Lessons in photographing colour
Today I am still driving around the fairy-world-like landscapes of Ha Giang, it’s a breathtaking experience.
I am unashamedly a colour photographer. I have always loved colour in my photography, even when I was at photography school, emerging as an artist and black and white dominated the art scene.
I stuck to what I was most passionate about – and that was a life in full colour.
My own journey with colour has been one of experimentation, fun and pushing the boundaries.
I spent many years developing a solarisation process for my film colour photos, leading to the kinds of surreal photos that you might imagine coming from dreams:
I have also relished capturing the pure colours of nature:
And also the hyper-real colours that come from HDR photography:
And of course the fun colours that humans bring to the world:
As well as the results of colour work in processing:
The point for me with colour is to enjoy the process and go where my imagination takes me.
Because imagination is such an important part of photography for me.
Imagination helps you see beyond your immediate environment, and creates something that weaves in your ideas, your experiences and your passions.
“When I’m ready to make a photograph… I quite obviously see in my mind’s eye something that is not literally there… I’m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.” Ansel Adams
Today I want to share with you some ideas that I teach about colour – and how they can be used to evoke emotion in your photographs.
I also have a photo challenge that I am setting for you at the end of this post – because I know so many of you love to experiment with these ideas.
And I have a free eBook for you too – that brings many of these ideas together into a nice and simple explanation.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about my love of light. Light to me is mesmerising. I want to feel it, to capture it, to show it in all its glory.
But colour to me is an equally beautiful thing, and totally connected to, and affected by, light. And because:
“Colour is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it.” Ernst Haas
I love that thought – carried by colour and joy! Haas for me is king of capturing the feeling of colour and light.
“I paint because colour is a significant language to me.” Georgia O’Keeffe.
I want to celebrate some of the sheer vibrancy that colour brings to our lives and how we capture that as photographers, as artists, as people who are paying attention to this wild and beautiful world.
I want this to inspire you to look at how you capture colour in your photos too.
Colour is deeply affecting to us as humans. Think of all those colour charts – red signals danger, blue signals cold etc.
For me colour is a way to bring emotion into your photographs in a very simple, powerful way.
The artist Wassily Kandinsky developed a colour theory that stated that colours made people feel certain ways.
“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.” Wassily Kandinsky
Let’s look at some colours – and the emotions they induce.
Warm, exciting, happy
In the photo above look at the contrast between the red and the yellow. What does the yellow bring to the photo?
I would say this is a happy yellow – would you agree?
A more muted yellow – how do the textures of the lemons and the lines affect how you think about the colour?
Deep, peaceful, supernatural
I find the blue in the photo above very soothing; what do you say?
A much bolder blue – does it feel cold to you? Striking? Deep?
Another light blue with very soothing peaceful qualities. Also expansive?
Read more about The Mesmerising Qualities Of The Colour Blue In Your Photography
Peace, stillness, nature
Traditionally the green of nature is a very peaceful colour, but what about when it’s created by human hands? What does this green say to you?
Harmony, silence, cleanliness
Ok, being naturally contrarian, how about the white covered in dirt in this photo? Does it still say harmony and cleanliness?…
What role does white play in this photo? How does it compare in feeling to the other colours?
Grief, dark, unknown
The black isn’t a big feature in this photo, but I like the effect the edges of black give. It changes the tone I think of the uplifting colours….
How about when it is just black, greys and white?
Is this a black hole of despair? Or just a crushed and burned hamburger bun?
Glowing, confidence, alive
We know red to be bold and confident. It will attract more attention that its size warrants in any photo…use it sparingly.
Red can also be a celebration …!
What about this deep block of red colour….
To me it seems meaty or bloody or raw. Primal almost.
Radiant, healthy, serious
Orange is a joyful colour for me. Even as a squashed fruit it brings joy to the world…
Here in the embers of the fire we see the serious side of orange….
And how about this little pop of orange on still water?
I see a bold and confident colour.
“Purple combines the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red.” Bourn Creative
Purple is a very unusual colour, and when I was writing our article about using purple in your photography I had to search deep in my archives for it.
But I think if you search it out now, consciously, you’ll start to see it everywhere.
Even in a dirty old tunnel filled with graffiti, purple seems very majestic to me:
And in these beautiful flowers too, it feels almost royal…
Now do you agree with Kandinksy’s ideas about colour? Do they evoke those emotions within you?
The key for me in creating emotion by using colour is to capture the essence of that colour.
For example – the happiness of yellow, the peacefulness of blue, the boldness of red. You can use the characteristics of the colours and find objects that encapsulate these characteristics, or the essence of that colour.
We want to feel the innate qualities of the colour, we want to have a deep emotional response to that colour in the photo.
So it isn’t a matter of just going around and looking at colours and snapping away at them. It’s finding colours that provoke an emotion within you, and working to capture that feeling.
Let’s look at some more photos and see…
It doesn’t have to be vibrant colours. The depth and subtle variations of any colour is a mesmerising world of its own.
In this photo above can you feel the coldness of the white frost and the earthiness of brown? This to me is capturing the essence of a colour.
In the photo below I love to bring out the richness of the more muted subtle colours. Which I have to really be good at as winters are long in London, lol!
The feeling of the photo is made by these muted colours.
Capturing colour as the main subject of your photo is often easiest to start doing when you break down the elements, photographing parts of the subject and turning it into an abstraction:
“Everything that you can see in the world around you presents itself to your eyes only as an arrangement of patches of different colours.” John Ruskin
I would love to know – how does colour affect you and your photography? Let me know by commenting below.
It’s time for a photo challenge! I would love to see your photos of colour in your photography. Post them in my photo sharing group Light Monkeys on Facebook or email them to me.
Free Colour as Emotion Photo eBook
I have a free 31 page eBook, if you’d like to get a free copy of this, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have an amazing day,
Anthony and Diana