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A Guide To Dramatic
by Mitchell Kanashkevich
Disclaimer / Credits and Copyright .................................................................3 A note from Darren Rowse ...............................................................................4 About the Author ...............................................................................................4 Introduction .........................................................................................................5 The first steps to using color more effectively ...........................................6 Some ideas and theories on color ..................................................................7 The concept of visual weight ........................................................................8 Speaking with color .....................................................................................11 Color and emotional impact .......................................................................14 Less is more...................................................................................................18 The power of color order ............................................................................24 Controlling color during the shoot ............................................................. 26 Light and color .............................................................................................27 Color and different types of available light ...............................................28 Direction of light..........................................................................................35 Controllable artificial light – the flash and the reflector ..........................36 Manipulating the scene ...............................................................................37 Isolating what matters.................................................................................38 Controlling color in post-processing ........................................................... 39 Color temperature and mood .....................................................................40 The multi-purpose color balance ................................................................41 Shaping the story and mood through individual color adjustment .........42 Making things disappear in Photoshop......................................................45 Some tools of the trade ...............................................................................46 Conclusion ......................................................................................................... 48 Want more from DPS?..................................................................................... 49
This ebook is not about some sort of precise, scientific approach to color. If you’re after tangibles, numbers, diagrams or color wheels, you’ve come to the wrong place. Everything written here is based on my own photographic experiences, analysis of the work of some photographic masters as well as long chats with other photographers, creative people from the field of visual arts and even a psychologist. As with anything non-scientific, the contents of this ebook are subjective; look at it as one photographer sharing his knowledge on a topic that he is passionate about with others. You don’t have to agree with me, but I can tell you with confidence that at least absorbing what I touch on here and trying the included exercises will have a positive effect on how you yourself work with color. Finally, I am a travel documentary photographer. Everything in this ebook comes from this genre, which I feel is wide enough and challenging enough to provide some good examples for other genres of photography too. The only exception would be when you’re working exclusively in circumstances where you have no control whatsoever over any details of your shoots, like time of day, location or the arrangement of subjects/objects. Even so, the knowledge I hope to pass on here should prove useful when or if you should happen to deviate from such circumstances.
Credits and Copyright
Written by: Mitchell Kanashkevich www.mitchellkphotos.com Publisher: Darren Rowse www.digital-photography-school.com Producer: Jasmin Tragas Graphic Design/Layout: Naomi Creek www.starfishblue.com.au Version 1.0 ©Copyright 2011 Mitchell Kanashkevich All photos and illustrations by the author unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without prior written consent from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. You may store the pdf on your computer and backups. You may print one copy of this book for your own personal use. Disclaimer: The information contained in this book is based on the author’s experience, knowledge and opinions. The author and publisher will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information in this book.
A note from Darren Rowse – Editor of Digital Photography School
When you ask many camera owners about ‘color’ the conversation immediately turns to the choice between ‘black and white’ and ‘color’ in presenting their photography. But there’s so much more to color than that. In my experience, color plays a crucial role in taking a nicely composed and well-lit (but emotionless) image and lifting it to be one that draws you in and makes you feel something. The problem is that while we know its impact, color is not always at the front of our minds as we approach the taking of an image. In fact it’s not often until post-processing an image that we begin to think about it… and unfortunately by then it is often too late. Despite its’ importance – not much has been written on the topic of color when compared with other elements of photography. That’s why when the topic came up as a potential ebook I was so excited. And because it was Mitchell who made that suggestion I was doubly keen because the use of color is always something that has attracted me to his photography. His images tell stories, evoke emotions and communicate – often as a result of his use of color. I can’t think of a better person to guide us through the topic. I hope you enjoy this ebook as much as we did producing it.
About the Author
Mitchell Kanashkevich is a freelance travel and documentary photographer. He travels the world and shoots personal projects as well as travel-related stories and stock photos for Getty and Corbis Images. His work has appeared in some of the world’s top photography magazines, on book covers, in ad campaigns and has made its way into private photo collections around the world. When not on the road Mitchell makes his home in Sydney, Australia with his wife (and helper in every possible way) Tanya and his dog Toshka.
Why should we care about color and why this ebook?
Color concerns anyone interested in making engaging (not to even mention captivating) color photographs. The reason for this is simple – color contributes to what our images say and to what emotions they convey and evoke in the people who look at them. Color is as much a part of visual communication as composition and light, but it rarely gets discussed in the same creative sense. It is not surprising then that so many photographers simply don’t “see” color and don’t understand it, even during the later stages of their photographic journey. A lot of us treat color as an afterthought, without giving it its due and without fully exploring the creative opportunities or navigating around the challenges that it presents (and there are quite a few of both). The ebook intends to change that, to illuminate the topic of color for anyone who is interested in using it to produce stronger, more interesting and more emotional color images.
Structure of the ebook
The ebook is made up of four chapters. The first two should be considered required background knowledge, the aim being to help you understand how color can be used and how it works within the photographic frame. The following or last two chapters are all about the practical side of dealing with color. We’ll look at some of the most effective ways to control color during the shoot and in post-processing, all with the aim of making stronger, more engaging photographs. The texts in this ebook are accompanied by images that illustrate how ideas and theories I cover work in real life. There are also a few practical exercises which I have included towards the end of some sections in order to encourage you to apply what you’ve learned to your own photography. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for actually going out and trying things yourself.
The first steps to using color more effectively
As mentioned in the introduction we often tend to take color for granted. We often don’t think about it, or we might only when the photo has already been taken. This is of course a big mistake. The very first step towards dealing with color creatively and effectively is to simply be aware of it and to be aware that whatever color enters the frame will have an impact on the photograph.
Developing photographic sensibility towards color
Having photographic sensibility towards color basically means having a deep understanding of how the colors in any given scene will work within the frame. This whole ebook is created to help with this very subject. But of course reading alone won’t be enough. Ultimately we develop and refine our sensibility through hands on experience and the process itself is never ending. Another important element that’s crucial in helping us develop photographic sensibility towards color is the act of looking at the work of great color photographers. This is what our first exercise is all about.
If we are to create images that reflect what we want to say and what feelings we want to portray through the photograph, we need to be intentional in our approach to color. We can’t just let things be, not at the time of the shoot, nor during the post-processing stage. As we are taught to with composition and light, we need to take control as much as possible over the color that ends up within the frame and we have to be conscious of whether it serves the overall purpose of the image or not.
Below I have included photographers from different fields who are widely regarded as masters at what they do. Coincidentally they are also masters at dealing with color. Clicking on the name will take you to each photographer’s images online, but I also encourage you to find their work in print (if you have a chance) to truly appreciate it. Steve McCurry – Documentary, travel – www.stevemccurry.com Randy Olson – Reportage, documentary – www.randy.olsonfarlow.com David Muench – Landscapes – www.muenchphotography.com Philip Hyde – Landscapes – www.philiphyde.com Jill Greenberg – Commercial/Fine Art – www.manipulator.com Paul Nicklen – Nature/Wildlife – www.paulnicklen.com
Some ideas and theories on color
To get the most out of color for our photographic purposes we really need to understand how it works within the frame. That is what this chapter is all about. We’ll touch on what I feel are the most relevant and applicable ideas on working with color. We’ll look at how color can be used to draw the viewer’s eye, to tell stories, to create emotional impact and how to do all of these things in the most effective manner possible.
