In Search of Colour

The dramatic colours of a silhouette are the first thing that grab a viewer’s attention. Photograph/Jayanth Sharma

The dramatic colours of a silhouette are the first thing that grab a viewer’s attention. Photograph/Jayanth Sharma

Aditya Nair explores the natural world, and shows you the best way to use the colour around.

Nature has a wide palette of colours that can dominate the image. Yet, in our haste to capture the moment or to get the perfect composition, we forget to pay attention to an important compositional tool at our disposal—colour.

The first and possibly most significant understanding of colour was developed in 1666 by a 23-year-old Isaac Newton, who discovered that white light consists of seven different colours ranging from violet to red. Objects are of a particular colour because they reflect only that one wavelength of light while absorbing all other wavelengths. An apple is red because it absorbs every other wavelength of light and reflects red light.

How Do We Perceive Colour?
Colour is a result of three factors—hue, saturation and brightness. Hue is a specific tone of colour. Saturation refers to the strength and intensity of that particular hue. This means that if saturation is minimum, every hue becomes a corresponding tone of grey. Brightness reflects the amount of blacks and whites in a particular hue. If the brightness is more, the colour is lighter, and sometimes even washed out. As brightness decreases, colour tends to become deeper.

Less is More
It is very easy to go horribly wrong with too many colours in the frame. They can cause the viewer’s eye to dart all over the picture without absorbing a single point. Rather than distracting the viewer’s attention, try including a subject that has one dominant colour and one or two contrasting colours to supplement it.

Compose Accordingly
Depending on what you wish to convey through the picture, decide whether you need to include a particular colour or not. Once you have made this choice, change your shooting angle accordingly. For example, if you wish to shoot a picture of green grass and there is a bright red flower in view, you should reposition yourself so that the flower is not a part of the frame.

Brighter or Darker?
Underexposing or overexposing an image can have a dramatic effect to the colours. Consider a tree with red leaves. If you want to get deep tones in the reds, underexposing the image by around half a stop helps. It will make the green and brown tones much darker, and in contrast, the colours of the leaves will stand out. On the other hand, if you want the yellows of the flower to stand out, slightly overexposing is the way to go. It will make the colours appear brighter and more vibrant.

The Effective Light
Colours like brown and green are abundant in nature, due to which it often happens that the subject and background are of a similar shade of green. In such cases, optimally lighting the subject is important to avoid the subject and the background from getting merged.

Sidelighting results in long shadows that separate the subject from its background. If the light is hitting the subject at a slight angle, you see something called rimlighting, in which the subject is outlined by a rim of light. If the sun is right behind the subject, it becomes a dark silhouette, a characteristic you can use for shooting moody, orangetoned photos at dawn or dusk.

The Joy of In-Camera Modes
Every digital camera today comes along with scene modes to help you capture the right colours. You can fine tune the White Balance and Saturation settings, so that the colours are exactly the way you want them.

The Foliage Scene mode makes the green tones pop, while the Landscape mode enhances blues and browns. The Sunset mode makes the red and orange tones deeper while the Portrait mode makes colours subtle, optimising them for skin tones. Ask yourself which colour you want to exaggerate, and accordingly choose a particular Scene mode.

Filters to Enhance
A Polarising filter minimises reflections and saturates colours. It can help make blue skies look deeper. A Graduated Neutral Density filter is useful to get a slight underexposure on one-half of the frame, for richer colours from the skies, for instance.

What You See and What You Get
The colours that you see on the LCD of the camera are different from those that you see on the monitor of your screen. To take it further, photo printing uses something called an RGB colour space, while books and magazines are printed using the CMYK colour space. To maintain utmost accuracy, colour calibrating the camera, monitor and printer is important.

You may have wondered why it is important to get the colour right in the camera itself. Why not just edit the image later in Photoshop? An image that has captured good colours can easily be made spectacular with a bit of editing. But if it hasn’t, then getting the desired results takes time and can sometimes be impossible.

Face it, your photo walk probably lasted two hours. Do you really want to spend the next eight hours editing your photos?

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Better Photography.

How Do I Get the Best Possible Tonal Range in my Photographs?

Camera settings affect the way the colours of a scene is captured. For the greatest tonal range and depth of colours, you need to manually control these settings.

  1. Getting a higher tonal range in B&W photography refers to the shades of grey between absolute black and white. In colour, it is the gradation of the shade.
  2. Choose a Low ISO: At high ISO settings, the tonal range reduces and colour noise increases. Colour noise refers to coloured specks of grain-like dots, which can look distracting.
  3. The RAW Advantage: Photographs shot in RAW show more subtle transition between tones. This is particularly applicable while shooting subjects like sunsets because the JPEG engines of most cameras cannot reproduce subtleties in red tones too well.
  4. The Advantage of Picture Styles: Increase the Saturation but reduce the Contrast. This will keep the colours vibrant and improve the dynamic range as well.
  5. Bracketing and High Dynamic Range: Photos You can combine different exposures in a software like Photomatix to create HDR images. You can use this technique for more enhanced tonal range or merely to add some surreal oversaturated drama.
Tags: Shooting Technique, Animals, Nature, colours, trees, September 2011, brightness, plants