Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Assignment 3: Colour



In this assignment you will show your command of colour in photography, being able to find and use different colours in deliberate relationships. Take about four photographs each (16 altogether) that illustrate the following colour relationships:

  • colour harmony through complementary colours
  • colour harmony through similar colours
  • colour contrast through contrasting colours
  • colour accent using any of the above


Please note that this post includes two images that were updated based on tutor feedback, so this is the final version of this assignment. For reference, the images replaced are both noted inline below and included in before and after versions in this explanatory post.

Small versions below for online viewing. Larger versions and contact sheet in a downloadable zip file.

UPDATE: tutor report uploaded.

First: a gallery view of all the images – click a thumbnail to open larger versions. Then a brief analysis per image.

1. Harmony through complementary colours

1. Harmony through complementary colours

1. Rubber ducks – Harmony through complementary colours

For the first set of four images I arranged toys of various colours against coloured card, in order to give a coherent look and feel to the images. Toys lent themselves really well to this as they are usually in solid primary and secondary colours.

In this first image I aimed to stick to the suggested harmonious blue:orange ratio of 2:1. The warm and bright orange against the cool blue, mimicking sky or water, does give this image a pleasing balance, aided by the composition of three identical objects. The fact that they all face left to right, which is how the eye tends to read an image, further helps this image achieve harmony and balance. I was also attracted to the inherent humour in the image, making me think of the management-speak of ‘getting your ducks in a row’.


2. Harmony through similar colours

2. Rubik’s cube – Harmony through similar colours

The strong, solid orange-yellow shades in this make for a clean and sharp image. It’s a very warm image in terms of colour but the cube shape and especially the thick black lines give a real sense of solidity to the picture. The stronger orange colour is where my eye starts in viewing this image, and the receding side in the lighter yellow shade gives the sense of depth. I considered positioning the cube dead centre to further imply solidity, but settled on positioning it off-centre to the left, as this allowed the shadow to fall to the right, further aiding the sense of front-to-back depth. [note: reworked image, original here]


3. Contrasting colours

3. Contrasting colours

3. Counting cup – Contrasting colours

In featuring only green and violet, this image is inherently out of balance as these are sharply contrasting colours that do not have a harmonious relationship. Green is associated with nature and violet, especially in this quantity, is quite unnaturally rich, creating a jarring impression. I wanted to further imply a sense of movement by having the figure ‘5’ askew, implying that it is rolling towards the empty space to the right of the frame.


4. Colour accent

4. Colour accent

4. Dice – Colour accent

To complete the toy set of four, I chose to position a pair of yellow dice off-centre on a green background. As neighbours on the colour wheel, there is a sense of harmony in the pairing, as they are both quite warm and natural colours. Though small, the dice are bright enough to draw the eye down and right.


5. Harmony through complementary colours

5. Harmony through complementary colours

5. M&Ms – Harmony through complementary colours

For the second set of still life arrangements I again worked to subject theme, this time food. Again I aimed to keep a similar aesthetic across the set, this time all against a light background. This particular pairing came to mind as I wanted to find a blue foodstuff, and there aren’t many naturally occurring ones! In terms of the balance, in this shot I didn’t match the suggested natural 2:1 ratio, as this is more like 1:1. Due to this, the brighter, more vibrant orange catches the eye more than the blue. Although a fairly random-looking arrangement, my eyes see first an anti-clockwise swirl of the orange M&Ms, cupped underneath by a matching swirl of the blue.


6. Harmony through similar colours

6. Harmony through similar colours

6. Apples – Harmony through similar colours

Although apples tend to be thought of simplistically as being red or green, in reality some varieties spread between these two opposites, showing shades or yellow and orange. Here I aimed to position them such that the shading from yellow to the deep reddish orange moved fairly smoothly from left to right. All shades along this continuum are warm and bright and hopefully this similarity is pleasing to the eye. I’m hoping to give the impression of the fruit appearing to ‘ripen’ from left to right.


7. Contrasting colours

7. Contrasting colours

7. Carrots – Contrasting colours

Here the contrasting warm, vibrant orange and the rich, natural green take up about the same amount of space, maybe with marginally more green to balance out the brightness of the orange. Even though the colours are relatively evenly balanced in terms of quantity, the impression remains of disharmony due to the relationship of the colours, being neither complementary or similar. The eye naturally starts on the dominant orange but the swirl of the stalks makes the viewer move around the image in a clockwise direction as indicated. Depicting carrots with the leaves still on like this gives an impression of the freshness of the food, as this is not how one normally sees the vegetable under normal circumstances. The strong colours and the plain background aid this impression of freshness.