The concept of visual weight
The concept of visual weight
Any time we talk about color within the photographic frame we cannot escape the mention of composition. After all, composition – meaning the inclusion, exclusion and placement of elements within the frame – is right at the heart of the photographic process. In color photography, however, it’s not enough to be concerned only with what’s in the frame and where everything is placed. We also need to consider how all the colors within the frame appear in relation to each other. This is where the idea of visual weight comes in; it is ultimately just a more fluid and adaptable way of looking at composition, one which I find very well suited to working with color. The main premise behind the idea of visual weight is that in each photograph some elements will demand or grab our attention more than others – or another way of putting it is to say that some elements will be more “visually heavy” than others. Shape, size and the placement of any given element within the frame all play a part in making it visually heavy. However, it is believed that color is actually perceived by our mind before virtually anything else. It makes sense then that color plays arguably the most important role in making an element in a photograph “visually heavy” (or not). Knowledgeable use of color is the most powerful way to grab the viewer’s attention, to direct it towards what’s important within the frame, and this, as you will learn in the following pages, is crucial if we are to create anything close to engaging color photographs.
Knowledgeable use of color is the most powerful way to grab the viewer’s
The concept of visual weight
Some rules of note about visual weight and color
If we were to have two elements of about the same size, a warm colored element would be visually heavier than a cool one, while a bright colored element would be visually heavier than that which is dark. An element made up of a pattern of colors would be more visually heavy than that of plain color. I mention these rules in hypothetical scenarios, but you can see how they work in practice from the photograph on this page. It should be fairly clear just how visually heavy warm, bright colors can be. Those bright orange pumpkins are virtually screaming for our attention.
Relativity and contrast
The pumpkins are so obvious in this photograph, in part because orange is a bright and warm color, but that is not the only reason. Imagine if the wall was painted a similar orange color. We would then have orange dominate the entire frame, with those same pumpkins not demanding so much of our attention any more. The other reason why the bright, warm orange has such a strong presence in this photograph is because it is in such strong contrast to the mostly subdued, darker
colors that dominate the frame. So here’s another important point: the visual weight of any given color is completely dependent and relative to the other colors, particularly those which take up most of the frame. Let’s have a closer look at some of the other visually heavy elements. The face and the hands, the woman’s
purple sweater and the dark, almost black axe. While not quite as visually heavy as the pumpkins, all of these elements stand out as well and contrast (or their relative “noticeability” against other colors) is again the main cause. What about the elements that don’t have much visual weight in the frame?
If we look closely we notice the shut window behind the woman and a plank of wood in the dark corner of the room. These elements are fairly dark in themselves and, because they are set against the darker parts of the frame, they almost blend in and thus become barely noticeable.
The concept of visual weight
More on contrast of colors and visual weight
To really understand how visual weight works you basically have to grasp that, no matter what the situation, it is the contrast (or being different from the colors that dominate the frame) that makes any given color visually heavy or attention-demanding. Let’s have a look at two more, very different examples to drive the point home. In the top image we’ve got a whole bunch of bright, vivid, usually very visually heavy colors, but it is actually the more subdued flesh tones of the performer’s face that demand most of our attention. Why? Because the bright colors form a pattern, the pattern dominates the frame and whatever breaks up the pattern, whatever color is in contrast or most different from those that make up the pattern, is what ultimately draws the viewer’s eye the most. The bottom image is virtually duo-tone, there are no bright or vivid colors which could be considered visually heavy in most situations, but the principle behind what draws attention here is the same. The colors and tones which are there are visually heavy in relation to what’s within the frame. Against the subdued, brighter tones of the foggy surroundings that dominate the frame, the slightly richer and significantly darker tones of the figures instantly become visually heavy because they are in such obvious contrast to the dominant colors.
Importance of visual weight and drawing the eye
If we are to create any truly worthwhile color photographs we need to get a firm grip of the concept of visual weight. We need to learn how to effectively draw the eye towards where we want with color. But of course a very reasonable question to ask is, why do we need to do that? Any time we draw attention to any one color and thus an area or element in the photograph we actually begin to communicate from within the frame. We take the first steps towards telling stories and evoking feelings. This is exactly what we’ll discuss in depth in the next two sections of this chapter.
Speaking with color
Speaking with color
I mentioned right at the beginning that one of the reasons behind color’s importance in photography is that it impacts what our photographs say. This is a fact and for anyone interested in creating photographs which are more than spontaneous or thoughtless snapshots it’s an important fact. Not being aware of it or ignoring it means that you’re ultimately just losing control over a big part of what your photographs communicate. On the other hand, being aware, having a deeper understanding and sensibility towards color not only helps us to communicate our stories effectively, it can make the images speak louder, clearer, with more complexity and with a whole different layer of information. So just how do we speak with color? Everything comes back to the frame and composition. As I noted in the “Visual Weight” section, we begin to speak with color as soon as we start to draw the viewer’s attention to an element or an area of a certain color within the frame. What we’re essentially saying by doing this is, “Look here, this is important, this is what the story is about!” To understand this better, let’s look at some practical examples over the next few pages.
... make the images speak louder, clearer, with more complexity and with a whole different layer of information.
Speaking with color
A practical look at speaking with color
In this photograph color brings your attention to the window, the side of the man facing the window, the tea glasses and a part of the table. These are the most visually heavy elements and they form the basis of the story. In a sense, they’re an introduction of a sort, a little like saying, “A man is setting tea on a table by the window.” The other elements within the frame are nowhere near as visually heavy, but they still draw just enough attention to be noticed – a towel, a bottle, the actual darkness of the room. . . and if you look really closely you’ll make out some other stuff. It’s OK that these elements don’t jump out at us immediately, they aren’t crucial to the story, but they are still relevant bits of information about the man’s world and provide a layer of depth for those who seek it.
It’s important to note that a certain hierarchy to the “distribution” of visual weight is required for the story to make sense. The most important elements to the story must be most visually heavy, the supporting details less so and those elements that have no purpose can very well fade into darkness as they do here, or be left out, completely outside of the frame.
Challenges to speaking with color
The challenge that color brings to telling the story comes if there are distinctly colored elements or areas within the frame which break up that hierarchy of visual weight. Imagine for example a bright, red bucket
in the bottom right corner (similar scenarios have happened) or picture that the room wasn’t so dark and we saw a bunch of multicolored objects around the man and on the wall. In both cases those bright, visually heavy elements would shift our attention from what matters.
We wouldn’t necessarily know right away whether the story is about the man setting tea or about the red bucket or the objects around him. If the elements were distracting enough (visually heavy enough) the point of the story could quite possibly become secondary or get completely lost.
Keeping it minimal, keeping it relevant
With all the potential challenges that even one odd color brings to communicating a story, we have to take great diligence to make sure that every color within the frame is relevant and “makes sense”. “Do all the colors play a role within the story? Does anything stand out that shouldn’t? Does anything less important stand out more than something more important?“ These are the three questions I like to ask myself (and that I’ll keep echoing in similar form) while framing the shot and later, when post-processing it.
