Color as the main event
PROJECT SIX
Color as the main event
G oals
Project Six is photographing in color and
making color the main event. Color is a powerful
design element that painters choose deliberately
and photographers often capture haphazardly. The
project goals are to understand the nature of color
and to use it deliberately to contribute to mood and
message rather than distract. Start by photographing
subjects that have little or no color, and are mostly
black, white, and gray. Next, add color carefully.
Photograph subjects with basically one color and
neutral tones. Be aware of the potential connotations
of the individual colors you choose, and use those
connotations to enhance communication. Then
photograph color combinations. Bear in mind that
some colors dominate, others subordinate; some
color combinations blend together and others
stand apart. Finally, make mood your main event,
and choose colors whose connotations support
your theme.
Avoid skin tones and artificial light. We will add
these elements in Project Seven when we learn color
balancing, which is important for all color work and
especially for portraits and artificial light.
Little color, one color, two colors
Top left: Moth by Josh Nagle. There is almost no color here.
Top right: Tulips by Roxy Sylvester. Two colors predominate:
warm orange that comes forward and cool green that recedes.
Right: River by Dan Kuhs. Only one color is used: blue with
neutral white, gray, and black.
Project Six—Color as the main event
6.1
What to do
Understand the artists’ color theory. Color has
three characteristics: hue, saturation, and value.
Hue is the term used to describe individual colors
such as violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red.
Rainbow by Bruce Vogel.
Hues have connotations—moods, associations,
and symbols that vary with context, viewers’
cultural backgrounds, and individual interpretations.
President Bush wearing a red tie may evoke
patriotism; Sharon Stone wearing a red dress may
evoke something entirely different.
Here are basic hues and a few of their
potential connotations.
Violet: rich, exotic, serene
Blue: pure, calm, deep, depressing
Green: growth, renewal, envy, greed
Yellow: sunny, happy, sickly, cowardly
Orange: dramatic, flaming, changing, ending
Red: exciting, dangerous, erotic, courageous
Neutral tones also have connotations.
Black: death, evil, sexy
White: purity, virginity, cleanliness
Gray: dull, boring, conservative
The artists’ color wheel is a guide to combining
colors. It is based on prominent colors in the
rainbow in the sequence in which they appear.
Violet
Red
Blue
Orange
Green
Yellow
Cool colors differ from warm colors—cool
violet, blue, and green appear to recede and may
convey quiet and calm; warm yellow, orange, and
red appear to advance and may convey high energy.
Color connotations also vary with differences
introduced by the additional two fundamental Cool and warm colors together provide contrast.
color characteristics: saturation and value.
Receding cool colors work well as secondary events.
Advancing warm colors work well as main events.
Saturation describes the purity of the hues: high
saturation is intense; low saturation is dull. Clear
red is high saturation; dull red is low saturation.
Colors next to each other on the color wheel,
for example violet and blue, are called analogous.
When analogous colors appear together they blend,
Value (or brightness) is the relative lightness or bleed, together harmoniously.
or darkness of a hue. Pink is a light value of red;
maroon is a dark value of red.
Colors opposite each other on the color wheel, for
example violet and yellow, are called complemenA one-color photograph in the hue of red may tary. When complementary colors appear together,
include pure red, dull red, pink, and maroon, plus they stand out from each other in a striking manner
neutral black, white, and gray.
that makes each color appear more distinct.
6.2
The Art and Craft of Digital Photography
No color, one color
Snowy Creek by the author. Almost no color is present. There are subtle shades of blue. The
connotation is cool, subdued, and delicate.
Dancing Girl in Red Dress by Hakaan Diker. Primarily one color is present:
high saturation red. The connotation is wild, vibrant, exciting, and sensual.
Pink Flower and Rocks by R. Ulrich. Primarily one color is used: pink, a light
value of the hue of red. Note the total change in connotation from the intense
red dress to the pale pink flower because of saturation, value, and context.