8. Colour accent

8. Colour accent

8. Tomato soup – Colour accent

In terms of colour relationship, red and green are complementary, although in this imbalanced ratio the green serves only as a colour accent and so the dominant visual effect is very much the deep red of the soup. The bowl edge serves as a natural visual cue for the eyes to circle around the red before settling on the green of the basil. The whole subject is positioned off-centre simply to avoid an overly static composition.


9. Harmony through complementary colours

9. Harmony through complementary colours

9. Watering cans – Harmony through complementary colours

After the first two sets of four being very deliberately arranged, the remainder of these photos are all ‘found’ subjects and not in a particular theme.

First up, this display of watering cans caught my eye as having a good balance of red and green. The fact that there are two of each, and with the reds facing right and (one of) the greens facing left gives a compositional balance to support the colour harmony. Although there are other colours in the image, notably the pink top left, I felt that the red and green dominated enough to give the desired effect.


10. Harmony through similar colours

10. Harmony through similar colours

10. Leaves – Harmony through similar colours

Given the time of year, I couldn’t resist including a shot of fallen leaves. In this one I went for a shallow depth of field such that the eye starts on the sharper portion of the image about a third of the way up, then recedes into the deeper background. Though similar, there is enough variation in the shades to give a sense of texture to the scene. There is a warmth to the image with these shades of orange, yellow and brown that I found quite welcoming.


11. Contrasting colours

11. Contrasting colours

11. Love sculpture – Contrasting colours

The iconic ‘Love’ sculpture by Robert Indiana is currently on the corner of Bishopsgate in the City of London. It’s a very arresting image, and caught at the appropriate angle you get the strong blue colour of the sides to contrast with the vibrant red. This combination of passionate blood red, the colour of love, against the cool, calm blue is a striking juxtaposition. Although square, as the sculpture spells out a word the eye is clearly guided around the image. Although I originally shot this in vertical format to complement the shape of the artwork, in editing I chose a horizontal composition to match the other images. In this crop the only accents of colour around the main subject are also red (the bus, the pedestrian’s jacket) and blue (the window top right).


12. Colour accent

12. Colour accent

12. Paris statue – Colour accent

A golden statue atop a pillar in Paris, its subject appearing to be waving a sword at a passing aeroplane, really caught my attention due to the clear and bright blue sky. The pillar, being grey and half in shade, doesn’t diminish the yellow-on-blue accent effect. In looking at this image, my eyes first settle on the statue, then move up and left to see what the statue appears to be addressing.


13. Harmony through complementary colours

13. Harmony through complementary colours

13. Primula – Harmony through complementary colours

Although I had more than enough candidate shots for red/green and blue/orange, I was determined to include a violet/yellow combination in my final series. To me it was the most difficult combination to find occurring naturally, but eventually I came upon a primula flower with the right colours, albeit not in the suggested ratio for true harmony. There is rather too much violet compared to the yellow, but I do believe the brightness of the yellow helps to achieve a reasonable sense of colour harmony. Hopefully the green background is subdued enough so as not to fight with the violet/yellow as the dominant colour. The eye starts on the main flower but then moves to the right, with the half-petal gap being balanced out by the smaller pieces of violet and yellow to the right, almost as it a portion of the main flower escaped and exploded to the right.


14. Harmony through similar colours

14. Harmony through similar colours

14. Gourds – Harmony through similar colours

Again, the combination of similar colours I found was in the orange-yellow range, this time moving towards the green end of the spectrum a  little too. These decorative gourds offer a pleasing variety of textures as well as the variation in shades. The diagonal of the sign spike is reflected in the angles of the gourds along that axis.


15. Contrasting colours

15. Contrasting colours

15. OXO Tower view – Contrasting colours

These last two images are a little more experimental and I’m hoping that I can justify that these do meet the briefs in each case. In this first image I have attempted to use lighting conditions to bring the colour combination that I was looking for. It is a combined interior/exterior shot from the top of the OXO Tower in London; with the reflection of the kitchen, bathed in yellow/greenish light taking up the lower portion, and the deep blue lighting of the main restaurant area lighting up the skyline outside via the slats of the blind. It almost has the impression of being a multiple exposure, but it is really just down to the positioning and angles of the windows. There is a strong downward diagonal aspect to the image, accentuated by my choice of angle that rendered the interior scene straight and the horizon tilted; the colours divide along the same diagonal, giving it a real sense of dynamism and vitality. I initially thought that the dome may interrupt the image, but on reflection I believe it helps give context to the exterior portion of the scene.