My approach to color and visual story-telling is minimalist. Colors that make sense remain as they are or are accentuated in post-processing; all that don’t are ideally excluded from the frame or manipulated in postprocessing (more on this later). And now to “minimalism in practice”. In the top left image we essentially only have three distinct colors and shades of these – brown (man’s face), grey (man’s clothes, man in the distance), and yellow (sulphur, soil, smoke, baskets). These colors are all we need to say something along the lines of: “A man is packing slabs of yellow sulphur into a basket, with another man working amidst a cloud of yellow smoke in the distance.” The result of minimalism here is that the story is clear as can be.
The same approach applies to the next image, only this time there are four distinct colors and shades of these – blue (water), purple (coral), yellow (fish, reef), and black (smaller
fish). The image says something close to: “In blue water, there is bright purple coral, bright yellow fish and some small black fish.” Again, minimal color and a very clear message/story.
Select a few of your own images where you feel color helps you bring attention to what’s important to the story. Show these to a few friends and ask them about each image: “What do you think this photo says?” If their understanding of what the photo says is pretty close to what you aimed for, you’re on the right path. If not, try again. Shoot more images, keep in mind the “visual weight hierarchy” and look for situations with a minimal amount of distinct colors. Another option is to post your images with the same question to the “critique” section of a great photo-sharing site called 1X.com It contains a lot of knowledgeable photo enthusiasts happy to share their thoughts.
Color and emotional impact
Color and emotional impact
Perhaps the most important reason to learn about color and to develop sensibility towards it is the fact that the color in our photographs impacts those who view them on an emotional level. With color we can create mood and atmosphere, we communicate feelings and evoke them in others. While the subject matter and composition also play their part in shaping the emotional impact of a photograph, color is the quintessential element which has the capacity to add a whole new dimension and to make that emotional impact truly powerful. The reason for this is quite simple – color is strongly associated with feelings, moods and sensations. There are actually quite a few associations and theories related to color, many of them too subjective, culture specific and questionable to base our approach on. There are, however, those associations which have pretty much been ingrained in our minds, probably because they are influenced by nature and aspects of life common to everybody. These associations are what we need to remember when intending to convey moods and emotions through color. You will be familiar with most of the more universal color associations yourself; you just have to think a little. However, here are some examples to get you started: Blues and greens bring to mind coolness, freshness and calmness. Oranges, yellows and similar colors are instantly associated with warmth and energy. More generally speaking, dark colors set a mysterious mood – the association with the unknown. Dull colors create a sombre mood, while bright and vivid colors are associated with energy, joy, hope, life and excitement.
Color is strongly associated with feelings, moods and sensations.
Color and emotional impact
Uniformity of color
Uniformity of color essentially means that the colors within the frame are similar to each other, that they are associated with similar emotions and feel like they belong to the same group. The photo here is a good example of uniformity of color. All the colors are organic, earthy, vivid and all have a warm tinge. They are similar or uniform. Why is color uniformity relevant when talking about emotional impact? Because while every color within the frame can play a role in creating or breaking the mood, the colors that dominate the frame are the ones responsible for the overall mood of an image. If there is an overall uniformity within these dominant colors, we quite simply get a clearer, stronger sense of mood.
Combining subject matter and color to intensify emotional impact
Color and subject matter are inseparable. In a color photograph every element is of some color. Subject matter and color – or more correctly, subject matter and our associations with color – can “work
together” to intensify the emotional impact of an image. This can be particularly effective when the emotional associations of subject matter and color mirror each other, as is the case with the photograph above.
We’ve got a man of strong stature standing on an upward pointing rock with beautiful, dramatic nature all around him. Even if the photo were black and white, we’d likely associate what we see with energy, life, freshness and harmony with nature.
Those uniform, earthy, vibrant colors, the warm tinge, the strong presence of greens, shades of yellows and blues evoke pretty much the same emotional associations. Put the two together and you are communicating the same message (story or mood), only more intensely, on multiple levels.
Color and emotional impact
A strong mood created by uniform colors that dominate the frame can be broken up or changed by a single color that doesn’t feel like it belongs. This happens because the “odd” color essentially brings a different feeling (or associations to a different feeling) to the frame. This contrast of feelings can be visually interesting. The photo here is a good example. The splash of red livens up the mood and brings some energy to an image which otherwise feels sombre because of the subdued, greenish, bluish greys that dominate the frame.
More than three (use this as a guide) of such distinct “splashes” of color in this image would have likely led to a sense of disorder and confusion. With more distinct colors competing for our senses we wouldn’t be sure what we are supposed to feel.
Narrative vs mood
Imagine that the boy in the photograph was wearing only grey and that the only red element was a toy car in the bottom right corner of the frame. The mood would essentially remain the same – overall sombre, livened up and energized by the red of the car. The story, however, would change. It’s like I’d be saying, “Look at the car, this is the most important element here.“ When a situation like that arises we’re faced with a question: “What’s more important – the story/narrative or the mood?” Assuming that I want the story to be primarily about the boy, I could frame out the car and make that story clearer at the expense of not having the mood livened and energized. Or I could do the opposite; keep the red toy car and preserve the mood at the expense of the story. There’s no right or wrong way to handle the situation. Everything ultimately depends on what you consider more important for the overall purpose of the image.
Challenges to creating a mood with color
Had I wanted to keep the mood in this photograph sombre, the presence of red would have meant that I failed. The interference or the break-up of the mood established by uniform, dominant colors can be good or bad, depending on your aim. The biggest challenge to creating a strong sense of mood, however, comes with the need to keep the overall palette as uniform as possible. Besides the uniform dominant colors there should only be splashes (in other words small areas) of other colors and not too many of them.
Color and emotional impact
The power of color
Sometimes the color is so important to a scene that it and the feelings it evokes or the mood that it creates are what actually draws us to take the photograph. I would call those kinds of images emotion- or mood-driven photographs, in which color becomes the most essential element within the frame. I have included two such photographs to illustrate what I am talking about. In the top image the electric blues are creating a very strong mood; there’s a sense of mystique and, due to the darkness, there’s also a certain
sense of mystery. The color just kind of overwhelms you and captivates, creating a world of its own. In the bottom image the vivid colors of the coral evoke a sense of excitement and there’s a certain life energy emanating from them. It is as if the coral itself were screaming, “Look at me!” It was impossible to miss. Now, imagine either one of these photographs in black and white. They wouldn’t be worth a second look. The fact that they work as well as they do is a testament to just how powerful color can be.
Just like the exercise in the “Speaking with Color” section, get your friends or the people in the critique section on 1X.com to look at your images. Only this time choose the images where you feel there’s a strong sense of mood, images which you feel are loaded with emotions because of the colors within the frame. With emotions and moods things tend to get a little more subjective, so you will want to ask more friends or to wait for more people to share their thoughts online. Basically, if a majority tends to get what you were aiming to convey, you’ve succeeded. If not, it’s time to try again, applying what you’ve learned so far and what you’ll learn in later sections. Note: You don’t have to post your images on 1X.com, as there are other critique sites around the web and some people even offer an in-depth critique for a fee. The reason I mention 1X.com is because it’s free (for that section), there’s a wealth of knowledge and I’ve been a part of it on and off myself.
