This is my learning log for TAOP Assignment 3, “colour”. The assignment asked me to produce four sets of four pictures, with each set illustrating a different colour relationship:
- Colour harmony through the use of complementary colours (i.e., colours opposite each other on the colour wheel);
- Colour harmony through the use of similar colours (i.e., colours close to each other on the colour wheel);
- Colour contrast through the use of contrasting colours (i.e., colours spaced roughly 120 degrees from each other on the colour wheel);
- Colour accents through the use of any of the above (i.e., as long as there’s an accent, it doesn’t matter where on the colour wheel the two colours are in relation to each other).
For each picture, I was asked to make notes about how the colours work and present a sketch to show the balance and movement in the picture.
As I was doing this assignment in late autumn, I took advantage of the beautiful colours Mother Nature presents us with at this time of the year on a couple of trips to nearby locations. For this initial set of pictures, there was very little preparation, apart from bringing a camera and being on the lookout for autumn colours.
The next batch of pictures was taken from the window in my “home office”. I am fortunate enough to live with a view over fields and trees, rather than busy roads, and as we have started to feed the wild birds now that it’s getting cold, there was even a blue tit happily posing for pictures.
After having taken advantage of what nature had to offer, I turned to the studio to create some more deliberate colours. As well as being able to decide the colours by picking colourful things (fruit, food colouring and flowers), this gave me the opportunity to experiment with coloured gels in front of flashes and explore additive colours (an area which is sadly not mentioned in any detail in the course material).
1. Carnations on grass (harmonious, complementary colours)
The image shows a bouquet of red flowers in the garden of remembrance at the local crematorium. I had visited to look for autumn leaves, but couldn’t resist this beautiful colour harmony where the red buds seem to radiate from the stems, like spokes in a wheel.
In his 1810 “Theory on Colours” Goethe presented the idea that pictures with complementary colours looks most harmonious if the area covered by each colour have certain proportions based on how bright the colours are. Red and green should, according to this theory, have a ratio close to 1:1. At first sight that doesn’t appear to be the case, but in the sketch in Figure 2 I have shaded the areas that I believe the viewer’s brain “sees” as being red and green, and viewed like this, there is roughly a 50/50 distribution.
The shading also shows the balance in the picture, with the “weight” primarily being the large red spot slightly to the left of the centre, balanced by smaller, but heavier (because they are further from the centre) areas on the right.
The stems of the flowers create a movement radiating from a centre in the lower right corner of the image towards the explosions of bright red buds. This movement gives the image its energy.
2. Orange leaves on blue sky (harmonious, complementary colours)
Taken on a crisp, bright autumn morning, this picture shows the bold orange colours of fading leaves against a deep blue sky.
With the leaves all attached to a central stem but spreading out in a circle, it looks like a day-time fireworks display. The green arrow on the sketch (the stem of the branch) shows the trajectory just before the explosion of colours.
It is also this stem that holds the leaves together and anchors them in the lower right of the picture, thereby creating a balance and preventing the picture from looking like it’s about to fall over.
When I took the picture, I experimented with adding a little bit of fill-flash to light up the dark parts of the leaves where they shade each other, but that reduced the intensity of the deep orange parts. That matches the lesson learnt from the first exercise in the chapter on colour in the course material, which demonstrated that slightly underexposing colours make them appear deeper and more saturated. As it was the boldness of the intense colours that had attracted me the scene in the first place, I picked one of the images without the fill flash for the assignment.
3. Blue tit and autumn tree (harmonious, complementary colours)
We recently put bird feeders up in the trees in the garden, and one day as I was enjoying the view of the tits, finches and sparrows frolicking, I reached for the camera and put my longest lens on. This resulted in a large set of pictures, some more in focus than others, and several being a pin-sharp picture of a branch that had, a fraction of a second previously, held a small bird.
I knew I needed to blur the background as much as possible in order to make the small bird stand out, so I set the camera to aperture priority, f/2.8, and selected a sufficiently high ISO to give me confidence that the shutter time would be reasonable for hand-held pictures.
Of the keepers, I picked this one for the assignment because of its tetradic (dual set of complementary) colours.
There is the yellow of the blue tit’s breast against the blue of its head and wing, and there is the magenta of the autumn leaves against the bright green seen through the holes in the foliage (this is the grass on the neighbouring bowling green).
