I like my landscapes to bring back memories of, and the feeling of, the place I took them. That means that grass has to look like every-day grass, skies have to look like what I remember skies looking like, etc. The only time I play with saturation or vibrance is in abstracts which don't make any reference to "reality."
So I think I am just as subjective as you about this, and I always try to season my colors until they taste "right." And there is no recipe or preset that can do that; it depends on the individual image.
So I am just out of touch with the current fashion of dazzling, blockbuster colors.
Does that make just two of us?
Possibly its just a subjectivism I need to understand better to know how to bring it across. I am not searching for a magic bullet, but I believe there is some magic. And I want to understand it better.
It is all about the concept I've been subscribing to and preaching about for quite some time: believability. It does not have to be neither "true" nor "correct," but it shall be believable. You can leave it as it is, or you could aggressively "massage" it for days, but in the end it has to be believable. It is not the process, it is the end result.
Of course, you hit the nail on the head here, but the question remains: How is that achieved?
Are there various ways?
Is it something so subjective you can't bring it across?
Is there a scientific part in it, a method you could apply?
Chris, if you want someone to take a crack at it from a color science perspective, I'll be happy to do so. But, before I do, can you ask the question in a single sentence? All the areas you touched on in your OP amount to more than I can do justice to.
I have read a lot of color science stuff to get an idea what is happening in color photography. I read "Color Appearance Models" by Mark Fairchild to understand better. It became clear very fast, that the color system we use based on the cieXYZ stuff is already one step behind a major color conversion, the conversion from spectral intensity distributions into xyz stimuli. All color management and attempts to get "correct color" come after that fact.
I then learned, that color is a learned, subjective experience to a great extent, e.g. a friend of J.W.v.Goethe who was not only a poet, but also a color theoreticist (beside other endeavors), once learned from Goethe about the theory of color contrast, especially opposing colors, red-green, blue-yellow, etc.. After learning this he wrote a letter to Goethe that he now started seeing opposing color contrast situations everywhere - his perception was permanently altered by learning a concept. And this is only a very small example of whats happening in the development of our perception.
My impression is, that correct color management and understanding the scientific/technical base of colors better can help in achieving natural, believable color, but it is not enough. And I am not sure and would like to understand better what are the factors determining an impression of natural color.
I often alter color in my images using vibrance and saturation in an opposing way: I Increase vibrance and decrease saturation. The result is an image with partially subdued color where only the strongest colors appear in normal saturation. Or I do the opposite: I increase saturation and decrease vibrance to subdue only exaggerated colors a bit and boost weak colors a little. Another thing is to use a B/W conversion layer in luminance mode to change luminance off the different colors - e.g. making yellows lighter. Or I selectively boost yellows in lit areas and so on ...But all this is in the realm of artistic interpretation and has nothing to do with that kinda unusual feeling of natural color I described in my OP.
I really want to understand this better, and maybe I have to end up with accepting that it is so highly subjective that it is impossible to evoke this feeling of natural color in others watching my images. But I'd like to be able to bring this impression of "natural color" across.
Thats why I posted here - to understand it better.