Week 7: Color Basics

This week was pretty intense for me, so I didn’t have time to take pictures.  (Sadness!)  Instead, I’m going to talk about some of the tips I’ve learned from John Hedgecoe’s book, which has been, by far, my fav. photography reference I’ve used this semester.  If you want to get started with photography, I definitely recommend checking it out from Simpson.  For using color in photography, Hedgecoe discusses different types of color to a satisfying extent without taking it beyond a beginner’s comprehension.  Over break I plan to take some photos to experiment with what I post about here.  PS Art majors out there, feel free to interject wherever I screw up with this, because color theory is completely new to me.

It turns out my last post about light was a a perfect segue into color, because apparently it has a significant effect on what colors your camera captures.  For example, the camera can obscure true colors by over-correcting for white balance.  At least in digital photography, this problem is easily corrected for in the editing stage.  For example, these photos from cambridgeincolour demonstrate incorrect (left) and correct (right) white balance.

Light affects color intensity.  Direct/harsh light tends to enhance colors, whereas reflected light mutes them.  Sometimes the light is “just right” to capture a subject.  In this case, don’t wait–just shoot!  Good lighting is often fleeting and difficult to recreate.

Different color moods are created by the “warm” and “cool” ends of the color wheel.  Hedgecoe categorizes colors as “hot” (reds), “cool” (blues), “calm” (greens), and “bright” (yellows).  Thus, each color category has a different effect on the viewer.

Among other things, colors can be abstract, harmonic, or monochromatic.  “Abstract” colors are easily captured in close-ups so that color dominates the subject composition.  Hedgecoe points out that “the bright artificial colors” of man made materials are also a good place to start when looking for abstract color compositions.

Cuba Gallery: Organic / macro / closeup / garden / leaves / leaf / natural / nature / rain / water droplets / photography“Harmonic” color schemes are created by using adjacent colors on the color wheel.  (Therefore, the image above exemplifies both abstract and harmonic color.)

I’ve never been completely clear on “monochromatic” until Hedgecoe explained it in terms of paint swatches.  (I’d always thought of it in terms of black and white, which can be monochromatic, but monochrome isn’t limited to B&W.  However, black and white are “neutral” colors, so they can be present with other colors and a monochromatic scheme won’t be affected.)  To create a monochromatic composition, constrain the colors in your photo to different shades of the same color.

A monochromatic photo:
Modern wallpaper: Neutral monochrome palette + botanical print

The most aesthetically pleasing combination of strong colour contrasts are created by complimentary colors (left).  Primary/triadic colors (right) also pair well together for a dramatic color effect.


ComplementaryLastly, a photographer should be careful not to use too many colors.  Sometimes “a little bit goes a long way,” especially if the colors in a composition come from random places on the color wheel.  Hedgecoe suggests placing a strongly colored subject against a monochromatic, muted, or blurry background to achieve a color-popping effect.  Not only do the harmonic colors work well in the following image, but the blue and yellow also stand out because of the relatively homogeneous background.

Verdant–WHEW!– That was a lot of info for me.  Well, stay tuned for my own examples coming soon!  Until then, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  We’re almost there!  🙂

8 Comments

  1. […] Last week I didn’t have time to take pictures and used the opportunity to explain my project for this week: using color in photography. (In that post I explain the very basics of color theory, so I won’t reiterate them here.) My plan was to test out what I’d learned about color over Thanksgiving break.  My camera is still in set in the strange 16:9 aspect ratio that appeared when I used it for the interviews I did with Brian and Gretchen, so I’ve had to work around this weird stretched out shape.  I wish I could change this setting back to normal!   If nothing else, the elongated frame has forced me to approach subjects knowing they’ll be placed in “skinny” frames before cropping. […]

  2. […] Last week I didn’t have time to take pictures and used the opportunity to explain my project for this week: using color in photography. (In that post I explain the very basics of color theory, so I won’t reiterate them here.) My plan was to test out what I’d learned about color over Thanksgiving break. Also, My camera is still in set in the strange 16:9 (?) aspect ratio that appeared when I used it for the interviews I did with Brian and Gretchen, so I’ve had to work around this weird stretched out shape.  I wish I could change this setting back to normal!   If nothing else, the elongated frame has forced me to approach subjects differently knowing that they’ll be placed in “skinny” frames without cropping. […]

  3. that monochrome picture is awesome!

    I think color is what I have the hardest time with in taking pictures– they always turn out yellow. I know *how* to fix, I just rarely have the patience to go and fix it! I guess I *could* just focus more on light and color before I take a shot, but that would be too professional, or something, right?

    I mean, YOU’RE the professional. Which is basically my segway to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading and learning from your blog. Thanks for putting in the time to give us such great work. Hope you have a relaxing break during which you get to take lots of beautiful pictures 😉

  4. I like the idea of the monochromatic photo… it is really striking in it’s simplicity… your post shows how complicated color can be, however provides valuable information on how to use it effectively

  5. Shoot, all of these pictures are so cool! I’ve never heard of monochromatic photos, but that pictures with the girl in the field is amazing. I also really like the last one with the blue flowers against the green background. I think it’ll be fun for you to try and use some of these techniques! Can’t wait to see what your photos look like.

  6. Just one thing about white balance, sometimes if the color isn’t captured correctly in the photograph you lose color information in the file, so if you shoot pictures at the wrong light balance you can’t always just correct them 🙂 Great info though!

  7. This is awesome! I love playing with my pictures after I’ve uploaded them. Especially playing with the color warmth. The pictures you display are so cool. I really like the leaf with the water droplets. You can see the details in that picture so well, and I like how describe how the color wheel relates to the colors in each photograph. Also, the last picture is gorgeous 🙂

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