Project Six—Color as the main event
6.3
Choosing one color
Bird by Bruce Vogel. A small area of orange, the top of the bird’s beak, stands out
as a color accent. The low saturated blue water is almost neutral gray.
Flower and Vase by Cindy Barton-Lewis. One cool color, green, is a
secondary event.
Flamingo by Cindy Barton-Lewis. Highly saturated orange is the only color
present with neutral black and white.
6.4
The Art and Craft of Digital Photography
Combining colors for harmony
Yellow Boat by Joe Gulich. Two analogous colors, yellow and green, blend
together well. The warm yellow comes forward as the main event.
Fall Leaf by Christina Younker. Two analogous warm
colors, yellow and orange, blend together, come forward in the
image, and convey high energy.
Karobi Vegetables by the author. Three analogous, cool colors: violet,
blue, and green, blend harmoniously and convey a quiet mood.
Project Six—Color as the main event
6.5
Combining colors for contrast
Pansies by the author. Complementary colors violet and yellow appear here. Warm
yellow comes forward; cool violet recedes.
Bench and Fall Leaves by Catherine Daley. Complementary colors are
used here. Highly saturated red leaves are in the foreground and green
grass is in the background. The warm red comes forward as the main
event. The cool green recedes as the secondary event.
6.6
The Art and Craft of Digital Photography
Tulips by Kathryn Ward. Complementary colors appear here. Highly saturated, warm
orange comes forward as the main event. Cool navy recedes in the background.
Tech support
Controlling shutter speed. Now that you are
familiar with shooting in Av (Aperture value),
Aperture-priority mode, to choose more or less depth
of field, try shooting in Tv (Time value), Shutter
speed-priority mode, to select the shutter speed
you want, and let the camera adjust the aperture
value accordingly. This way you are guaranteed the
shutter speed will always be the speed you set it at
and not slip to something else you while you are
busy thinking about other aspects of photographing
your subjects. If your selected shutter speed doesn’t
allow for a desirable aperture, adjust the ISO as
needed: a higher ISO will allow a smaller aperture
and greater depth of field; a lower ISO will allow for
a larger aperture and less depth of field.
Project Six—Color as the main event
6.7
Critique and output
Edit and print the best color images in Photoshop.
Start with well-exposed, well-focused files to create
good quality prints with relative ease. We will follow
a smart, simple workflow that is non-destructive:
setting black and optional white points, then
selectively sharpening, adjusting tones, and adjusting
saturation. The workflow maintains backward
mobility with the option for future refinements when
you learn advanced editing techniques. These early
good quality prints will set a standard for future
print quality including those from challenging files
that will benefit from advanced editing techniques,
including editing in RAW.
Open a RAW file.
• It will open in Camera RAW 7.0 first.
Make only one change in this dialog box for now: below the image select:
Adobe RGB (1998): 8 bit; 5184 by 3456 (17.9MP); 576 ppi (later for severe edit needs select 16 bit.) >
Open Image > the file opens in Photoshop.
Set black points and optional white points in the
Red, Green, and Blue channels to establish a true
neutral maximum black point for color balance and
maximum dynamic tonal range. The printer converts
RGB information (red, green, and blue color space—
light in monitors) to CMYK information (cyan,
magenta, yellow, and black color space—ink on
paper) AND it does this best when it has accurate,
neutral black and white point information set in
each red, green, and blue channel. When black
and optional white points are NOT neutral in each
channel, undesirable color castes can be created.
(The RAW dialog box can only set black and white points
globally, so set black and white points in Photoshop for optimal
color balance. Later you will starting adjusting color balance
and recovering lost highlights and shadows in the Camera RAW
dialog box before working in Photoshop.)
Set an optional white point in the in the Red,
Green, and Blue channels to establish a true white
point, or, an almost white point, in the image.
• In the Adjustments panel, select the Create a new Curves adjustment layer icon >
• In the Properties panel, press the upper right corner single
triangle > select Show Clipping for Black/White Points.
