Friday, 29 March 2013

Assignment 3 - Colour

Finally I have come to the end of the part in TAOP which has been dedicated to colour.  This has taken me an extraordinarily long time for a number of reasons, which I will not dwell on here.  During that time I have collected many images which were intended to be used in this, and many were rejected.  Because I took so long over this, I lost my focus and it has only been in the last month that this has returned.  Certainly I found that the way I look at subjects, or rather potential subjects, has changed somewhat and has driven me to look at images taken by others to see what it is that makes that image exceptional.  I have written about some in earlier passages of this blog, and some I have yet to write about.  I was particularly taken by the use of a colour accent by Thomas Zanon-Larcher, in most cases this was red which countered the typically black mood of the many of the images in the series.  The use of colour was incredibly effective in Karl Baden's street photography and is something which I must explore further and try out some of his ideas.

We started with the colour wheel such as the one below and examined the relationship between the colours:

Complementary Colours:

These being colours which are opposite each other and achieve harmony, where compositionally, when they are pure, they achieve maximum effect.

I learnt that Goethe had assigned values to the six colours in the wheel above which resulted in the following ratios:
Red : Green             1:1
Orange : Blue           1:2
Yellow : Violet         1:3

I saw in practice that this was very much the case in the real world which I observed when searching for suitable images.

Similar Colours:

These are colours which are adjacent to each other and it is easy to see how they work effectively.  In particular where the Violet, Blue and Green part of the wheel is classified as 'cool' and yellow, orange and red are 'warm'.  Examples of the use of these colours is seen in architecture and in the way office and other working space is painted.

Colour Contrast:

A strong contrast is achieved by colours which are a third of the way across the wheel from each other.  So Red and Yellow, Orange and Violet, Yellow and Blue (one of my favourite combinations), Green and Violet and Blue and Red.  These can be very effective in providing eye-catching design and this is where their appeal lies.

Colour Accent:

Very much used in design, colour accent is the placement of a small patch of colour in an area of largely different colour.

In Assignment 3 I am seeking to demonstrate my understanding of the relationships in the 4 classes defined above, taking 4 images for each.

Colour harmony through complementary colours

ISO 200, 300mm, f/9.5, 1/180
Using Photoshop's Filters I created a more abstract version of the above image in order to illustrate the relationships.
I introduced dynamics into this image by giving a tilt at the time of taking it; this gives the movement shown by the red arrow. Otherwise the balance is through the two blocks of colour one on top of the other.  Looking at the colours, I did not get the relationship quite right as the orange is still somewhat dominant.

ISO 2500, 105mm, f/4.5, 1/10sec
I started this image more as a colour accent, but looked at cropping it severely in order to give more of a 1:1 relationships between the red and green.
Looking at the abstract version, the red and green are working well together, though the bright red is still dominant.  Movement is diagonally along the line of the 'lights'.  Balance is achieved through the two main blocks of colour as shown above.  The main blocks are dictated by the movement.

ISO 200, 88mm, f/22, 1/60 sec
Although the colours of the fishing nets and ropes are muted through hard use, the orange : blue relationship is evident.
The abstract makes the colours more vibrant and the ratio of 1:2 is very clear. There is movement along the line of the ropes and balance is achieved as all the elements are stacked one on top of the other.

ISO 200, 105mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec
Although muted, the relationship between yellow and violet of 1:3 is clearly visible here, even more so in the abstract below:
The balance in this image is straightforward as the colours are in 3 blocks, the central being bviolet with yellow either side.  Though there are these 'static' blocks, there is small movement running along the line of the 'branches'.

Colour harmony through similar colours

ISO 400, 28mm, f/9.0, 1/50 sec
Bluebell woods in Spring are a classic combination of blues and greens, with the vibrant green of the fresh foliage of the trees making a great backdrop to the Bluebells.
Though not so evident in the abstract version, this is a 1:1 relationship between the two colours and these provide a soothing image. Movement is diagonally left to right leading to the sun-lit area in the background.  Balance is straightforward, with the mass of Bluebells stretching across the frame in a single block, woith three further blocks on top, formed by the trees and the sun-lit background.

