The beauty of color!

“Color was not given to us in order that we should imitate nature. It was given to us so that we can express our emotions.” Henri Matisse

Color is a critical factor in telling a visual story. Color evokes emotions and brings an image to life. Decorators, film-makers, commercial designers, web designers, and photographers alter and use color to tell stories and draw you in. In the recent TV show, Bridgerton, the costume, and set designers used color as a significant part of the story. Each family had a color theme, and the saturation of the colors shifted based on the emotions being portrayed by the characters. Here is an interesting post about how the designers used color.  

Let’s review some ways a photographer can impact photos with the use of color. We can control the colors in our images by using light, composition, backgrounds, and editing. 

  •  Time of day and the light available can alter the colors in our pictures.  A scene has different color tones at sunrise than at sunset. The same location can look different at various times of the day.
  •  Capturing the same image in different seasons will impact the color tones and overall appearance. Look online at pictures from one of your favorite national parks, and you can see the different colors and tones based on the season of the year. 
  • Composing our image can also alter the color tones. Shooting something in bright light vs. the shade will impact the tone of the colors. Just moving a few inches can affect not only the composition but also the colors. Think about photographing a fern plant; the colors look very different when shot in the shade garden vs. out in direct sunlight. 
  • Changing backgrounds, costumes, clothing, accessories can all impact the scene. This process allows you to get creative, bring in complementary colors or monochrome to influence the story. Knowledge of the color wheel is critical when customizing a scene. Adobe makes a great tool if you are interested in exploring color combinations. 
  • Editing is a way to alter or enhance colors after we have created the image. Try using the white balance or temperature sliders to modify the image from cool to warm tones. Place any image into your editing program, adjust the temperature slider, move it to the blue tones, and then over to the yellow tones. See how this impacts the overall look and feel of the image. 
  • Modifying the Hue, Saturation, or Luminance sliders is also a way to adjust your image’s colors in post-processing. Hue is the shade of the color; use the Hue tool to change the actual color. You can make blues more cyan or purple, for example. The Saturation tool is like a sponge; you can increase the color or decrease the amount of color. Luminance is the brightness of the color; this is a great tool to make one color in an image pop. By adjusting the luminance, you are not changing the color or increasing its saturation; you are just brightening it to bring it out in the image. 

Understanding colors in art is a skill that takes some practice, just like learning how to use our camera or master manual camera settings. It is essential to study and work with color to showcase and use it in your work. Here are some exercises to help you think more about color. 

  • Take images at one location at different times of the day. How are the light, color, and color tones impacted? 
  • Study the color wheel and then pick a color palette and create images. Think about complementary colors or monochrome as a great place to start. 
  • Alter your image background, clothing, or setting to adjust the colors. See how they impact the overall image story. 
  • Shoot one primary color for a day. It is fun to go on a photo walk and capture one primary color. You will be surprised how much of that color you can find. 
  • Edit older images modifying for the temperature to make the image cool or warm. The images below were edited with blue/cooler tones and then with yellow/warmer tones. The only difference in the post-processing was adjusting the temperature slider. 
  • Take an image and adjust the Hue, Saturation, Luminance in your editing program. Try a simple picture of a flower. How does changing the HSL impact the image’s mood, feeling, or emotion? 
  •  Studying artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, or modern cinema will help you begin to think about the relationship of color. Pick your favorite movie or TV show and replicate the color tones in your photography. 

Color is fascinating and can be a massive tool for a photographer; enjoy exploring it.

“I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way - things I had no words for. ” Georgia O’Keeffe 

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