• In the top menu bar press Window > select Histogram > in the
Histogram panel press the top right single triangle > select All
Channels View and Show Channels in Color.
• In the Properties panel just above the Histogram, press the
RGB gray bar and select Red, the Red color channel, > press the
black triangle slider on the left below the histogram: the image
will turn white. If there are black dots in the white, do nothing. If
there is no black at all, drag the slider to the right until you see a
black dot or a few black dots. This sets a true black point in the
Red channel. > Repeat these steps in the Green and Blue color
channels. Bring up the least possible amount of black in each
color channel.
• Release the slider and view the change. Turn the layer off and
on by pressing the eye icon in the Layers panel to the left of the
Curves layer to review the change.
Set an optional white point in the in the Red,
Green, and Blue channels to establish a true white
point, or, an almost white point, in the image.
• In the Adjustments panel, select the Create a new Curves adjustment layer icon.
• In the Properties panel just above the Histogram, press the
RGB gray bar and select Red, press the white triangle slider on
the right below the histogram: the image will turn black. If there
are white dots in the black, do nothing. If there is no white at all,
drag the slider to the left until you see a white dot or a few white
dots. This sets a true white point in the image. Release the slider
and view the change. If the effect is too much, move the slider
back toward the right. Release the slider and view the change at
several return points. Select the best adjustment for the image, or
no adjustment at all. Repeat these steps in the Green and Blue
color channels. When doing white point placement: don’t create
problems in the other channels by clipping too much, keep detail
in the highlights.
• Release the slider and view the change. Turn the layer off and
on by pressing the eye icon in the Layers panel to the left of the
Curves layer to review the change.
• If in the process of setting black and optional white points you
get an undesirable color cast, go to the Curves panel and if the
straight-line curve has moved above or below the original line,
click in that area of the line to set an anchor point and drag the
Curve line back to the original line.
See the video Setting Black and Optional White
Points in Color for a detailed demonstration.
Next, sharpen selectively on a Background copy,
then lighten, and darken as desired on a new Curves
adjustment layer.
Critique and output
Now, try changing the saturation in select
areas for emphasis. For example, increase the
saturation for a main event and lower the saturation
for a secondary event. The human eye (and
brain) naturally edits what is before it. We see
vividly what is of interest in a scene and subdue
secondary events. The camera does not. You may be
able to better recreate your original vision of a scene
by varying saturation levels.
To vary saturation levels in select areas—
• In the Layers panel go to Create a new Vibrance Adjustment
layer > press and drag the Vibrance slider right for more
saturation, or left for less. (If in doubt about quantity, go too
far to see the effect clearly, then back it off by lowering the
opacity of the layer later.)
• Invert the layer mask and paint back the area where you want
more or less saturation.
See the video Varying Saturation for a detailed
demonstration.
Covered Bridge by Barbara Hornberger. The top image is
unadjusted. In the version below, the main event was sharpened
and the background was darkened. Saturation was increased for
the bridge, its reflection, and the trees in the center. The saturation of the leaves in the upper left corner was reduced.
Project Six—Color as the main event
6.9
RESOURCES
Eliot Porter: The Color of Wildness
Maine, Eliot Porter
The Art of Photographing Nature, Art Wolfe
The Kingdom: Wildlife in North America,
Art Wolfe
Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky, Art Wolfe
Fay, William Wegman
Ernst Haas Color Photography
The Creation, Ernst Haas
Ansel Adams in Color
Flowers, Robert Mapplethorpe
Under the Looking Glass, Olivia Parker
Sandy Skoglund: Reality Under Siege:
A Retrospective
Cape Light: Color Photographs, Joel Meyerowitz
Photography and The Art of Seeing,
Freeman Patterson
Constructs, Barbara Kasten
Harry Callahan, Color
Elemental Landscapes: Photographs by
Harry Callahan
The New Color Photography, Sally Eauclaire
50 Jahre Moderne Farbfotografie, 1936-1986,
Manfred Heiting
6.10
The Art and Craft of Digital Photography
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