After I’m Red, I Get Blue


K Madhavan PillaiAll of us have a preferred colour. My favourite is blue. It has been blue for over two decades now. With most people, favourite colours change as they grow older. In my case, it has always been blue. I like to think that I’m fond of all shades of blue, from the deep Prussian blues to the bright tones of cerulean blue, but my very favourite has been a pale sky-blue. To me, blue signifies a certain quietude, a stillness… perhaps a comforting aloneness. It is the colour of the hour before dawn and of ice-cold, bedewed lines of railway tracks in winter, receding into the misty distance. It is also the colour of warm, happy, kite-flying summer skies and of flat, lazy, azure seas. Blue is not so easy to frame. You’d rather frame something against it. I like listening to jazz and blues. And I think its quite alright to feel blue once in a blue moon.

We have the gift of seeing in colour. Colour envelopes us at all times. It is all around us everywhere we go. As photographers, we don’t think about colours as often as we should. In fact, I believe that we take the colours around us for granted. We all spend time choosing the colours that we wear, but we don’t dwell on the colours that we shoot. We all experience the joy of colour photography without thinking too much about it. When we take a fantastic, prize-winning picture, in all probability, the picture is being made by the composition of colours in it. Yet, consciously framing colour well is probably one of the toughest assignments in photography that we could give ourselves. This is why, in this issue, we shall talk mostly about colour — its history, moods, cultural associations, and photography techniques for colour.

There are some very interesting facts about colour photography. Did you know that colour photography, as it exists today, has come about because of the humble tuber, the potato? Exactly a hundred years ago, the Lumière Brothers invented the first commercial colour process called Autochrome. They used microscopic potato starch cells, dyed blue, red and green, to cover a panchromatic emulsion. After exposing the plates for a few minutes (photo chemistries were slow back then), processing them finally gave a fine positive transparency. In those days, the Lumière brothers managed to pack in about four million dyed potato starch cells on every square inch of the photographic plate measuring 6.5 x 4.75 inches — a resolution far greater than what is available for digital cameras today.

Speaking of resolution and digital cameras, in this issue, we have on test Samsung’s most sophisticated camera yet, a14.6 million pixel Pentax mount DSLR, the Samsung GX 20. We also have Canon’s latest offering in the entry-level segment, the 12.2 million pixel Canon EOS 450D. For those of you who loved the earlier versions of Fujifilm’s Nikon mount DSLRs, we have the very latest from them, the 12.34 million pixel Fujifilm S5Pro. Happy reading.

This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: gift of seeing in colour, Lumière Brothers, Autochrome, May 2008