Less is more
Less is more
As you’ve probably gathered from this book so far, less colors essentially equals less obstacles to telling your story and to creating a more powerful sense of mood within the frame. To put it very simply and bluntly – having less colors is actually good for your photographs. Knowledgeable people in the world of visual media who care about your reaction to what you see are all very well aware of this “less is more” idea. If you pay close attention the next time you watch a high production movie, you’ll notice that most of the scenes in it are made up of very few colors. Often there’s even a conscious effort by film colorists to limit the color palette in post-production. The same tendency can be witnessed in quality advertisements (print and motion) and you may have picked up on the fact that a lot of the images from the photographers who I suggested to look up on page 6 also have very few distinct colors. The next section is an overview of what I’ve touched on so far, but in action – i.e, in images. We will have a closer look at five different photographs with a limited color palette, accompanied by brief discussions on how I made color work in each one to convey a mood and a story.
Having less colors is actually good for your photographs.
While walking through the forest with this tribal chief the atmosphere was filled with the energy of the forest, vitality and harmony. The green is evocative of that energy and vitality and the overall earthy uniform feel of the colors within the frame works well to evoke the sense of harmony.
The story is about culture, and the man’s harmonious existence with nature. The visual weight hierarchy shaped by the contrast of colors ensures that all the details key to the story are quickly visible – white, curved pig tusk (culture) and the eyes (man’s character) against brown, yellow headwear (culture) on dark green, brown hand on light green stem of the palm leaf (harmony with nature).
Here, I wanted to convey the sombre mood and the coolness of late European autumn. The absence of any distinctly warm, vivid colors and the domination of the frame by shades of grey, which are usually associated with more sombre emotions, as well as a subdued blue color – usually associated with coolness – helped me achieve this aim.
The story is about sheep on the outskirts of a village going off to graze over a field of frozen grass. The sheep are pretty obvious because they are off-white (against dark), but the frozen grass is only noticeable thanks to the fact that there’s only one competing color (the off-white of the sheep) around it in the frame.
The mood in the bakery where I shot this was cosy, warm and relaxed. I made sure not to frame any colors that would detract from that; i.e. no cool or vivid, “exciting” colors. The colors which did make it into the photograph – predominantly shades of yellow and brown – communicate what I wanted to rather well, the white being fairly neutral, so it doesn’t in any way interfere.
The minimal color palette allowed me to concentrate on the action. Nothing except for the man making bread with the cigarette in his mouth demands much attention, but with time everything becomes quite apparent. This works well because the image is primarily about the baker doing his thing and smoking, everything else has about an equal role, secondary within the story.
I wanted to convey what it felt like to be underwater with a turtle – the excitement, the coolness and freshness of the water, the harmony of being close to nature. The turtle’s bright, warm-colored shell takes care of the excitement part, the shades of blue are inevitably associated with coolness and freshness and the palette, limited to natural, organic colors, keeps the sense of harmony.
The story is very straightforward – a turtle is gliding through the water while a snorkeller watches in the distance. Due to being in strong contrast to the water, the turtle gets the most attention and we can easily see the gliding motion it makes with its wing-like fins. The snorkeller is a secondary detail to the story and the minimal palette of similar colors allows his dark figure to be seen.
The excitement and energy that color brings when you walk the streets in this particular part of India is what I wanted to communicate here. The vivid blues and the woman’s colorful sari are instantly evocative of those feelings; they jump right out of the frame.
The story is about everyday life – a woman looks at the world from her doorway, while a dog sleeps on a step. It’s simple and straightforward. The minimal color which is used to draw attention to only what’s relevant (with just the right amount of visual weight) and nothing else helps to communicate both the story and the mood very clearly.
The power of color order
The power of color order
With all the talk of minimal color and the reasons why having “less” colors is in various ways “better”, you might get the impression that a myriad of colors within the frame isn’t going to result in a strong photograph. This is of course only partially true. While it is quite challenging, it’s not impossible to make an image that speaks clearly and has a strong emotional direction, even if it does not follow the “limited color palette formula”. The main problem with having a lot of different, distinct colors (as a guideline, a lot is generally more than five) within the frame comes from the fact that in most cases the different colors don’t follow any order; they are perceived as separate elements, each conflicting with the next and competing for the viewer’s attention. A lot of this conflict or contrast basically results in a disorientating and confusing viewing experience. Both the mood and the story become unclear or even lost. If we can, however, create some sort of order amidst the different colors within the frame the problem can be solved and we can make photographs full of different colors work effectively. Note: Just in case there’s a need to clarify, when I refer to different and distinct colors what I mean is a set of colors like blue, red, yellow, black. In other words not similar colors like blue, light blue, aqua blue, etc.
Both the mood and the story become unclear or even lost.
The power of color order
Making sense of multiple, distinct colors
When we see continuity, rhythm or repetition of multiple, distinct colors set in close proximity to each other within the frame, we begin to see them as a pattern or as one whole. Naturally when a myriad of colors stop conflicting and competing with each other for our attention, they become much easier for our brains to manage, to process and to make sense of. Such patterns, whether already existing or made by the photographer through the choice of framing, will by default liven up the mood of a photograph and create a sense of energy. Whether we want that or not, we can’t really do much to control that part, that’s just the effect a bunch of distinctly different colors within a frame will have. We can, however, work the pattern into the story in a variety of ways, without having any of the multitude of colors detract from the important elements.
Color patterns in practice
Far from every colorful scenario will be suitable for becoming a pattern within the frame or anything close to it. In a sense, we have to learn how to “see” patterns to effectively work them into our images. Here are two examples to give you an idea. In the top image there are patterns within the design of the blankets, but more importantly it’s the pattern formed due to the rhythm and continuity created from the blankets being lined up, one after another, that makes at least five distinct colors into just one whole element. This single element is composed in a way that allows it to dominate the frame. It is then used as a backdrop for the woman, who instantly stands out because she is made up of only two simple colors which contrast strongly with the pattern of multiple colors (remember the principle of visual weight here). The idea is similar in the bottom image, but used differently. There’s rhythm and continuity in the elephant’s decorations. The gold “armour” and its proximity to the colorful parts makes the colors “blend” into a pattern. It’s not a pattern in the same sense as that in the above image, but it is perceived similarly, again a single whole formed from multiple colors. Only this time, it is the colorful single whole which stands out against the much plainer colors dominating the frame.
Controlling color during the shoot
We actually already have some control over color even before we get to the scene/subject we want to photograph. We control it to an extent through the decisions we make, such as when to shoot and in which kind of light to shoot. Once we are in front of a particular scene ready to frame it, we decide just how to frame it, where to position ourselves or whether or not to interfere with it and rearrange certain elements, so that everything within the frame conveys what we want. We won’t always have much control over various details during the shoot, but the more control we do have the more control we have over color. In turn, controlling color during the shoot ensures that we get as close as possible to the desired result, without having to do much in post-processing, which doesn’t always guarantee success anyway and usually takes a good bit of time.