ISO 200, 105mm, f/4.0, 1/2000 sec
I decided that the yellow californian poppy was just large enough not to be considered an accent in this image.
Yellow Poppy
The greens in this image are slightly muted, so the vibrant yellow is dominant, however, as the two colours are adjacent in the wheel the combination is harmonious.  Movement is along the lines of the flower stems, as sown by the red lines above.  The yellow poppy dictates its own movement as shown above.  Balance is through the blocks of green colour going across the frame, with two smaller blocks on top, one yellow and one green.

ISO 100, 100mm, f/8.0, 1/125 sec
I had fun with this still life, illustrating the finer points of life....  The set up was lit with a single speedlight using a softbox modifier, pointing down to the right and 90deg to the camera, with light being bounced back using a gold reflector to the left of camera.  I wanted to use gold, to provide the 'warm' colour which I felt was required here.  This gold reflection is seen particularly in the reflection on the left hand side of the bottle, which brings it in into the composition.  I used a black velvet backdrop to kill unwanted stray light, as well as to bring the focus onto the glass of port and the cheese.
Port and cheese

The colours, as shown in the abstract are all adjacent, the red of the port, orange of the board and part of the cheese, with the rest being yellow.  Also, there is the orange of the reflection on the bottle.  All is working in harmony, with the proportions seeming to be appropriate.

ISO 100, 105mm, f/10, 1/125 sec
I could not resist this abstract of the blue bollard on the dockside, which is matched to the green, tending to aqua, of the sea.  The neutral stone provides an anchor for the colours.
In essence there is balance between the neutral stone and the sea.  The bollard overlays the two main blocks, possibly causing an imbalance.  Movement is given by the shape of the bollard, almost like an arrow-head, pointing towards the top of the frame.

Colour contrast through contrasting colours.

ISO 100, 105mm, f/4.0, 1/750sec
 One of my favourite flowers, the aptly named 'bird of paradise' provided the inspiration for the first of this set of images illustrating colour contrast.
Bird of Paradise
Here the saturated orange of the flower contrasts with the greens of the background which I had thrown out of focus in order to provide a blended green.  These provide the blocks which give balance.  Movement follows the lines of the flower elements, suggesting, almost, an upward explosion.

ISO 200, 400mm, f/14, 1/200sec
Aviation is a passion of mine, so I just had to include this shot of a de Havilland Chipmunk performing at its home base of Old Warden.  Taken in bright sunshine using a shutter speed just low enough to start blurring the propeller.
The bright yellow of the aircraft contrasts with the blue of the sky.  It is a popular choice of a pair of colours used as contrasts.  Movement is mainly defined along the line of the fuselage, right to left and down the wing to the bottom of the frame which anchors and gives a pivotal movement.  There pivotal movement is completed through the pilot's eyes as he looks forward and down into the turn being made by the Chipmunk.

There are two elements on this image, the yellow of the aircraft and the blue sky, with essentially 3 blocks giving the balance.

ISO 400, 24mm, f/16, 1/180 sec
The 84 foot high square beacon tower was erected by Trinity House in 1832 to distinguish the Gribben from Dodman Point and St Anthony's Head, and thus make navigation into Fowey and the harbours of St Austell Bay safer.  There was never a light  used on this tower, but is painted in broad red and white bands as a 'daymark'.
Navigation Tower
Red and blue are in contrast and not surprisingly red is used on the tower to aid visibility.  Much of the time, during the day, the backdrop to the tower would be the sky, when viewed from a boat at sea.

Balance here is achieved through the two blocks, one being the tower and the other being the sky and white cloud to the left.  The angle of the tower gives movement bottom left to top right.

