Here’s something or nothing. Did you realise that we, as photographers, take images in additive (Red, Green, Blue or RGB) and print in subtractive (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black or CMYK, the K stands for Key) colours? Explains, partially, why we have printer profiles I suppose, but as the last session was about editing and the previous was about composition and we have talked about colour space before, which impacts on what we will be talking about here, it seems proper that we talk about colour in a little more depth.
It matters way beyond photography though. In a much quoted survey, “92.6 percent said that they put most importance on visual factors when purchasing products. Only 5.6 percent said that the physical feel via the sense of touch was most important. Hearing and smell each drew 0.9 percent.
When asked to approximate the importance of color (sic) when buying products, 84.7 percent of the total respondents think that color (sic) accounts for more than half among the various factors important for choosing products”.
Source: Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo 2004
“92% Believe color (sic) presents an image of impressive quality
90% Feel color (sic) can assist in attracting new customers
90% Believe customers remember presentations and documents better when color (sic) is used
83% Believe color (sic) makes them appear more successful
81% Think color (sic) gives them a competitive edge
76% Believe that the use of color (sic) makes their business appear larger to clients”
Source: Conducted by Xerox Corporation and International Communications Research from February 19, 2003 to March 7, 2003, margin of error of +/- 3.1%.
Colour perceptions and the way that colour works is vastly important, yet most photographers, even the ones who know about the colour wheel and might even know some colour theory, don’t always use it to the maximum advantage probably because we take the environment that we are capturing as outside of our control. Studio work excepted, where control is, can be, total. It will help us to be aware of why colour and shape attract us in the first place and a little understanding of colour theory, including the psychological and emotional effects of colour, can be made to go a long way.
Using colours effectively can have a big impact. we can use it to draw the eye, tell a story or change the mood. HDR often suffers from being what I call beige, that is the colours are muted and squashed together in spectrum which certainly gives them a look, but not necessarily a pleasant one. Shooting in RAW really helps here because if you desaturate to black and white and get a very grey image then it is telling you something. Altering the sliders for individual colours has an effect, even in black and white, and can help balance things more to your taste. Why RAW? Because RAW gives you more. More data to affect the final outcome. JPEG isn’t terminal here it is just limiting.
Whilst we are on the subject of sliders, saturation is more often than not the guilty party. Saturation is the intensity of a colour. Value, which is related is the brightness or darkness of a colour, gives you the same saturation but it effects the visibility of that colour on screen. Between them you can get a range of shades. Highly saturated colours are very shouty. A whole image made up of saturated colours can be overwhelming unless very skilfully applied.
The idea that certain colours complement each other is as old as the ideas of colour and art go and nature cottoned on the signal properties of colour long before humanity came along. What follows is a jaunt around the colour wheel from a solo trip to several in company. The simplest colour harmony is one where a single colour predominates. Monochrome. Best for single subjects and striking effects, How photographic in principle can you get? It can be a wash of sepia or a cyanotype, the striking light of the rising or setting sun, or a single colour like a red, a pink, a green a yellow or any other colour that works. The next circuit is one in the company of near neighbours, analogous harmonies. These are the colours that are adjacent to each other on the wheel, the ones either side of the primary colour we are looking at. It tends to create feelings of comfort in the viewer, no jarring opposites to clash with our senses. Any landscaper or natural photographer will tell you it is most often found in nature.
Things start to get a little bit more complicated with the triadic. Think of a clock with hour, minute and second hands permanently at a 120 degree separation, so pointing, for instance at 12 4 and 8 on the dial or 1,5 and 9, 2,6 and 10 etc. It can be quite difficult to pull off but it is very striking. The one we have all probably heard of is the complementary, opposite sides of the colour wheel through the full 360 degrees (well, logically 180 degrees as you have then covered everything in the full circle but that might be being picky). They really are the two colours that go best with each other but rarely, very rarely, do they work when in equal amounts. There needs to be an imbalance, probably in favour of the less strident of the two colours (green, if red and green, blue if yellow and blue for instance) because the other way round throws the whole scene out of balance because of where the eye is drawn.
So why leave it there, why not complicate it by using split complimentary colours? Well why not. Similar to the basic complimentary, what it does is split the range of one end of the opposites between two analogous colours, it’s an hour earlier than the triadic on our imaginary colour watch, so 12 is complimented by colours at 5 and 7 o’clock (red by blue and green for example) 1 by 6 and 8, 2 by 7 and 9. But, I know, that is not complicated enough for you, well, sir, madam, out the back and for very special customers only, we have the tetrad. Now this comes in two flavours. The rectangle and the square. Basically four corners arranged around the wheel or two sets of complimentary colours. Again the application should be in favour of the weaker colours or you will get a mess. And if that doesn’t produce something close enough to a dog’s dinner then you can try the adjacent tetrad, same principle but the complementaries are immediately next to each other on the wheel. Multi colour schemes are extremely difficult to control but might be found in the built environment. For those you have to trust your eye or make it the story of the image.
