When I first began retouching my own work seriously, my main goal was to clean things up and remove distractions. I've been grinding that technique for years now, and while I was getting results I was consistently happy with (after MUCH practice) I began to realize that there was still something missing.
Thank goodness for FB groups where like minded professionals can get together. Someone mentioned that one of my images looked unfinished. They were right. What I failed to realize, while I was dialing in my dodge and burn skills, was the extremely powerful role that color plays in communicating the intent of the image to a viewer.
Most color work, when it's done well, doesn't flaunt itself and scream "look, I've been toned;" It manages to slip by your conscious mind so that it seems natural while still telling your something about the image, whether it's a sense of unreal dreaminess, youthful fun, or the arid heat of the desert. Often, unless you see the original next to the toned image, or you've got experience with this kind of work, you probably wont even realize something has been done.
Once I discovered that this integral piece was missing from my puzzle, I dove in with a vengeance to research, study and practice. I started focusing on color during my shoots, preparing for the palette in advance and then applying it carefully during post production.
During this time, I began to see the biggest uptick in viewership of my work that I've experienced since I began publicly sharing and working. It's not that likes and comments should be the goal of a photograph, but it was clear that the images were resonating more strongly with people than they had before, even though the content was largely the same.
Color allows me to tell people how to feel about an image without shouting about it. I can convey warmth, anger, jealously, confusion, tension, calm, or happiness simply with color choices in post production. That's a lot of power!
Below are few examples that show the difference between untouched color and the color toned image, and you can see quite clearly what a huge effect color has on how you see and what you think about the context of the image. Sometimes the changes are striking, sometimes they're subtle, and not everyone would treat every image the same way; that's the great part about artistic vision, but each set of changes has a purpose. Whether the changes are meant to reflect a summertime feel, or a bit of melancholy sadness and longing, the palette and tone of an image always have something to say.