Light and color
Light and color
Light and color are inevitably linked. In fact, color is actually reflected light, and light is not visible until it is reflected off something (or somebody). In practical terms and ones which are relevant to the ebook, the color in any given situation is always affected by the light in that situation. What this means for our purposes is that understanding just how light affects color gets us closer to controlling it (color) in our photographs. With the exception of artificial types of light, we can’t control light directly in most situations, but light does change by itself – you can essentially say that there are different kinds of light or different lighting scenarios. The way we control or change the light’s effect on color then is by placing ourselves in a particular lighting scenario – whether that means waking up early to shoot at sunrise, moving to a certain spot to shoot in the shade or having light coming from an angle by moving around. This section is an illustrated guide to the different lighting scenarios and to how they affect and change color. It is also a look at the practical implications of what the changes can mean for our photography.
The color in any given situation is always affected by the light in that situation.
Light and color
Light during the “magic hour”
The first and the last hour of daylight are often referred to as the “magic hours”. During the “magic hour” the light and its effect on color change quite dramatically with the movement of the sun. When the sun is closer to the horizon, everything the light illuminates takes on a deep orange tinge (bottom right image), which gets less intense as the sun makes its ascent (top right). During the orange tinge stage different colors begin to look similar (uniform); you can see this in the images on the right side. Note how
strong the presence of deep and lighter orange tinges has become in these shots. When the sun is a little further above the horizon, the tinge turns to yellow. Around the halfway point of the “magic hour”, the colors look more distinct (a little less uniform) and particularly bright, vivid, vibrant. You can see that in the bottom left image. The mosque’s golden dome looks especially vibrant and all the blues in the image are very deep and rich. Depending on where the light is in relation to the subject, the “magic hour” is also the time when you get silhouettes. More of this on page 32.
Light and color
Twilight is the time when the sun is below the horizon, but there is still light. It occurs between dawn and sunrise, sunset and dusk. There are three types of twilight – civil, nautical and astronomical. The names basically correspond to the position of the sun in relation to the horizon and the amount of light, from closest/brightest to furthest/ darkest, in the order mentioned. During the brighter stages of twilight, the colors are fairly dull, but are still quite distinct (top right). As it gets darker, the colors fade and become darker too (bottom images).
At times, during civil and nautical twilight, a cloudy sky reflects the last of the sun’s rays and may take on shades of red, yellow, purple and everything in between. In these cases the elements illuminated by the light from the colorful clouds may take on a slight tinge of the same colors. If there are no colorful clouds in the sky, the tinge is greyish-blue. Astronomical twilight is basically the coming of darkness, the time when stars appear in the sky. To the naked eye everything simply looks dark, but shooting on long exposure reveals very toned down color with a strong presence of that greyish-blue tinge (bottom right).
Light and color
Light on overcast days and in the shade
Both types of light have a similar effect on color. In both situations, when the light is fairly bright, it is neutral and there is no significant tinge to the colors – they are all fairly intact and distinct from each other. The top image is a good example of this. As it gets darker, for example during a really cloudy day or in a strong shade, the tinge starts to get slightly grey, but the colors remain distinct. Even with really heavy clouds the colors may appear dull, but are still fairly distinct. The only time this changes is when it gets really dark – if we are shooting in the shade indoors for instance. In this case the colors are in a sense “drained” from those elements which are positioned in the darker area and everything leans towards looking dark grey. This latter factor is good to keep in mind in case we find a lighting scenario in which we have a well-lit area where the important elements of the photograph are located, fading into darkness in the area which isn’t important. I’ll discuss this more in the “Direction of light” section in this chapter.
What I am specifically referring to here is the light produced by the sun which has already made a significant ascent above the horizon. In practical terms this is basically the entire period of daylight after and before the “magic hour”. This kind of light makes everything look very bright – there isn’t a tinge of any sort. The colors are distinct from each other, at the same time they are not vivid, quite the opposite – the bright sunlight has a bleaching effect and makes everything look relatively dull (generally, the further up the sun is, the more dull). The bottom photo showcases this well and the comparisons of photographs on page 34 should give you an even better idea of just how dramatically the color changes under the bleaching, bright sunlight.
Light and color
Light from various kinds of fire produces a distinctly warm tinge which ranges from deep orange to brighter orange bordering on yellow, as the fire flickers. When firelight is the single light source, all the colors around it basically become shades of orange and yellow (bottom images). When there is another light source like a lamp or daylight (top right) the presence of oranges becomes less strong, while the original colors of the subjects remain more intact.
It’s important to note that as you get further away from the firelight, things start to get extremely dark and this can be used to our advantage. If we have any say over where the subject is in relation to the firelight, we can, to an extent, control the color in the scene. In a sense that was what I did with the images here. In all cases I waited for the moment when the subjects would illuminate themselves with the firelight by moving closer to it. Their positioning resulted in what’s relevant becoming bright, orange-ish color (visually heavy/demanding attention) and everything less relevant gradually fading into darkness, out of visibility.
Light and color
Underwater everything has a bluish/ greenish tinge, depending on the kind of water, the distance of the subject from the surface and from you – the photographer. The further the subject is from the surface (thus the light source) and the further you are from the subject, the more it loses its original color and the stronger the tinge becomes (top right).
and the thicker the fog, the more the original colors are lost. Things are a little different when it comes to the tinge, however. The tinge that a foggy situation will produce will depend on what time of day it is and on how much the sun is blocked by the clouds. If it is overcast above the fog, the tinge will be neutral to greyish/bluish (bottom right image). If the sky above the fog is clear and we’re somewhere around the “magic hour” the fog itself can take on a warm, orange-yellow tinge. It will basically suck out the original colors and make everything in the scene look warm (bottom left).
The light on foggy days has a similar effect to light underwater in that the further away you are from the subject
Light and color
Artificial light in its many forms
There are virtually countless artificial lighting scenarios and all of them will have their own, distinct effect on colors, as you can see from the images here. The specific effect will depend on the light source’s distance as well as its direction in relation to what you’re photographing. What’s important to note is that in most cases artificial light will produce a fairly distinct tinge, which gets more intense if there is relative darkness and the particular artificial light is the only light source.
These tinges can lead to some really dramatic results as is the case with the jellyfish image (bottom right) and they can make colors look more uniform and similar to each other. A good example of this is the top right image, where the skin tones, color of the dresses and even the color of the girl’s lips lean towards the yellow of the street light. In cases where there are a few different colored lights, as in the scene in the bottom left image, it’s possible to have multiple tinges, though they tend to average themselves out in spots where the the lights are similar and in close proximity to each other.
Controlling color with light
At the top are photographs of the same subject taken in different types of natural light. From left to right; astronomical twilight, nautical twilight, early stages of the “magic hour” and in the bleaching, bright sunlight. I’ve included these images to reiterate (through comparison) just how much color changes with light. These and the other images in this section, along with the explanations, should have by now given you an idea of how we can change color with light and then convey certain moods, feelings and even stories (we’ll get to that part in a second).