ISO 200, 300mm, f/7.1, 1/50 sec
I spotted this abstract in a hotel foyer, with the early morning condensation on the glass blurring the outside world.  The green contrasts with the violet, particularly when seen in the abstract version below.
Potentially, this could also fall into the accent category, but I felt that as a substantial part of the image had the violet colour then this was no longer an accent.  The violet works with the bamboo silhouette to provide the balance across the frame.  Movement is expressed along the line of the stems, working diagonally from bottom left.

Colour accent using any combination

ISO 200, 135mm, f/8.0, 1/250 sec
A London garden square provided the opportunity to capture this image, using complementary colours.
Garden Poppy
A red poppy always stands out, and here they a particularly evident against the backdrop of a variety of greens.  If anything, the red of the poppies is even more exagerated in the abstract version, but very clearly an accent.  The colour of the poppy is so vibrant that it balances the other main element which is the green tree fern on the left.  Movement is diagonally into the the garden through the arch created by the fronds of the fern.
ISO 1600, 105mm, f/9.0, 1/125
Early evening, hence the high ISO setting, when I made use of the humble traffic light to provide an accent colour, red against a predominantly blue background; a natural colour contrast.  The yellow of the traffic light itself is very de-saturated, becoming neutral in this image.
The abstract image exaggerates the red accent, also confirming the neutrality of the yellow.  There are two main elements to this image: the red light and the main part which is the blue sky and the neutral lights housing.  The size of this latter area creates a balance.  Movement is through the red light as shown above.

ISO 200, 105mm, f/16, 1/60 sec
Once again, I am using red as an accent, here the red flowers of the Pelargonium provide the splash of colour against a yellow / neutral wall, using colour contrasts.
The red of the pelargonium is very evident in the abstract version.  This is balanced by the somewhat larger but less vibrant brown of the window, though the grey stone beneath the pelargonium adds to the overall balance.  The background is yellow, though somewhat desaturated.  Movement is through the rythm of the decorative tiles moving to the left from the anchor point of the grey stone.

ISO 100, 100mm, f/8.0, 1/180 sec
A bit of fun here, with the yellow of the bath duck, collected somewhere on my travels, as an accent on the blue bath towel.  One of my standard set ups indoors, a single speedlight using a softbox modifier to the right and above the camera and shadows filled in using a white reflector.
Kool duck!
The abstract version does not really add much to the overall analysis of this image other than to exaggerate the yellow duck.  The large size of the blue area of the towel below the duck, balances the yellow accent of the duck.  Movement is provided by the sunglasses, diagonally top left to bottom right.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour

It has taken me 2 months to write my thoughts about this fascinating exhibition which was located at Somerset House in London.  Somerset House is becoming a place I visit regularly to see photographic and other exhibitions.  The exhibition showed 10 Cartier-Bresson photographs alongside those by 15 other contemporary photographers, mostly from the USA.  These photographers included:  Karl Baden (US), Carolyn Drake (US), Melanie Einzig (US), Andy Freeberg (US), Harry Gruyaert (Belgium), Ernst Haas (Austrian), Fred Herzog (Canadian), Saul Leiter (US), Helen Levitt (US), Jeff Mermelstein (US), Joel Meyerowitz (US), Trent Parke (Australian), Boris Savelev (Ukranian), Robert Walker (Canadian), and Alex Webb (US).  

Whilst I am relatively familiar with Cartier-Bresson's work, I had not come across the work of any of the other photographers, excepting Joel Meyerowitz.  As a catalogue was not available and I wanted to learn more about the other photographers I researched their work using the internet as my tool.  My research was limited to finding out more about each of them and their work, but limiting myself to the photographs which were used in the exhibition, where I could identify them from my memory and the brief notes I made at the time.