It is admittedly a very busy picture with loads of things going on, but I feel that it still works. The sketch shows the main elements, with the bright yellow/blue of the bird, and the magenta oval made by the leaves offset against the green of the tree trunk and the grass. There is an out-of-focus orange leaf in the foreground overlapping the magenta.
The magenta circle creates a frame within the frame, and helps to focus the viewer’s eye on the bird. With the tree trunk splitting the image in two halves, the orange leaf on the right balances the bird on the left.
4. Bowl of tomatoes (harmonious, complementary colours)
I had initially planned this picture to demonstrate the colour contrast between the red of the tomatoes and the purple of the bowl, but the bright green background steals the show from the dark, almost murky, purple bowl. So it became a demonstration of harmony instead.
It’s a studio picture, with the main light being a softbox above the tomatoes to the right (as evidenced by the highlights on the tomato skin) and a reflector on the left. Both can be seen as white rectangles on the bowl, even though I have applied a gradient mask in post processing to make them appear less bright than they were straight out of camera. The green background is made by aiming a flash with a green gel applied towards a white foam-board behind the bowl.
Compositionally it’s a red triangle resting on a purple rectangle, with two green triangles as the background. The picture is in balance with the red being approximately symmetric around the centre of the picture, and the purple giving a solid “base” for the image to rest upon.
5. Rapeseed (harmonious, similar colours)
With its bright yellow colour, rapeseed brightens up the fields early summer. So I was surprised to see a field full of bright yellow flowers in the middle of November, but after comparing the flower to pictures of rapeseed on Wikipedia and Google, I’m fairly certain that this is indeed what it is.
I deliberately tilted the camera down to fill most of the frame with the greens and yellows and only left a thin slice of sky.
Yellow and green are close to each other on the colour wheel, and a lot of the greens nature serves up in flowers and trees actually have a lot of yellow in them. In order to explore this, I edited the picture in Lightroom and set the saturation of all colours except for yellow to -100. As it can be seen on Figure 7, there still appears to be a lot of colour and texture in the de-saturated “green” leaves, showing that they are actually yellows. With that in mind, it is not surprising that the original picture appears harmonious.
There is not a lot to say about the balance and movement in the picture. As shown in Figure 6, it’s a very static picture, where the yellow/green section compositionally appears as one, heavy area occupying 90% of the frame.
6. Yellow leaves on red (harmonious, similar colours)
This picture is from the same session as picture 3 (the blue tit), but this time I focused on one of the orange leaves in the foreground and let the background blend to a pleasant “mush” of magenta/red and green.
It was the side light that attracted me to the scene, as it makes the leaves appear to almost glow with their bright orange yellow. With both green and red being close to the orange/yellow of the leaves, the image appear harmonious, while at the same time allowing the leaves to clearly stand out from the background.
Compositionally, the branches and leaves again appear to radiate out from a centre just below the frame, like spokes in a wheel. The top and bottom branch also forms two sides of a triangle, where the line of the leaves makes the third line. This gives a stable composition where the leaves seem to be at rest.
7. Cranberry juice (harmonious, similar colours)
Although it looks simple, this is the picture that took longest to capture, and which I learnt most from making. It has several flaws, but I believe the positives outweigh them.
The picture uses a small set of closely related warm colours – red, orange and yellow. This makes the scene appear harmonious and “pleasant”. Compositionally, the image is made up of an inverted triangle shaped glass which is balanced by the small group of cranberries and the glass’ foot, both shown as coloured sections on the sketch. The triangle creates a downward movement which is counteracted by the base. It’s a stable composition, which lends further adds rest and harmony to the picture.
The finished image is not as I had pre-visualised, but I think it’s still an effective image. It was initially meant to be purple on red background.
The juice is purple grape juice, which is very dark red rather than purple. I watered it down until it was diluted enough to appear coloured rather than as a black mass.
The image is lit by four light sources:
- There is a softbox above the glass to the right; it can be seen reflected in the right-hand side of the glass, and the it casts the shadow seen in front of the cranberries
- A background light was placed beside the glass to the left, just outside the frame, aimed upwards and to the right to give the feathered background.
- I made a snoot out of a foot of kitchen aluminium foil, wrapped it around a third flash, and aimed it at the cranberries to ensure they were lit with white light. The effect of the snooted light can be seen by the hard shadows to the right of the berries and by the specular highlight on top of them.
- A piece of white foam board just outside the frame on the left was used as a reflector. It can be partly seen in the reflection on the left hand side of the glass.