Here are a couple of example scenarios. If we want to make an image that feels energetic, joyful, lively then shooting in the “magic hour” light that makes colors vivid and bright might be the answer. A cool, mysterious feel on the other hand might be best conveyed during twilight, with its dark tones and bluish tinge. And now about the conveying of stories part. Light mostly affects all colors at once and that generally works better for creating a mood, but there are situations where it makes some colors bright and others dark; we had a glimpse of this in the “Firelight” section. When we have a
situation like that, if we can control what’s bright and what’s dark, we gain control over where the eye is going to go within the frame. This is when we really begin to speak
through light and color and that’s what we’ll touch on in the next page.
Find a subject which you can photograph through different stages of the day, under different types of light. Take mental notes of how the color changes with the light. Take photos of the subject, as I have and then analyze these on your computer screen. The main point of the exercise is to get you to see the effect of light on color for yourself, in real life. It might be something that you have been aware of to an extent, but only when we try things ourselves and can compare can we truly understand just how much of a factor light is when it comes to changing color.
Light and color
Direction of light
The direction from which light illuminates a subject can significantly affect color. The light is particularly directional (by this I mean we can position ourselves and the subject at a certain angle in relation to the light) when the light source is close to the horizon – whether that is the rising/ setting sun, firelight, a lamppost or light coming from a source like a window or a doorway. Let’s have a closer look at directional light at work. In the top image I had a situation where I asked the subject to sit next to the window. In other words I directed the subject in relation to the light source (or directed light). The result is that the colors closer to the light source look relatively bright and vivid, everything further away gradually becomes quite dull, taking on a greyish tinge and blending with the darker part of the image. This way of directing light is very useful for visual story-telling with color because I have essentially drawn attention to the main subject of the story and made everything that’s not important almost monotone, darker, much less noticeable.
One of the simplest ways to see the extent to which the direction of light affects the colors in a photograph is to have the subject in between you and the light source and to shoot right into that light source, for example the setting sun. Against the bright sunlit sky the subject would become completely dark and we would end up with a silhouette. Shoot this very subject during the same time, just from a different position, with the sun behind you and you’ve got vibrant, orange-tinged colors. The bottom photograph is an example of a situation which stands somewhere in between. The sun here is at the early stages of its descent (getting close to the horizon) but rather than shoot straight into the sun, I shot at an angle (the sun is above the top right part of the image). As a result the figures have become fairly dark, but not quite silhouettes; there’s still some color there and the angle at which light is shining has created a warm colored “rim” around the figures, particularly visible around the heads.
Light and color
Controllable artificial light – the flash and the reflector
Artificial light is a topic which deserves a lot of time and attention. What I’ll mention here is only what’s immediately relevant to color. The reflector reflects available sunlight and because it has different sides (like gold, silver, and silver/gold) you can make colors look vibrant and warm like the setting sun (gold side, bottom left image), neutral (silver side) or somewhere in between (gold/ silver side). With the right angling you can also use the reflector to make parts of the image bright and others dark.
The flash is one of the most powerful tools of all when it comes to controlling both light and color. By using different gels (little pieces of tinted, transparent film fitted on the flash head) we can actually simulate different kinds of light and their effect on color. In the top image I used an off-camera flash with a lightly tinted gel to simulate daylight coming from the side and in the bottom a deeper orange gel was used to simulate firelight. The flash can be easily directed from virtually any angle which gives it the same abilities as the reflector, minus the limitations that come with having to reflect light.
Light and color
Manipulating the scene
Unless you are shooting reportage and your photographs have to represent unaltered “reality” or it’s physically impossible to manipulate the scene (e.g. landscapes), there is no reason why you cannot do just that. This is essentially one of the most effective ways in which color can be controlled. The idea will not be new to some photographers, particularly those in the commercial field. They regularly ask the subjects to move or to turn a certain way, they remove objects from view and even arrange for costume changes. With control over the details of the shoot comes control over color. The more capacity we have to control those details, the more control we have ultimately over what color makes it into the frame. The photographs here were created as a result of this more “hands on” approach. They don’t neccesarily look like there’s been a lot of interfering and they shouldn’t by any means. The reason I’ve included them is to share the stories behind how they were made, to help you understand what kinds of practical steps might need to be taken.
The top image had to be all about the man carving wood, the emphasis being on the wooden figure. With the man initially wearing a colorful shirt, clothes hanging from the roof and a red thermos in the background, it was impossible to direct the focus to where I needed it. All those colors were unnecessary to what I wanted to say and yet they demanded more attention than the wooden figure and the man’s hands, which were essentially the main point of the story. My solution was quite simple. Because we were on quite good terms, I could ask the man to take off that shirt and did a little rearranging of those unneeded objects around the room, to get them out of my field of view. The bottom image was part of a project that involved taking many portraits where the emphasis had to be on the subjects’ faces and their costumes, but often I just couldn’t find a background that wasn’t too busy with color which distracted from my main aim and just created an overall sense of chaos. My solution was to actually make my own portable background (from a piece of material). I would put it up whenever the existing background was too busy with color and that’s exactly what I did here.
Isolating what matters
The most obvious way to isolate the colors that matter to the story or to the mood is to get in closer or to zoom in. The left image is an example of the former. With so much “color chaos” around the subject, I simply came right up to her and framed out that chaos. Of course this isn’t the only way to isolate colors. In the case of the photograph on the right I wanted to capture the man and his alcoholmaking machine. These were the two key elements of the story, while the dominant shades of grey made for a fairly dreary mood. In order to tell the story and to preserve the mood within
the frame I didn’t want any of the scattered colorful mess (boxes, dog bowls, tools) that were lying around (some too large to move) to get in the way. I surveyed the situation for some time, walking around, searching for an angle that would enable me to see only what I needed and nothing more. I crouched, got on one knee, stepped to the left, to the right, and in the end found the perfect vantage point while standing on my tippytoes. This is the more likely scenario in most situations because you often really have to move yourself to find that perfect angle from where colors make sense and don’t contradict each other.
While I’m moving, framing the scene in different ways and thinking of just which colors will work (or won’t) I like to ask myself those questions I mentioned earlier: “Do all the colors play a role in the image? Does anything stand out that shouldn’t? Does anything less important stand out more than something more important?” In other words I am searching for the “right” visual weight hierarchy (page 12). If the answer is “no”, if the colors don’t make sense, I keep on searching. Sometimes, however, it’s not even so much a search as it is a wait for a particular moment. While shooting on the streets, in busy places or when you have a moving subject, the “right”
combination of colors may come when certain elements get out of the frame while others get in. I might for example have a perfect shot set up in my mind. Let’s say the same man with his machine was on the street and I wanted to tell the same story and create a similar mood. Let’s also imagine different people coming through the scene, all of them not having any purpose in what I want to convey, but drawing much attention away from what matters with their colorful costumes. My only choice would be to wait, in the hope that the colorful people would exit the frame and leave me with what I need, if even for only a split moment.
Controlling color in postprocessing
Ideally we should control color as much as possible during the shoot and we should only have to make small or general tweaks (to all the colors at once) to it during the post-processing stages. However, the reality is often far from ideal and the only control we might actually have over color during the shoot might be in the form of some basic and limited framing decisions. Depending on what we are shooting for and on our ideological approach towards manipulating images in post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop (some people still completely oppose it), we may or may not have quite a reasonable amount of control over color after we already create the photograph. Again, those who shoot reportage get the short end of the stick, but almost everyone else can do quite a lot to manipulate color until it looks just the way we need to tell the story and to evoke the emotional response we aim for.