Cartier-Bresson (HCB) worked almost entirely in black and white throughout his life, and it was more for commercial reasons that he made an occasional foray into producing work in colour.  In general, he was sceptical about colour photography, particularly in its use in photojournslim, due to the slow speed of colour film which frequently required artificial lighting, so the 'decisive moment' was gone.

The expression which is synonymous with HCB, "The Decisive Moment" comes from when he quoted Cardinal de Retz "There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment" in a preface to his book 'Images a la sauvette'.  Later, the English language edition of this book was titled 'The Decisive Moment'.  

The objective of the exhibition, conceived by the curator, William E. Ewing, was to see how contemporary photographers responded to the challenges put down by HCB and produced photographs in colour which had that 'decisive moment' quality about them.

Overall, the exhibition was, for me,  thought provoking and certainly has provided me with inspiration and I would certainly like to follow one or two of the ideas and styles which were exhibited.  In this blog I will be looking in particular at how colour is used and whether the image would convey the same story in black and white.

Starting with a classical HCB image to set the tone:

HCB - Brooklyn, New York 1947

The first of the photographers whose images feature in the exhibition is Karl Baden.

Karl Baden

Karl Baden's images were, to me a revelation.  He has certainly provided me with ideas, though I do not think that I will go as far as he has done in taking photographs while driving!  It is certainly an innovative method and the series displayed at the exhibition made great use of colour to grab the viewer's attention.  The series is called "In and out of the car, 2009 - 2012".  To view more from this set of these you need to look at the web site for the Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston:
Colour certainly "makes" many of these images.  Examining one of my favourites, I find it amazing that he is able to "see" and take the picture in the scant seconds available during the drive-by.

I thought it might be an interesting exercise to convert two examples of Karl Baden's work into black and white as shown below:

Karl Baden - Interstate 84 East
I used Lightroom's standard B&W option to do the conversion, without any adjustments.  To me the B&W version just lacks punch and is therefore less effective.

Karl Baden - Chestnut Hill
Again a standard conversion.  This time, I feel that the conversion into monochrome works and, in my mind, show that the image, irrespective of whether it is in colour or B&W, is true to HCB's "Decisive Moment".  The series causes me to ask the question as to whether these were done as part of a daily commute or on random journeys.  They are all, to some extent, amusing observations of life seen from a car.

Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz was a name I was previously familiar with, not least from the book "Street photography now" by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren, but also from his coverage of Ground Zero after 9/11.  One of his well known images I include below:

Joel Meyerowitz, Camel Coats, Fifth Avenue, New York, 1975
This is an outstanding example of how colour and light can work together to produce a fantastic image.  This is certainly an example of a Decisive Moment.

Melanie Einzig

To me, Melanie Einzig supplied probably the most significant image in the exhibition.  It truly captures that Decisive Moment.  The image captures a courier going about his business, seemingly unaware of the tragedy unfolding behind him as an aircraft impacts one of the towers on 9/11.  The world changed that day.  Einzig did not publish this photograph for a number of years because she was was concerned about how it would be received.

Melanie Einzig, New York 11 Sept 2001
In "Street Photography Now" Einzig reveals that "Photographing in public keeps me awake and aware, always looking around, in awe at what we humans are up to".


Somerset House web site:

The Guardian web site:

Howard Yezerski Gallery:

In Public - a street photography web site

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Thomas Zanon-Larcher

In researching various photographers, I came across Thomas Zanon-Larcher.  Sadly an exhibition of his work is ending as I write this, and I did not manage to go and see it, so my comments are based on the work which formed part of the exhibition as found on various internet pages.  The exhibition, "Falling: A Part" which was at the Wapping Project Bankside gallery in South London, used photographs from a number of series made by the photographer.

A particular series of images from that exhibition are relevant to this module on colour and its use in composition.

I quote here from a review by Jocelyn Phillips, who writes in Photomonitor (

"Four images in the show come from a wider group of sixteen, the initial idea for which was developed from Henrik Ibsern's 'A Doll's House' and in particular the controversial character of Nora, whose final actions in leaving her family were scandalous to the play's 19th century audiences."