So, in your studio, light tent, bokeh creations or in the wild, but MOST particularly in post production, don’t over-do the saturation; use high contrast values to get the viewing eye’s attention; use colour harmonies (there others in addition to the ones we have looked at) to maximise impact.
One very good resource you want to look at if you want to take this forward is the remarkably informative and flexible Adobe colour (OK Color) wheel.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Portrait Evening: Photographing a couple of models with studio lights and backdrops.
It must be Autumn because last meeting we did a light painting session courtesy of Myk Garton and guest light painter Tony Cullen – many thanks guys. Every time we do this there is something new and I will admit that it is one of my favourite things to do photographically. Attendance was high which proves its popularity with other club members too. This was the introductory evening and we will be doing some more advanced techniques on December 1st. Of course light painting isn’t necessarily seasonal, but the ever shortening days this side of the Winter Solstice means that available light is at a premium. The “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” (that man Keats again) means a lot more than landscapers getting a lie in. The light, generally, has a quality of its own because of the relatively low angle of the sun to the horizon. Problem is there isn’t a lot of it.
So, provide our own. This is as close outdoors as we get to the degree of control of light in a studio. The big difference is we make benefit of the dark. The contrast levels are extreme, but that is a virtue not a vice. The canvas is light on dark but in a more high contrast way than we see in daylight, where we could argue that the opposite is true (wrong as everything we see is via reflected light, but since when did wrong prevent an argument?). Strobists use flash guns to recreate the flood of light which they can control the direction and beam, with a white balance of its own. When drawing on the black canvas, with torches, coloured lights or even fire, the colour balance doesn’t tend to be a big consideration, at least in the sense of it being something that needs correcting. Painting a scene in light as opposed to drawing a scene with light presents different technical challenges, but can be done with the same kit and a bit of patience. I say a bit, oftentimes a lot of patience.
In fact there are a number of different ways to think of light painting, and where we start, the way in which we are thinking of the images we want to capture, determines the outcome more than anything else. Yes this may come under the heading of “Well, duh” but any technique has strengths and weaknesses according to the situation. Selection is the key. The first decision is are we lighting the subject or creating an effect? Our desired look will determine the way we use the lights and the sort of lights we use. Again, we may say “Duh”, but it’s surprising how hard we can make the job by not prepping for a final outcome in the first place. We might be combining both, after all. What about spontaneity and experimentation, we say? Much better to have an idea to execute and vary than to just turn up having watched several hours of YouTube videos with a load of kit and a vague idea. We may be technically proficient but that is no good if we are subject deficient – the difference between a body with a camera and a photographer.
The point to start, where when who and how because that is going to dictate what we can and cannot do. Use a familiar or scout a location in the day light. Decide what the subjects are likely to be and what kit we are going to take with us. If unfamiliar with orbs, zoom bursts, camera rotations, double exposures and the like the answer is “Should have been at club”. That aside, the first thing is, if not in total darkness or very near, determine what the level of ambient light is. This determines the time we have to paint in. If it isn’t a factor then fine, open the shutter for as long as it will go or as long as needed, then set the camera pre-focused and to manual – this meeting was about familiarising people with their equipment in those modes in order to capture those sort of effects.
If we want a basic explanation of light painting it is that it is long exposure photography. In the dark. The meter is useless without some level of ambient light and the length of exposure is dependent upon what we want to paint in and what we are painting with, that is to say, in the practical sense, it is going to be the product of experimentation. The light gathering capabilities of the sensor are going to be tested, select the lowest ISO to help keep the noise to a minimum (remember boost the signal, boost the noise and that is what you do when we up the ISO). We are going to need a tripod and, a personal preference, a remote shutter release.
Light trails, using moving lights – the most popular seems to be vehicle trails which, let’s face it, aren’t too difficult to come by in a city of 400,000 people – are also simple to set up and to execute. 8 to 10 seconds, ISO 100, F8 on a well lit street, as a starting point towards getting a reasonably exposed photograph overall and, as long as the vehicles are moving even relatively slowly, then some interesting effects can be captured. Vary the angles, either by setting the camera up more obliquely to the traffic than at a right angle, or find a bend or a roundabout to get some swoosh into the picture. Zooming whilst the shutter is open also does interesting things to the trails often setting them off at angles we wouldn’t expect and rotating the camera through 90 degrees during the exposure, as long as we keep the axis constant, can do interesting things to lights in the background (as alluded to above).
I know that is a cliché but nonetheless I am going to repeat it. There are so many variations that we truly are only limited by the imagination and for once, it doesn’t have to be at any great expense. Yes we can spend an inordinate amount of money on these techniques but actually experimenting with the basics will yield some fine and interesting results. I, for one, am really looking forward to part two of our light painting sessions.