Color temperature and mood
Color temperature is sometimes referred to as “White Balance” and it is measured in “Kelvin” values, which generally range from 2,000 (coolest) to 50,000 (warmest). Adjusting the color temperature only requires the movement of the “Temperature” and “Tint” sliders in the post-processing software. It is one of the simplest, but also one of
the most significant ways in which we can change the mood/feel of a photograph in post-processing. You can see from the examples above that the adjustment of color temperature has given each photograph a tint. It’s coolest, thus blue on the left side, neutral in the middle and warm/yellow/orange on the right side. You can gather just how different the same image can feel when it has a different color temperature setting. Neither one
of these settings is neccessarily right or wrong, rather each one helps the photo evoke a particular mood. To guide myself when adjusting color temperature I usually like to ask: “How do I want the image to feel – cool, warm, mysterious, cosy, energetic, etc?” All of these color associations (and more) can be introduced by simply giving all the colors in the image a cooler or warmer tint.
While the color temperature can be set in-camera in most mid- to upper-end digital SLRs, it is easily changeable even after the shot has been made if you’re shooting in Camera RAW format and this is what I highly recommend.
The multi-purpose color balance
Adjusting color balance is another easy way to manipulate colors in postprocessing that yields dramatic results. Just as with the adjustment of color temperature all you have to do is move the sliders, only there are more of them (see page 46). As a result there’s much more control over what tint you give to the image and over what mood you will create.
The possibilities are virtually limitless. The images above are representative of just a few results. This kind of color adjustment is done quite often in cinema. If you pay close attention, you will notice that in some films there are scenes which evoke a particularly strong sense of mood. In those scenes there’s this stylized, at times unrealistic-looking color. It is achieved in much the same way, through adjusting the color balance.
As is the case when adjusting color temperature, I like to sometimes ask myself about how I want my photograph to feel when adjusting the color balance too. Only of course there are infinitely more variations. At times I may actually not have a clear idea how I want my image to feel. In those cases I’ll just tweak the sliders and “play it by ear”. Whatever result, whatever sense of mood I am most satisfied with will be the one that I’ll stick to.
At the end of the day it’s almost necessary to do at least a little bit of experimenting with this tool to get the most satisfactory results.
Shaping the story and mood through individual color adjustment
Shaping the story and mood through individual color adjustment
When we start to adjust individual colors we begin to really control where the viewer’s eye is drawn to within the frame. Doing this without an understanding can make your images confusing and frustrating to look at. Knowledgeable adjustment of individual colors, however, can refine the story, make it clearer and make the sense of mood stronger. In many cases we can even fix certain color issues which were out of control or not noticed during the shoot. As I have kept saying, my approach to controlling color (post-processing included) is based on the following questions: “Do all the colors play a role in relation to the story and the mood I am trying to convey? Does anything stand out that shouldn’t? Does anything less important stand out more than something more important?” Only when I can answer these questions can I create something that will make sense to others. The basic formula is simple – everything that’s important and noticeable remains the way it is or even gets accentuated (made brighter, more vivid) to draw more attention. Every element that isn’t important or of lesser importance is dimmed, partly de-saturated or made darker, to be less visible. Over the next few pages I’ve included real life examples, which show the way color looked in the photographs before and after post-processing. Let’s have a closer look at them now.
of individual colors can refine the story.
I wanted this photo to be about this family, particularly the man, then his wife and then about the mother-inlaw in the background. The mood was a little melancholic and I think that the darker colors communicated that rather well. I also wanted to say a bit about their environment, as long as none of that would take away from the people. Besides giving the image an overall “face-lift” and making all colors a little more dramatic (by raising the overall contrast), there were specific elements that needed attention, I’ve numbered them and I’ve included my thoughts for each number and the corresponding action I took (or didn’t take).
1. I made the mistake of not moving this white plastic bag out of the scene. It really added nothing to what I was trying to convey, so it doesn’t need to draw any attention and it would distract from what does matter. I darkened it to a point where it blends with the darkness of the room. 2. The striped bed-cover does say a little about these people’s world, but is it so important that it should be one of the first things noticed (it’s pretty bright in the “before” image)? The answer is “no”, thus I have darkened it quite a bit too. 3. Here we’ve got a smaller object, which is very visible, but again, it has no role and as I am quite meticulous
with my approach to color, I desaturated it and darkened it to be even less visible. 4. The clothes near the ceiling can be seen as an element which adds to the story, the problem being that a part of this element is pretty bright and it guides the eye towards an area that is too far away from where the key elements to the story are. As a result I darkened this area too. 5. The red cup is not so bright that it absolutely screams for attention. It’s just sufficiently bright (and red ) to be noticed, which was good in this case. It’s that small, extra detail that adds a little depth to the story and doesn’t take away from the core of it and so I kept the cup just as it was.
6. The windows are bright and they obviously demand significant attention, but I don’t find this a problem here. They are a key part of the story and they add to the mood – they are “the brighter world outside”. What’s also important to note is the way they lead the eye along an imaginary line – from the man’s brightly lit face towards the back of the room. This allows us to actually get towards the mother-in-law, who would be rather lost in the darkness if it weren’t for the bright windows.
This photograph is about a house in the countryside, standing amidst rolling hills on a magical, exciting, sunny, yet foggy morning. You could say that the untouched photo was fine as it was, there was nothing “wrong” with it. There weren’t any colors which were distracting from the story or the feel of the image. However, there was nothing particularly standout about the image either. The story was there, but it wasn’t being told in a very interesting manner. Also importantly, the excitement of the bright, sunny morning, the mystique and beauty of the fog, in short, the awe-inspiring
beauty of nature that touched me when I looked at the scene was not really being conveyed. What I did with this image is an example of a different approach to that on the previous page. Instead of darkening and de-saturating specific colors to take attention from them, the opposite was employed. I made certain areas more vivid, bright and “contrasty”, to bring more attention to them and make them really pop out of the frame. Once again, here are the elements that needed particular attention and my thoughts behind the process.
1. This is probably the main area of the story; the house and the sunkissed field next to it really needed to pop out to make the story more obvious and louder. The field was also a good place to emphasize the magic of golden morning light. I brightened it and made it more vivid (saturated). Contrast was then increased to make everything within this part stand out. 2. I wanted to make the fog dramatic and pronounced, so the whole area was brightened (slightly) and contrast was increased.
3. The sun was beautifully illuminating the rolling hills, but this just didn’t show in the untouched image. I added a little saturation to the yellows to emphasize the golden light and increased the contrast to make these parts pop out more. At the end of the day I feel that these actions have made a pretty good photograph into a pretty powerful one. With the adjustments the story has become clearer and the mood has been conveyed with more strength.
Making things disappear in Photoshop
In some cases adjusting colors simply isn’t going to work. When de-saturated or darkened, certain objects might simply look odd. The most effective solution is to get rid of the unneeded object completely, through the power of Photoshop. Purist documentary photographers may feel that this very idea is heresy; however, everything really depends on what you are shooting for and on whether it is worth “saving” the image or if it can in fact be “saved” through the disappearance of a particular color (or a few colors).