Nora, Law School, Oslo - August 2006
In the image above, looking at it from the perspective of colour, the image has an overal blue hue, almost monochrome, however, the red skirt of the model, used as an accent, provides the contrast needed to make the figure "stand out" and not be entirely dwarfed by the columns of the Law School.

Nora, Train Station II, Oslo - August 2006
Once again, in this photograph of Nora at the train station, the red dress provides an accent in an otherwise monotone image.  The use of colour in this way is essential to this image.

Nora, Diechmannske Library, Oslo - August 2006
Reminiscent of the columns of the Oslo Law School, this time we are looking through the blue posts into the libarary which can be seen as a collection of randomly coloured books. This time, instead of using an accent colour, Nora's "top" matches the yellow of the doors and these make up a triangle which enables Nora to stand out from the mainly haphazard background of books.  In the same, warm colour, this time red, there are blocks of books which give the whole a greater sense of warmth and solidity.

Thomas Zanon-Larcher is an interesting photographer who is also very much a story teller.  I certainly need to learn more about his work.  Just from the images above, I am taking away learning points in the use of colour as an accent and how basic design principles "make" an image.

Photographs obtained from  All are copyright Thomas Zanon-Larcher and have also been credited to the Wapping Project Bankside gallery.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Colour Relationships - Part 2

In Part 2 of the "Colour Relationships" exercise, we are asked to produce three or four colour combinations which appeal to us.  In my case I have selected the 4 images below.  Although I was looking for suitable colour combinations, I was also struck by how many images in my photo collection repeat the combinations below.  In particular the Red : Blue and Green : Yellow are recurring themes.  Does that say something about me?

Orange : Red : Green
ISO 200  1/60 sec, f/22
The image above is pretty much in the 'warm' part of the colour wheel.  The background is orange and the pale red / pink of the flowers works well against the warmth of the wall.  The colours achieve harmony because they are adjacent.

Green : Yellow
ISO 200 1/200 sec, f/5.6
Yellow and green are adjacent in the colour wheel, so they work well together.  The paintwork of this taxi in Bangkok is certainly eye-catching.  Green is in the 'cool' side of the colour wheel whereas yellow is in the 'warm' side, though to me, the image is neither 'warm' or 'cold'.

Blue : Green : Red
ISO 200  1/125 sec, f/11
Red and blue are the dominant colours in this image of a Gnat vintage jet trainer.  Red and blue are a third of the way across the colour wheel so would be considered contrasting colours and therefore not considered harmonious.  To me, however, there is synergy between the two colours and they work well together.  Perhaps it is the tension between the colours which gives it dynamic appeal.

Yellow : Orange
ISO 100  1/250 sec, f/5
Yellow and orange exude warmth, and indeed they are adjacent colours on the 'warm' side of the colour wheel.  It is strange how rust, in all its colours can give this impression of warmth, despite being an indicator of decay.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Colours into tones in black and white

When photographing in black and white, or now, more likely, converting the digital image from colour to black and white, either filters or a form of filtration is used.  The standard had been set by Kodak with their range of Wratten gelatine filters.

Details of their usage are given in the Kodak Professional Data Guide as shown above.  They were listed in the form of a "Colour filter circle", which also gave the exposure factors to be applied for each.  Most helpfully the advice given is that "Adjacents Lighten" and "Opposites Darken", so for example, when using a green filter, which is listed as a Wratten #58, the grey tone rendering of yellow, green and blue-green will be lightened and the opposite colours of red, magenta and violet will be be darkened in tone.

So why are filters used in black and white photography?  There are three main reasons:

  • to eliminate haze (yellow filter) or enhance atmospheric conditions (blue filter);
  • to render tones in a black and white photographs in such a way as to make them look more natural; and
  • emphasise objects due to their colour, classically, a yellow filter will darken the sky.
Filters are also used to correct colour casts or marks when photographing old documents, for example.

