Learning log (Part three) – Colour


colour brolly    On starting this module and reading the brief, I am surprised at how little I know about colour. I have printed off a copy of the colour wheel and now carry it around with me….. and have done so for weeks! I have been taking shots of what I think are good colour combinations only to discover I had not got the balance right, e.g. the colours I thought were complimentary were in fact in contrast. I realise that I can use my own judgment as to what works in a particular shot, but I also accept the importance of understanding the theory and principles behind colour use.

So, I have been reading up on the great colourists of the photography world and studying some of their images. In my research file I have included William Eggleston, Ernst Haas, Martin Parr and Eliot Porter. I am now able to identify with their work and look for similar elements and intent within my own photography.

I recently visited the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam and was bowled over by the work of Vermeer (see exhibition tab). The “pureness”, freshness and depth colour in the original paintings dated from the 1600s was impressive.

Below: This interesting image caught my eye while flicking through an old National Geographic magazine. Taken by Juhani Kosonen of Finland, the mosaic of water drops, each reflect the sky and nearby buildings. This shot is good for colour as it displays what I call the toy box colours; primaries – red, yellow, blue and a hint of green.



Project: What makes a colour

Exercise: Control the strength of a colour

We are asked to find a strong, definite colour and choose a viewpoint so that the colour fills the viewfinder frame. Then, take a sequence of 5 photos, all composed exactly the same, but differently exposed from bright to dark and note the differences.


I chose a bright tangerine colour (a blend of red and orange hues). f14 – the average metered setting on my camera.


At one stop up (f11) the hue holds it’s brilliance well but is not quite as rich – for me it lacks depth of colour compared with the original.


At f9 there is an obvious difference. On it’s own the colour would be fairly bright and still pass as tangerine. However when comparing it to the hue below it appears flat and quite dull.


Above:  (f16 one stop down from original), the richness has returned giving a more intense saturation of colour.

Below: At f18 I no longer view the colour as tangerine – it now offers a dark red hue and through saturation has lost some of the orange.



Exercise: Primary and secondary colours.

I am to find scenes that are each dominated by a single one of the primary and secondary colours and attempt to produce images that match the six colours closely.

This was not as straightforward as I first thought. The exercise made me realise just how difficult it is to match the colour I see with the colour I produce in my camera. If I had not done the previous exercise I would probably have lost patience – I still did to a degree. Through this exercise I now appreciate how experienced photographers are able to capture exact colours for commercial use, such as when photographing product brands. Just looking through magazines I see exact colour matches in photographs of fashion, recipes, garden flowers, nature and so much more.


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Several attempts to get this one as close as possible to pure red. A similar red was used on the wooden window frames. It all looked a pretty close match until I took the shot – they appeared as completely different hues! As the railings dominate the scene I concentrated on getting these as close to pure red as I could.

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My attempt with the Buddha didn’t quite turn out how I wanted. His paint is glossy and I didn’t consider how the position of the sun would illuminate the figure, detracting from the redness. Right: This wacky shot was taken in a small photo gallery/coffee shop in Napier, New Zealand. I just love the brilliant red vintage bird cage standing on guard outside the door, its rich colour competes with the photos to the right of the door.



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This shot depicts a brilliant blue producing an intense hue. For me this shot has a seaside feel about it, possibly because there are many coastal houses painted in these bright colours. I did consider capturing the whole window frames in the shot to give a look of picture frames hanging on the wall, but for me that gave too much information to the viewer and the image was flat.

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Left: I am pleased with this shot. I think it is very close to the blue on the colour wheel – a good solid hue. The letters are also in blue and through a missing windowpane is a reflected vivid blue, giving a hint that the inside may also be painted. I took the shot on an angle to add a touch of humour. Spookily I can see a face through the missing pane in the left window……

Right: Santa Monica beach. Various shades of blue in this shot, from a pale powder blue through to the deep inky blue of the sea. This deep shade is also picked out in the number 18.


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A pure and natural yellow centre that gradually fades out to near white.

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A shiny yellow car in a shiny wet car park. I like how the car dominates by parking centrally and away from other cars as if to say “Hey, look at me!” The bright yellow is mirrored in the wet tarmac to highlight the colour even more. The other vehicles appear dull in comparison. Some have turned their backs on the “showy” car and others have crept closer to take look.


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When visiting a small village in Scotland. I could not resist  this MOT centre residing in a church! I’m not sure of the purpose of the very obvious yellow annexe, but it overpowers the church building and I wonder what the local community think of it. Sacrilege?


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A close up shot of this flower offers two quite different hues of violet. The main one (the outer petals) are typical of the violet we see in the colour circle. The inner part of the flower has a deep unsaturated hue bordering on a brown-purple.

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Left: The paper lantern displays two hues of violet, the main one a pale unsaturated hue and in terms of brilliance it is weak. The stronger “bands” represent a deep violet. Right: This is a piece of amethyst – a natural colour is it’s own right. In terms of violet, I would say it is a very dark hue mixed with black.


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Windows again – and doors. This was the closest I could find to pure green. There are of course thousands of greens in the natural environment – very few match the pure green of the colour circle. This boarded up terrace is telling us it is a no go area, yet green is for Go. In the foreground you can just make out the blue/green “customer parking” sign on the ground, enticing us to come closer.