You obviously could and should not “get rid” of objects (and colors) in Photoshop if you’re shooting reportage, but it makes sense to do so if you’re a commercial shooter, portrait or wedding photographer or even shooting travel images for stock, as was the case with the above photo. At the end of the day we have to weigh our ideological beliefs against the benefits. You can see from the photograph I have included above that all was pretty much fine with this scene, except for that orange pumpkin.
The shot is primarily about the gesture, the human relationship. One could say that the peculiarly upturned jar on the fence takes away attention from the gesture too and while it does to an extent, the proximity to the gesture means that ultimately it doesn’t take the eye far from what’s most important. The pumpkin, however, does. It’s right in the corner, it jumps out immediately and it has no obvious connection to the gesture or the people. On top of that it changes the more sombre mood a little too. It just disrupts the whole “rhythm” of the image.
After some of my own pondering on whether I should or shouldn’t get rid of something that was in the frame after the shot was already taken, I ended up using the “content aware spot healing brush” in Photoshop CS 5 to make the pumpkin disappear. A similar result could be achieved with the “clone stamp” tool – it would simply be a little more time consuming. The final result is a “saved” photograph, which wouldn’t work as well if I left it as it was. The story and the mood are now conveyed more effectively.
Shaping the story and mood through individual color adjustment
Some tools of the trade
Note: If you’re planning to do any serious color tweaking, it’s best to be shooting in RAW format. This will give you much more control and much less loss of image quality. This section is a brief overview of some of the main tools that you will have to get familiar with in order to work with color effectively in post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I have included screen captures to help you locate the tools. Where the tool exists in Lightroom and Photoshop (Camera RAW) I’ve included the Lightroom screen grab. If there’s no Lightroom screen grab the tool only exists in Photoshop. Aperture users will find similar tools too (refer to manual). For more in-depth information on the practical side of post-processing, seek out the myriad of great resources on the web.
Color temperature/white balance
These are the sliders responsible for changing the color temperature in the photographs. As you can see, there’s also a “tint” slider, which gives an image either a green or cyan tint, in addition to making it cool or warm.
HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance)
When you want to adjust one color through the whole image, this is a particularly useful tab. Hue changes the tint of the particular color, saturation will make it more or less “colorful” and luminance will adjust the brightness. Some example uses might include making a single red element within the image stand out less by desaturating it and bringing down the luminance or we might for example want the sky to look brighter. In that case we just have to increase the luminance of the blue.
This is what the color balance controls look like. You can see just how much control you get over the tint that you can give the image. The tint can be applied to either the shadows (darker tones in the image), mid-tones or highlights. This provides virtually countless nuances.
When making adjustment to select areas of the frame, the adjustment brush becomes your best friend. As you can see by looking at the sliders, the adjustment brush gives you the power to change quite a few things. Those of most note to color are “Exposure” and “Brightness”, which allow you to darken/brighten the colors, “Contrast” – to make certain colors stand out and “Saturation” – to make an area of colors more saturated/colorful or less so.
Shaping the story and mood through individual color adjustment
Dodge and burn
This was one of the first tools invented for individual color adjustment and in some cases its convenience and amount of control is still unbeatable. “Dodging” makes something look brighter and “burning” darker. We can adjust the shadows, mid-tones and highlights. This tool is particularly useful for the finishing touches, or more intricate areas, as I find the usually prefered “adjustment brush” tool a little “clumsy” in these situations.
Content aware spot healing brush
In circumstances when an unwanted element in the frame is against a fairly clean background, the “content aware spot healing brush” will allow you to completely get rid of it with ease. Alternatively using a “lasso” tool to outline the element you want to get rid of and doing a “content aware fill” (in the outline) will achieve a similar effect.
Clone stamp tool
The “clone stamp” tool plays the same role as the “content aware spot healing brush”. It can be more suitable in situations where the unwanted color isn’t set against a clean background, but it does take more time to accomplish the same things with this tool.
The best way to learn to control color in post-processing is through tweaking all those sliders and playing around as much as possible with all the tools mentioned here. Experiment, see what results you end up with and try to take notes (mental or on paper) on what you’ve achieved with each different adjustment. It’s OK if your results look completely hideous, the main point here is to learn what each tool and slider does. Remember: RAW files are non-destructive, meaning none of the changes you make are permanent; however, “.Jpegs” are not non-destructive. Take care not to accidentally save the results of your experiments over your original or important “.Jpeg” images. When working with “.Jpegs” I suggest saving the file under a different name; e.g. “filename_experiment” and doing all your experimenting on that new file.
The idea that I’ve been echoing throughout this ebook is that color can have a tremendous impact on our photography and that by no means can it be treated simply as an afterthought. To create worthwhile images in color, we have to possess a firm grasp of how color works and how to work with it. I hope that I have helped you understand these subjects and that you are now familiar with some practical ideas on how to control color, during the shoot and in postprocessing. While not everything that I’ve mentioned in the ebook is applicable in every situation, I do encourage you to try out as many of the things that I’ve mentioned here as possible. At the end of the day, it is only by thorough, practical application that we can truly gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for color. Finally, if you’re serious about your photography, my advice is not to stop here. Keep developing your sensibility towards color. Keep looking at photographs, watching films and even trying to emulate what you like every now and then. Remember, the journey never really stops.
There’s obviously no better way to improve the way you work with color than to actually make color photographs. I know that when things get confusing and challenging with color a lot of us have a tendency to say, “Things are too complicated, I’ll just convert the photo to black and white.” This is in a sense the easy way out. Try to consciously make an effort to only “see” things in color, to only shoot color and post-process your images as color images. This doesn’t have to be for the rest of your days, simply set a duration of time for yourself that you are happy with. By making a conscious effort to focus so much on color you will inevitably gain a better understanding of how it works and how to work with it.
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Thanks for buying a copy of dPS’s latest photography resource. I trust that you’ve found it helpful in becoming a better photographer.
How to Keep Improving Your Photography
Of course there is a lot more to learn about photography and I’d like to personally invite you to continue to journey with us as we explore the topic on the Digital Photography School site. There are three main ways that I’d like to invite you to do this: 1. Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter Each Thursday I email a free newsletter to over a quarter of a million of our readers. It contains links to the latest tutorials on the site, key discussions in our forums, reviews, great resources and equipment for photographers and shows off some great photography. To get this free weekly newsletter sign up here: 2. Become a Forum Member Over 130,000 of the readers at dPS have joined our free forum/ community area. In this section of the site members share what they’re learning, post their best photos, ask and answer questions and have a lot of fun with their camera. There are areas for all kinds of photography, including the “share your shots” forum where readers are encouraged to submit their Captivating Color inspired photography. We’d love for you to join us – simply visit our forum area and look for the join now link. 3. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook Many of our readers also choose to interact with dPS on social media sites Twitter and Facebook. Become our ‘friend’ on these sites for updates from the site as they happen! twitter.com/digitalps facebook.com/digitalps Happy snapping! Darren Rowse
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