In order to get the red background, I added a red (Lee 182 “Light Red”) gel in front of the background light. Thinking that I could make the liquid and the centre of the image purple, I also added a blue (Lee 143 “Pale Navy Blue”) in front of the flash in the softbox. Much to my surprise (although it shouldn’t have surprised me), the centre of the background turned yellow instead of purple.
I had investigated additive colours as part of this exercise in the course material, so I went online to check the two gels . As shown on Figure 12 below, It turns out that the “Pale Navy Blue” gel transmits cyan and green as well as blue, so the yellow in the background is where green and red light have overlapped.
That explained the yellow, but not the absence of purple. I spent a couple of hours the next day blending light filtered through the same two flashes but without the softbox to check whether it could be because my softbox isn’t neutral, but that gave the same results when the red light was roughly three stops stronger than the blue (which from memory is how it was during the original capture). The only explanation I can think of is that where the blue light hit, the green did as well, and as yellow (green + red) is complementary to blue, this overlap shows up as white light on the image. The white light results in a less saturated yellow. That also makes sense, as the yellow circle on the picture gets brighter towards the centre behind the glass.
I wish I had paid more attention to the reflections in the glass – the white board the glass was standing on is very visible, as is the on-camera flash used for triggering the other flashes, and every speck of dust on the glass also shows up as a bright spot. I look forward to study lighting in more detail in the next chapter of the course.
8. Pink, purple and red flowers (harmonious, similar colours)
In contrast to the previous image, this picture is straight forward: A bouquet of pink, purple and dark red flowers in a vase, placed against a blue wall. The bouquet is lit with a white flash from the right. The similar tones of the flowers and the background make the picture appear harmonious.
Compositionally, the picture is made up of two triangles, with one of them inverted and resting on top of the other. The base of the topmost triangle is significantly wider than the bottom; this introduces a little tension into the otherwise very static image.
9. Sunrise (contrasts)
Although sunset and sunrise pictures are sometimes considered clichés, they are clichés for a reason: They can be explosions of colour, like Nature’s fireworks displays. When I saw the skies opening and the colours come through, I ran upstairs and kept shooting until the clouds closed again and turned the sky into a homogeneous cloud cover. It lasted all about 10 minutes.
The yellow clouds, lit from below, give the impression of all moving away from the sun towards the viewer and towards the edges of the frame, as indicated with green arrows on the sketch. The dark silhouetted trees add foreground and creates a foundation for the picture to keep it in balance.
When I processed the picture, I brightened the shadows to get just enough detail in the foreground bush and in the field behind the two trees to give depth to the picture and add the appearance of a third dimension, rather than having just an ink-black silhouette in front of the coloured sky-scape.
10. Tree-lined path (contrasts)
Taken on the same day as pictures 1 and 2, this picture focuses on the general environment in the crematorium, rather than picking out specific colourful details. I was initially attracted to the scene by the harmonious, similar colours of the foliage, but I find that the contrast between these warm colours and the cold, blue of the path helps to emphasize the depth of all the involved colours.
The yellow glow of the lamp shows the picture was taken in late afternoon, when the exposure for the lamp was balanced with the exposure for the ambient light.
While I’m not very good at drawing curves in Photoshop, the sketch shows the strong S-curve of the path that lead the viewer’s eye through the picture and give it its three dimensional feeling.
11. Autumn foliage on cyan sky (contrasts)
It was one of those moments right after the heavy rain stopped, when the light turns a strange super bright golden shade even though it’s nowhere close to sunset. The trees lit up and almost glowed in the bright light while the sky looked monotonous green/blue, almost the same colour as seawater in holiday brochures from warm far-away countries with white sandy beaches.
The contrast between the warm foliage and the cold, crisp cyan of the sky helps to make the colours appear bolder and stand out more.
Compositionally the picture is made up of two triangles, a foliage coloured and a cyan one. Given the positions of the triangles, the picture should feel loop-sided with more weight on the left than on the right, but it doesn’t. That’s because the tree branches, reaching into the sky, creates an upward movement, shown as green arrows on Figure 16, as if they intend to cover the entire frame.
12. Pink drink (contrasts)
One of the “problems” with photographing contrasting colours is that we are constantly bombarded with bright, super contrasty pictures in television and advertising in particular. Ads have created an “everything goes” feel for colours, and it takes more and more contrast before colours appear to clash with each other. My own three previous pictures are good examples of this: Even though they use colours spaced 120 degrees apart on the colour wheel, and even though they are definitely contrasty, they’re still pleasant pictures to look at. So for my studio picture in this set I decided to go as bold as I could with the available props and settled on pink and green as my colours.
