The concept of color temperature is an integral part of photography, and yet many photographers are not really sure what it means. Color and temperature don’t seem to have a direct relationship with each other, but light sources are often defined in terms of their color temperature, which is allied with setting the white balance in digital photography. In addition, the measurement of color temperature is in Kelvin degrees. What does all this really mean?
If you have not been photographing at twilight or night up to now, you have an exciting adventure ahead. Because cameras have the ability to accumulate light over time, nighttime photographs can seem brighter than they do to our eyes. This means that details are revealed that are hidden from view because of the limitations of the light gathering ability of our eyes, and at the same time the dazzling colors of night add a dynamic quality to the scene. Artificial lights at night are a mixture of neon, mercury vapor, fluorescent, and tungsten, and each of these produce interesting colors. Some are cool, some are yellowish or golden, and some are super saturated, and the combination is really something.
The concept of complementary colors refers to three pairs of colors that artists agree look good together and complement each other. They are based on the color wheel that arranges colors in such a way that the colors opposite each other represent the three pairs. They are red and cyan, green and magenta, and blue and yellow. This doesn’t mean that other colors don’t work together very well, but it suggests that if you use complementary color themes in your work, the images will be visually compelling.
I was privileged to be able to photograph a champion Gypsy Vanner horse, Romeo, with a beautiful model in period costume. I chose late afternoon about an hour before sunset to take advantage of the spectacular backlighting on the blond mane, the tail, and the feathering around the feet. For this particular photo session, I wasn’t able to shoot Romeo in an open field, and the corral fence behind him (#1) bothered me at the time but there were no other options. I knew I wanted to separate my subjects from the background at a later point in time during post-processing, but what makes this breed of horse so beautiful—the long, flowing hair—is a nightmare to deal with in composite work.
It is disappointing when you travel somewhere hoping for beautiful weather, and instead of sunrise and sunset lighting, beautiful cloud formations, and comfortable temperatures, you face a rainstorm, a dull sky, or even a blizzard. While the pictures that you had in mind may not be possible, there are always great photographs that can be taken. It’s just a matter of expanding your thinking.
A failed flash photograph has an exposure in which the subject is too light or too dark. In addition, the foreground is too light—in fact, it’s lighter than the subject—and therefore distracting. In some circumstances, very dark or black backgrounds behind a subject are not desirable, and this can be considered a failure as well.
I have made the point that on-camera flash is not the most attractive artificial light for photography. In fact, I’d say it’s at or near the bottom of my list for choosing artificial light sources to illuminate the subjects I photograph. If I can’t take the flash off the camera and I’m forced to use on-camera flash, then the best approach is to diffuse the light. There are various ways to do this. Some diffusion techniques require a modest expenditure while others don’t cost anything.
When we all shot film and our exposures were not perfect, there was very little we could do about our mistakes. All that has changed, and now we can make meaningful adjustments to the contrast, exposure and the color cast. It is a great time to be a photographer.
Digital cameras allow photographers to stretch the boundaries of what we can capture like never before. Using extremely high ISO settings like 25000, in-camera noise reduction algorithms, and expanded dynamic range capability, we can now photograph in low light situations and expect to use shutter speeds fast enough to take sharp pictures. This is truly revolutionary. However, there is a price to be paid, and that price is image quality. You just can’t expect a picture taken at ISO 25000 to be as sharp and to show fine detail with tack sharp clarity like a picture taken at ISO 200. There are limits to what advanced technology can deliver.
Backgrounds are virtually as important as subjects in making a picture work. If they are messy and there is a lot going on, they tug at our eyes and pull our attention away from your subject. Just as you carefully consider your subjects, at the same time you need to carefully consider the background. For example, is it too light? Too messy? Too attention-grabbing? Does it have distracting lines or colors? Is it too sharp or too defined?