saturated photos. Along with them was a sign "unaltered" which I assume means HDR was not used. This appeared to be a medium or large format film camera, and I'm wondering what the photographer might have done to make his photos so vibrant?

Are there tricks landscape photographers normally use aside from HDR to add color?

  • 3
    HDR isnt used to add colour (as such) - it is used to normalise dark and light areas. Jan 30, 2013 at 9:13
  • 1
    Do you maybe have a link to the photographers online gallery to show an example? Not that your question isn't clear without, but it just adds to the quality of the question. Jan 30, 2013 at 12:38
  • Not the ones in person but I see a lot of similar types from lanscapes here: 500px.com/photos Feb 1, 2013 at 0:39
  • Out of the box saturation is set a little higher on most Canon cameras than most Nikons. But both allow you to increase or decrease the amount of saturation to your taste. This is primarily an issue when allowing the camera to convert to JPEG before saving. If you save RAW files you can apply any level of saturation you want during post processing.
    – Michael C
    Sep 19, 2013 at 4:04

6 Answers 6


There's really no such thing as an "unaltered" photograph.

Unless you're going to pin a piece of undeveloped film to the wall. Certain film stock is designed to give exaggerated colours and there are film processing techniques (e.g. cross processing) to do the same.

A digital camera cannot detect colour directly, only intensity. Sensors have a mosaic of different coloured filters placed over the pixels to allow colour information to be inferred. Therefore "alteration" by demosaicing is absolutely necessary in order to generate a colour image. Colour saturation is simply a parameter of this process so the photographer is free to set as they please. And then go on to claim the image is "unaltered" as it hasn't been through Photoshop...

There are things you can do at capture time to increase the saturation, for example using a polarizing or graduated ND filter, being careful not to overexpose, avoiding lens flare, choosing your subject carefully, shooting when atmospheric conditions are at their best. But just don't be lead to believe that "unaltered" actually means anything.

  • You could probably get garish colours shooting a piano keyboard at high noon on Velvia then printing on Ilfochrome (the artist formerly known as Cibachrome).
    – user2719
    Jan 30, 2013 at 9:25
  • I know CPL can increase saturation. But how can ND filter alter it? I thought the only thing ND filter does is to block light. Jan 30, 2013 at 15:27
  • 1
    @PetrÚjezdský I meant to say a graduated ND filter. By making some parts of the scene darker, e.g. the sky you can increase the overall saturation.
    – Matt Grum
    Jan 30, 2013 at 15:32
  • 1
    Totally agree, 'Unaltered' photos are like 'Natural' products, at best confusing at worst a deceiving label :)
    – Shizam
    Jan 30, 2013 at 17:35
  • I guess by unaltered I mean, not tweaking the colors in photoshop or making substantial edits, but trying to capture existing color as accurately as possible Feb 1, 2013 at 0:41

As you think it was a film shot, and imply it was a landscape, then I will have to assume:

1 - The film choice is all important - some are VERY saturated, some are very pale.

2 - The photo paper (assuming it was old-school optical paper and enlarger) also has a bearing on the saturation of the print.

3 - when shot, the photographer probably used an ND Grad filter to bring down the sky brightness, in effect this is the original "HDR" method.


For a start, certain films turn out more vibrant than others. Using DSLR's like the 5D lets you increase colour saturation/contrast/vividness etc all while the photo is being taken so 'unaltered' may still apply in this way. In addition you can also use filters to enhance the colours of shots in different ways.

Hope that helps!


One way to get more blue in the sky is to underexpose. Overexposure tends to go to white. Bracket your shots downward and see which comes out best. Or take a wide bracket of shots of plain sky in manual settings, and see which blue you like. Then start with that setting and work from there.


Back in the days when I used to shoot film, shooting original Velvia 50, rating it at ISO32 and printing on Cibachrome was the landscape photographer's staple for the high contrast, high saturation look. Check out the work of Joe Cornish or Jack DyKinga; some of the best proponents of Velvia 50.


Something I didn't see posted was the time of day, after a rain shower, different films would give either a more warming effect (a slight yellow cast) or cool effect (a slight blueish cast)

I missed if you enjoyed slide film, which differ as well from maker to maker. And of course you'll see differences in different formats as well.

Developing color film in the darkroom it's very hard to vary your development times due to the fact you can totally ruin your hard work by under or over development which makes correct color balance a screaming nightmare. If you have the means, or a very cool processing lab, do it in your print with skills of dodging and shading.

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