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Some of the many green hues found in the natural environment.  Left: The bamboo stem shows a very bright and saturated green. The brown adds contrast, enriching the green. Right: I see several shades of green here, some created by nature others created by the sunlight catching the blades as they move in the breeze.


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Both these are close to pure orange – depending on which colour wheel I look at. I can see that both are very different to an actual orange (as in the fruit), which has an intense and vibrant hue. The pumpkin is  unsaturated and moving closer to yellow. Dull without his fiery glow of the candle. The orange of the book jacket is deep and lacking in brilliance, this gives it the faded look of an old novel.

Exercise: colour relationships

Part one: To produce a photograph for each combination of primary and secondary colours to the proportions as shown below.

Red: green (1:1)

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On first looking at this image it appears to have more red than green. On closer inspection there is green weed floating in the water and around the edge of the red. As green is the colour most visible to the human eye, I see this as equal.

Orange: blue (1:2)

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Left: The orange in this photo is lifted by the bright sunlight giving it a hint of gold against the bright blue sky. Right: The faded blue is dull and unsaturated appearing as a turquoise hue. The competing rust displays as orange.

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Three attempts to highlight the orange against blue using different background colours. I will use the black background for my assignment as I think this is the strongest of the three in that it lifts the blue bowl out of the frame.

Yellow: violet (1:3)


Yes, there is a lot of blue, but I see this as background. What really stands out is the boat, this is because the ratios are correct. The eye moves quickly to the bright yellow buoy, but moves back again – via the rope attached to the boat by a pale violet ring, to study the lovely deep lavender hues of the boat.


I wanted to include this still life in my learning log because the image displays several hues of violet in one image. There is a deeply saturated violet then various hazy hues through to such an unsaturated violet that it appears almost white. The yellow plays a minor role but it does add some solidity to the delicacy of the subject.


Part two: To produce three/four images of any colour combinations that appeal to me.

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I chose this shot because I like the way the old bus blends into the natural surroundings as though it were a piece of sculpture. The orange rust is more noticeable because it is reinforced by the orange metal of the wheel hub, which mirrors the terracotta of the gate. The faded blue curtains are just visible as is the (possibly) original pale blue of the bus paint on the roof. Various yellows and greens are “splashed” on the bus as though to match the surrounding vegetation. Finally the garish saturated blue “private” sign on the gate gives a severe warning and yet it also leads the eye down a well trodden path past the bus and on towards the sea.

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Garden bonfire: The slight imbalance of the colour combination ratios here give orange the control. The heat of the flames is felt via the intensely brilliant and saturated orange. The sparks fly and pierce the deep velvet blue of the sky. The flames dance around providing movement and creating tension as the darkness descends and the blue becomes black.

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Orange and green, a cool combination of colours backed up by the grey sky and wet pathway. I can feel the change in air temperature following a heavy downpour, the tree branches seem weighted down from the rainfall. Orange has more light value than green so dominates this photo – the pathway leading to the orange door.

I also like the elements of design in this shot, the bold lines lead the eye to the door and the vertical lines of the windows then take the eye up towards the apex of the building. There are triangles, squares and rectangles softened by the foliage. The open door is inviting and there is a little warmth coming from the pink clothing of the person stood behind the glass.


Here the primary colours are shown together  with green. These are what I like to refer to as “toy box” colours. These bright colours attract the attention of young children.

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Uros Islands, Peru: I like the fact that the subjects dressed in these colours are young children. This shot has powerful and intense colours all jostling for attention. In the OCA notes on Theory of Colour by Michael Freeman he explains how red, yellow and blue are the strongest three colours together and how a fourth (in this case green) dissipates the contrast. The prime colours are bunched together and the surrounding area is counter balanced with softer, subtle hues of the floating reeds.

Other colour combinations         



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Contrasting colours


This shot has produced a flat almost pure red. The contrasting buttercups promote a bright yellow, again close to pure. Because the yellow is interspersed with grass the brightness is muted somewhat giving the tractor some equality with regard to the ratios. The photo has humour – I see the rough and tough tractor sitting proudly among the daintiness of the buttercups. Contrast indeed!

Colour to black and white

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Although the colours here are pure, strong and bright, I actually prefer the black and white version. The lines and shapes are more defined – the rectangular stone steps, the verticals in the windows and drain pipe, the curves in the bench, the sharp angles and lines of the boat and the triangle formed by the boy.

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I took this shot on a bright early spring morning. The pure white tulip heads sat among the fresh and bright young leaves give a lovely cool, sharp and crisp feel to this shot.

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I was surprised when I converted the image to black and white. I expected it to be dull and insignificant, but I am delighted with the result. The flowers appear to me as illuminated upturned lampshades dotted throughout the grey almost velvety leaves.


Just a splash of colour

I took this shot on a dull grey Manchester morning from the top level of a multi-storey car park. Uninteresting to the viewer without the “rocket” of colour. There is also a little flash of pink close by vying for attention.

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A Pukeko bird on a New Zealand beach. The background is neutral and cold but the bird is adding heat with it’s brilliant clashing hues of orange and pink!

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This shot would probably have passed as a black and white photo had the orange-gold seaweed not presented as a diagonal across the sand. There is also a hint of colour in the beach bags along the horizontal line between the sand and sea.


A flash of flesh brightens this shot as the fading evening sun turns the sand to a cool grey colour. A little warmth and rhythm are displayed as the sand is disturbed.

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