Monochromatic color themes have been around since the inception of photography. Toning black and white prints with a sepia toner was begun at a time when photographers could only dream of color. The noxious fumes made the darkroom work memorable, to say the least. With digital technology, we can get the same look of a toned print. When I first started learning Photoshop, I translated my knowledge of the darkroom into the digital world. In other words, I learned how to create in the computer the same effects that I had been creating in the darkroom.
One of the ways to draw attention to a subject is to find—or set up—brightly colored objects in an environment of a muted or earth-toned background. The eye is immediately drawn to color, and this is a poignant way to make a powerful and dynamic visual statement.
Photographing subjects with outrageous combinations of colors is a lot of fun. As great as complementary colors are, and as pleasing as subtlety and mood are, there’s nothing quite like color combinations that virtually knock your eyeballs out of their sockets! Combinations like orange and lime green, deep purple and red, and orange and magenta are extremely potent in drawing attention. Sometimes these juxtapositions of color are found in nature (surprisingly enough) but often they can only be found in man-made objects. One of the reasons I love photographing festivals is because the costuming is frequently shocking and outlandish.
Combining color with black and white is a way to focus attention on a subject or one aspect of a picture. This is similar to throwing a background out of focus so our concentration is directed to the in-focus part of an image, or placing a black background behind something so we have nothing else to look at except the subject. You make one area of a picture color and convert the rest of it to black and white, and it is a very unique way to direct a viewer’s attention where you want it.
Many photographers use the term white light without knowing its precise definition in photography. After all, there are many types of lighting that we could be talking about, such as the sun, the lamps in our living room, fluorescent fixtures, open shade on an overcast day, late afternoon sunlight, a mercury vapor street lamp, or flash. Which one of these should set the standard by which we judge all other light?
One of my favorite color combinations is white on white and I want to introduce this approach to using color because the results can be so beautiful.
There is something ethereal and captivating about images that are devoid of the colors that we associate with the spectrum. Images that are primarily white seem pristine, intriguing, and they will complement virtually any type of home or office décor if you are looking to frame some of your photography.
When I refer to window light, I am talking about the soft lighting that comes in through a window when it faces north or when the sky is overcast. This is one of the most attractive types of light photographers use, and it has been a source of inspiration for traditional artists over the centuries when they painted portraits of people, still life images, and the interiors of magnificent works of architecture.
Chromatic aberration is an inherent problem in the manufacture of lenses. It is the failure of the glass to bend the light in such a way that it focuses all the colors at the same point, and it occurs because lenses have a different refractive index for different wavelengths of light. It is characterized by color fringing, or unwanted colors at the edge of objects. The colors can be red, cyan, green, magenta, blue, or yellow. You usually can’t see this fringing until you magnify the image quite a bit, but at 100 percent and higher it’s quite obvious. I’ve enlarged (#1) to 300 percent, and in (#2) you can see what I’m talking about. Chromatic aberration is quite pronounced in wide angle lenses, and it’s most obvious in the corners. The picture of this famous pool in the Gellert Hotel, Budapest, Hungary was taken with a 14mm lens. The center of the lens is largely devoid of these unwanted colors. Telephotos also have chromatic aberration, but it is usually not as bad.
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?
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.