Colour has entered our language and our daily environment. We pay little attention to it because it has become familiar, omnipresent. Yet it conveys codes, creates atmospheres, influences our moods and emotions. For the photographer, it is an essential tool that must be understood in order to be used properly.
Travels, and some destinations in particular, are perfect opportunities to play with colors: colorful houses in Cuba, shimmering clothes of Indian women, colorful fabrics of South American peoples… So, you can’ t pass up the opportunity to play with them!
1 – Know the language of colors
Whether we are aware of it or not, the colors each have a meaning. They have an influence on our emotions and contribute to creating a soothing, stifling, romantic, joyful atmosphere… Knowing the symbolism and codes conveyed by the most common shades helps in photographic composition, especially when you have the time and choice of setting the scene.
However, you should be aware that, depending on the context, the meaning of a color may be quite different. For example, red is the color of love, passion and celebration as well as the color of danger, violence and anger. To meditate on…
2 – Knowing how to see colors
Here is an effective exercise to improve the composition of your images. Look around and mentally list warm and cold colors, light and dark shades.
By having a global vision of a scene, without trying to see its details, note the colors that attract your eye.
What objects do you remember spontaneously if you close your eyes? Ask yourself why these objects stand out from the crowd? They are brighter than the others, they are of brighter colors or, on the contrary, they form a darker mass? They are placed on a complementary shade base? Are they warm in color and surrounded by cold objects? You will gradually learn to spot with ease the strong tones of a scene and those that are more discreet, more withdrawn.
3 – Play with bright and dark tones
Bright colors attract attention at the expense of dark colors. Yellow is the lightest shade in the color circle and purple is the darkest. Even if it occupies a very small area of your image, a hint of yellow will jump out at you on a darker background. If this small yellow element is your subject, use it and position it on a strong point in the image. If it is not your main subject, learn to spot it and take it out of your frame or make sure you put it in the shadows or hide it.
4 – Beware of bright colors
Bright colors are attractive but should be used with caution. If they are not the main subject of your image, try to take them out of your frame as they may take over other shades or confuse the scene. If, on the contrary, they are part of your subject, don’t overdo it! Choose one or two bright colors and look for a simple, graphic composition, excluding what is off topic. Juxtaposing more than two or three bright colors tends to cancel out the impact.
5 – Take advantage of the weather
Rain, snow, fog or overcast skies tarnish all the colors of a landscape. Don’t stay locked up inside, though! In these low-light, low-contrast environments, you can create soft, subtle images, where subjects guess each other more than they see each other, where the hues take on pastel shades. You can compose photos from which emerge a mysterious, muffled, disturbing or serene atmosphere. On the other hand, on a clear day, the colors are bright, and the contrasts are reinforced.
6 – Notice the changes of color throughout the day.
In the morning, the atmosphere is clear, the air has cooled during the night and the suspended dust has disappeared. Before sunrise, purple, grey, bluish or pink tones appear for images that breathe the morning freshness, where immobility and purity of the air are palpable. The first rays illuminate the landscape in warm orange, yellow and brown tones. At the end of the day, especially in summer, the presence of dust in the atmosphere can reduce the brightness of the colours by a kind of veil that makes the images dull but can also reflect this warm atmosphere and bring out the texture in the image.
7 – Control white balance
The color of the light emitted by the sun varies according to the time of day and is therefore rarely white. The same applies to artificial light sources. Our eye corrects these variations by itself. On the other hand, the digital sensor does not have this ability and reproduces the color as it really is: an incandescent lamp emits a warm light and which results in a dominant orange-yellow color on the photos. White balance (ex-filters in silver photography) compensates for these differences and thus reduces the dominant colors when they are considered undesirable on the photos.
8 – To go further…
What about the black and white in all this? The black and white photo is a special case since we only play on the brightness or darkness of a color. Black and white photography plays on differences in clarity without the use of hues. The amount of light also has an influence: soft light reduces shadows and reduces the range of values, bright light gives a wide range of values, from white to black.