In digital photography, conversion to black and white can be achieved in a number of different ways, with considerable subtlety depending on the route chosen.  Most software will have a "button" which represents the one stop solution, in my case, using Lightroom v4, in the Develop module, I can click on the Black & White tab in the Basic adjustment panel or I can select B&W in the HSL / Color / B&W panel.  The effect on both is the same.  This is the starting point from which further adjustments can be made using the sliders which adjust the following colours:
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Aqua, Blue, Purple and Magenta.

The nomenclature is that used by Adobe.

So to apply a yellow filter, say a Wratten #8, then would lighten yellow, by say taking the slider to say +40, but would also lighten Orange and Green, though to a lesser extent.  It is necessary, though, to remember to deal with the "opposites", so darken Blue, to say -40 and then darken Aqua, Purple and Magenta in smaller proportions.  Magenta would likely be darkened the least.

Most software will have a preset which will do this adjustment in a single step.  Lightroom v4 has the following B&W filter presets:
  • Blue;
  • Blue Hi-Contrast;
  • Green;
  • Infrared;
  • Orange;
  • Red;
  • Red Hi-Contrast Filter; and
  • Yellow.
The effect of applying these filter presets is different to the more simplistic rule applied using the Wratten Colour Filter Circle, so in my example above, Red is lightened most as as well are both Magenta and, to a smaller extent Purple.  Aqua is the "blue" colour darkened most.  I suspect that other software will also apply similar presets differently.

This exercise requires us to demonstrate the effect of applying No filter, Yellow (Wratten #11), Red (Wratten #25), Blue (Wratten #47) and Green (Wratten #58)

ISO 100, 1/125, f/11
I have set up a scene which is likely to exagarate the impact of applying the 4 "filters".

No filter
Yellow - Manual
Here I moved the Yellow slider to +40 and the Blue slider to -40.  Orange and Green to +22 and Aqua and Purple to -22.  The blue background is noticeably darkened and yellow is very light in tone.  Green is slightly lightened.

Yellow - Preset
In the Lightroom v4 preset, both the Orange and Red are lightened significantly with Red having a value of +63.  Aqua has the lowest value at -38 and Blue at -17.

No Filter
Red - Manual
As before, I moved the Red slider to +40 and the Aqua slider to -40.  Orange and Magenta being lightened at +22 and Green and Blue being set to -22.  The effect is quite visible with the red being lightened and blue slightly darker.

Red - Preset
Again the preset is significantly different to my manual interpretation.  Red (+50), Orange (+38) and Yellow (+36) are significantly lightened.  Surprisingly Aqua is also lightened (+25).  The sum of all of these means that my manual interpretation is significantly different when judged against the preset.

No filter
Blue - Manual
This time I lightened Blue to max (+100), Aqua and Purple to +40.  Yellow (-40) and Orange (-20) were darkened.  This left yellow, green and red very similar in tone.

Blue - Preset
A massive difference after applying the preset with yellow and red becoming almost the same in tone with values of -60.  Blue (+63) and Aqua (+38) are lightened, thouhgh not to the same extent as I did in the manual and this is clearly evident.

No Filter
Green - Manual
For the green filter, I went back to my "standard" approach lightening Green to +40, Yellow and Aqua both to +20.  Red (-20), Magenta (-40) and purple (-20) were all reduced.  The effect is predictable and the difference is visible.

Green - Preset
Visually, the preset presents the red somewhat lighter, with a positive lightening of + 25.  Yellow and Aqua are much lighter at +40 and +38, so all these differences become visible.

What have I learnt from this exercise?  In the digital world I have a huge amount of control over how I want to adjust a black and white image.  The preset filters are a great starting point, but can then make further adjustments from there in order to achieve the desired effect. At least I do not have to consider the panchromatic qualities of the B&W film as well!