Dockside this week, the last meeting of the 2014-15 season, near full moon and clear skies and the biggest boat ( the Lady Sandals, a private yacht that was, maybe, once owned by the actor Nicholas Cage for a few days, who also, I seem to remember, once owned a castle hereabouts he never visited – he is a man of expensive hobbies) seen in the basin for a long while (the MV Balmoral possibly accepted and then there wouldn’t be much in it either way though she was in the Bristol Channel I believe). We met under the “Big Shiny Ball” aka “The Disco Ball”, in reality the Planitarium in Bristol’s Millennium Square. Can’t say my own pictures were particularly heart stopping but I do have one, straight out of the camera, absolutely no post production, that apparently breaks the laws of physics. Need some time to puzzle that one out, or possibly engaging a Galactic Lawyer, but hey can’t say the evening wasn’t productive!
The Millennium that the Square celebrates was supposed to bring in many apocalyptic changes. Photographically it marked the beginning of the commercial change from film to digital and the relegation of a dominant medium to a men-in-cardigans-sucking-teeth medium in a couple of years. Then nostalgia isn’t what it once was. Stephen Mayes in an article in Time Magazine (thanks Mark Stone for posting via Facebook) this week argued that the changes were bigger than we first thought and that the photograph as photograph isn’t “Dead as many have claimed, but it’s gone“. The interconnected context of a photograph today, never mind the volumes of data about ourselves their sharing gives away, does not represent the optically and physically fixed idea of an article of record we think it does. Only a third of any image produced digitally, represents this century and a half truism of an unadorned record (and that was always at least part myth anyway), the rest of a JPEG or TIF file is interpolated. And the data in a RAW file, the digitally closest thing to a negative, can be manipulated in a near infinite number of ways. He cites Kevin Connor’s conjecture that the camera has evolved from picture making device to a data collecting one.
This does actually matter in our interconnected world, one where the next evolution of the i-phone may have a 12mp camera and 4K video capability, but also one where ALL the data on the phone, your life, good days, bad days and secrets between friends are shared globally in real time without you ever thinking about it. The delete button ONLY works on your phone. The myriad privacy statements and unread end user licensing agreements (EULA) allow us, distracted by the shiny things that these little miracles do and say, to unthinkingly give away data worth billions and permanently record those things we, maybe, one day wish had been left to fade from memory. Oh yes the digital camera now fits right in and not just camera-phones either because we upload/share not just the image but the exif data as well, maybe add a few comments, most of them instantly forgettable, lol, corny or otherwise steeped in a sauce of our own delusional wit, rotfl – to the point of incontinence. The point is “Except in photojournalism, there will be no such thing as a ‘straight photograph’; everything will be an amalgam, an interpretation, an enhancement or a variation – either by the photographer as auteur or by the camera itself” (Mayes after Marc Levoy).
My answer to that is, it always was. Composition? Decisive moment? Story telling? All a part of the art from day one because it was life imitating art at the beginning and ever since the very presence of a camera makes a difference to the way people act. That’s why “authentic” street photography sounds akin to stalking or surveillance in behavioural technique. That, however, maybe to (slightly) misrepresent Mayes, who is actually pitching that the photograph has and is becoming much more. It may, at the simplest level, represent a 2D representation of a 3D world but that 3D world now includes other experiences. Like the hyperlinks in this post represent layers of definition, interpretation and ultimately meaning through multiple perspectives with the text serving as guide in the same way as the image fires the story we put to it. Another point that this raises in my mind is that photojournalism isn’t immune from these things it is enhanced and increasingly depends. Apart from? Especially? Isn’t a crowd sourced citizen journalism closer to the notion of a cinema verite (Though someone still has to curate it)? And who has got the time to navigate this planet around every image world? Apart from Cultural Historians, Auteurs and the long term unemployed “Ain’t nobody got time for that“. Maybe that is the point. An image has a during, usually of a fraction of a second, we can only speculate about the before and afters for the most part.
Without a doubt photography is changing. Arguably there are fewer professionals around these days and someone turning up with a camera is no longer an event because everyone, virtually, has a camera as long as they have a Smartphone – and not just in the advanced economies. Mind you, turn up with a tripod and everyone thinks you know what you are doing. Within seconds you can be surrounded by men-in-cardigans-sucking-teeth telling you that nostalgia isn’t what it was and sticky fingered children asking you what that button does (not to ignore a few sticky fingered adults making off with your camera bag). Mayes is right though, new technologies, or the shrinking and disseminating of old ones does ask questions of society, not all of them comfortable to answer and in a culture of exploitation for profit the balance of privacy v profit will not naturally fall to the best individual interests of you and I. Then can you take the word of a bloke on the run from the World’s Creator Myths for breaking the laws of Physics?
N E X T M E E T I N G
Back to School for the first meeting of the 2015-16 calendar. Bring along your images of the summer and share.