Photographing Colour

As some one who spends a lot of time photographing dawn, unsurprisingly my mind snaps awake very early. This morning I think it was about 5am. I slipped out of bed and sat in my living room by the window that faces the ocean.

Outside it is still dark, a vast inky blackness stretching out before me, with the sea and sky blending into one in the distance. The golden twinkle of stars, in the clear dark, endless sky feel like I am looking into galaxies and worlds far and away.

The world feels so big at this time. Like so much is happening beyond me and my little life. It feels startling to be alive at this time, and it reminds me of something I read by Richard Dawkins:

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it?”

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And though I may not be taking in-depth looks at the universe, I do think paying attention to what’s around me and aiming to capture it in the best possible way to share with the world, is in itself a noble pursuit.

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:

“Color is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it.” Ernst Haas

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I love that thought – carried by colour and joy! Haas for me is king of capturing the feeling of colour and light.

This thinking about colour is in part inspired by the new Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition in London. I don’t know her work very well, but when I started to look at her paintings and how she talked about her work I got a little tingle of excited recognition, as this is how I feel about my photos:

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

It has inspired me to think about how I teach people about colour, and I have started to plan a more in-depth post. But for this post I want to start by celebrating 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.

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I also just want to celebrate the amazing artist that Georgia O’Keeffe was, and I want to show you some of the work and how I feel her thoughts about her own art connect with some of my photos. (These excellent Brainpickings articles show deeper thoughts about her work, here and here. )

I want this to inspire you to look at how you capture colour in your photos too.

“I paint because colour is a significant language to me.” Georgia O’Keefe.

Colour is deeply affecting to us as humans. Think of all those colour charts – red signals danger, blue signals cold etc. 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

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The feelings and states he attached to colours were:

  • Yellow – warm, exciting, happy
  • Blue – deep, peaceful, supernatural
  • Green – peace, stillness, nature
  • White – harmony, silence, cleanliness
  • Black – grief, dark, unknown
  • Red – glowing, confidence, alive
  • Orange – radiant, healthy, serious

Here is a lovely little film animating Kandinsky’s colour theory. Plus an article about the artist that brings in the sound and musical elements of his work, as well as the feeling of colour.

Blue is a very significant colour for me (I’ve noticed). And I like that it connects me to the supernatural (according to Kandinsky :))

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“I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me – so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down.”  Georgia O’Keeffe

It doesn’t have to be vibrant colours. The depth and subtle variations of any colour is a mesmerising world of its own.

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And it doesn’t have to be a fancy subject. Here is another of my, found on the street photos, that I love taking. Vibrant colours or what?!?

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And if you want to be more artistic, more creative, more inspired, just follow O’Keeffe’s advice:

“I often lay on that bench looking up into the tree, past the trunk and up into the branches. It was particularly fine at night with the stars above the tree.”

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I Iove 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!

“I often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well as or better than the whole could.” O’Keeffe

Capturing colour as your 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:

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I’ll end with a quote of O’Keeffe’s that isn’t about colour, but one that is always a good reminder that it is not just mere mortals like us that feel fear:

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

I would love to know – how does colour affect you? Let me know by commenting below. Love to hear from you guys.

Happy photographing!

Anthony and Diana

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