The liquid is water with pink food colouring, and the green fruit is the bottom of a green pepper. The colours clash strongly enough to warrant the concoction being given a trendy name and sold for an extortionate price in West End bars.
The inverted triangle formed by the liquid creates a downward movement which is balanced by the support of the glass’s foot. The green adds extra “weight” on the right, thus creating a slight tension in the picture.
13. Turquoise wall with orange bricks (colour accents)
The western wall of All Saints Church in Pocklington is covered in large turquoise patches below the stained glass windows. I doubt it is good for the wall, but it certainly makes for a striking contrast to the dark orange bricks showing where the wall isn’t rendered.
I had initially planned the shot to be in the “contrasts” section, but as the orange bricks take up so little space in the image, I decided to include it as an accent instead.
As well as the colour contrast, there is also a clear visual contrast between the smooth surface of the glazed bricks against the rough render.
Compositionally the large turquoise rectangle rests on the bricks at the bottom of the frame.
14. Red jewellery holder with turquoise necklace (colour accents)
The red jewellery holder is draped with a harmonious red/purple necklace as well as a contrasting cyan piece in the middle of the frame. Being approximately 120 degrees apart from the red tones on the colour wheel, the turquoise accent adds visual interest.
The picture is lit with a flash in a softbox above the jewellery holder to the right, and in order to emphasize the turquoise piece, I re-used the aluminium foil snoot from picture 7 to light it separately.
As shown on the sketch, the torso and the red/purple necklace forms an inverted triangle which rests on another triangle formed by the bottom of the piece. This gives a harmonious, stable feeling to the picture.
15. Candle by candlelight (colour accents)
I initially planned on lighting this floating candle with a flash, and then drag the shutter until I got a nice, yellow flame as an accent to the red of candle. However, even with fairly long shutter times, the yellow flame kept being a tiny spot, rather than the pretty flame my eyes saw.
At the end I switched the light in the room off to allow me very long shutter times without having white balance problems due to the different light temperatures of the ambient tungsten light and the flash. That’s when I noticed that the candle shining through the red vase made a subtle ring on the table, and decided to forego the flash completely in order to capture this faint circle. So I ended up with a shutter time of 13 seconds and no light apart from the candle itself.
The candle and the red circle forms a stable triangle. Combined with the flame being in the centre of the picture, this gives the picture a very static feeling. I think it suits the subject very well.
16. Flower macro (colour accents)
This macro shot shows one of the flowers from picture 8 in close-up.
With its bright green colours, the centre of the flower automatically attracts the viewer’s attention. This effect is further increased by the focus being on the centre, and the depth of field narrow enough to show the leaves as soft, slightly out-of-focus areas.
As if that wasn’t enough, the leaves each help to lead the eye towards the centre of the flower as well.
The flower is offset from the centre of the image, but is balanced by the other purple flower in the lower right corner of the image, leading to a stable picture that appears to be at rest.
The pictures in this assignment show a variety of colours and colour relationships. I have used all the primary, secondary and tertiary colours on the red-yellow-blue colour wheel and demonstrated complementary colours, similar colours, triad and tetradic colour schemes, and accents. Many of the pictures show the beautiful colours of autumn, but there is also a variety of arranged subjects.
During the exercises leading up to this assignment, and during the assignment itself, I have come to understand the basic properties of colours, learnt how to control, alter and modify them in photographs, and how to use them as an element of design.
In addition to the course material, I have read Robert Hirsch’s “Exploring Color Photography” (reviewed here) as well as numerous online articles, particularly about additive colours. Of the three exhibitions I went to while studying this chapter, Miles Aldridge’s “I Only Want You to Love Me” (reviewed here) made the strongest impression on me, not least due to his use of colours.
Feeling that it would be more useful to me, I chose to research the effect of using coloured filters to add colour to flashes, rather than to control the tonality of black and white pictures by employing Wratten filters, as discussed in the course material. This gave me an understanding of colour spaces and the complexities involved in comparing them.
Assessing the colours when I look through the viewfinder, as opposed to just accepting them without much thought, has become a habit, similar to how I now also tend to pay more attention to composition and balance after doing the first assignments in the course. This, I believe, is the main result of completing the chapter and assignment.