16. Colour accent

16. Paris love locks

For this final shot, I initially considered it – or a similar shot from the same scene – for the ‘colour harmony through similar colours’ brief, as the huge wall of padlocks (the length of a bridge over the River Seine) broadly merge around the yellow/gold/bronze range of colours. However, I thought I would take a punt and justify this as an example of colour accent, due to the bright red heart-shaped lock that immediately catches the eye. The justification part is, I suppose, accepting that the wall of padlocks is broadly a mass of yellow (although it is clearly dotted with other colours, which gives it more of textured feel) against which the red lock sits. Once the red heart catches the eye, the depth of the image reveals itself through perspective and diminishing focus, showing the context of the dominant heart. As the premise of the scene is that each padlock represents the love of a couple who have added theirs to the bridge, and that Paris is traditionally known as the city of romance, the fact that the visually dominant lock is a heart shape is particularly pertinent to the message. [note: reworked image, original here]



Although I’m now very happy with the final results, I found this quite a difficult assignment to get into, much more so than Assignment 2. I found that compared to the subject theme-driven second assignment, this required me to find or create a significant number of different colour combinations and the shooting took place over a longer period of time. Also, after two months of shooting mainly in black and white for Elements of Design, the shift back to colour took some getting used to!

Following a chat with my tutor and a bit of preparation, I got cracking properly a few weekends ago. The real breakthrough was adding a bit of structure to the set of 16 images, as this gave me some of the thematic cohesion I was missing. Whilst I originally envisaged four sets of four images, each set with a strong theme, in the end only the first two sets had such themes (Toys and Food). The plan was for the ‘found’ subjects to neatly divide into two sets of four (Urban and Rural, Interior and Exterior, etc) but in the end I treated this as a set of eight without strong delineation.

Evaluating my submission against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:
    • I believe I’ve addressed the image softness issues my tutor raised on a couple of my shots submitted for Assignment 2; all of the first eight shots here were taken using a tripod, and for most of the remaining eight I used a good quality fast prime lens that allowed handheld shooting without boosting ISO too much
    • I’m shooting RAW and taking a little more time in post-processing to try to get the look to match what I saw in the viewfinder (or in my head) when I took the shot
    • In a similar way to how I started more easily identifying shapes and lines in the last section of the course, over the last two months I’ve gradually ‘trained my eyes’ to see colours and colour relationships more clearly; it started off as a conscious thought process when out shooting for the exercises and assignment but evolved into something I’m naturally finding myself doing
    • As ever, I am aiming to maintain all of the learnings from the previous sections of the course whilst delivering this set of images, so making sure the composition and framing are supportive of the look I’m trying to achieve with the colour relationships
    • Specifically on the Food set, I wanted to get a really consistent, clean white background but have not been able to achieve this; I need to work more on lighting and possibly post-processing if I want to achieve this particular technique well
  • Quality of Outcome:
    • Overall I am pleased with the aesthetic quality of the images, and in particular I’m very happy with the Toys set as these most closely match what I pre-visualised – strong, solid blocks of colour
    • Whilst some images have stronger concepts than others, I do believe I am considering the messages or ideas behind the images more than I used to; whether these concepts are at all clear to the viewer is however another matter
    • I made specific compositional and processing choices in all of these images that I believed helped to depict the colour relationship to match my vision for the picture; again, whether this is successful or not to the viewer is unknown, but I am consciously thinking it through more
    • I think a lot more now about how a viewer might interact with an image; what they will see first, where their eyes will go… I aim to replicate what I saw when I decided to take the picture; in selecting which shot to use, I’m trying to identify which is most likely to elicit the response I want/expect
  • Demonstration of Creativity:
    • I do wish I could have found two coherent themes for the ‘found’ subject shots, but found this inherently more difficult and fragmented than an arranged studio series like the Toys and Food sets
    • I found the still life sets much more interesting to set up and shoot than I expected; previously I always thought I preferred ‘finding’ pictures than ‘making’ them, but in this assignment I gained a lot of satisfaction out of pre-visualising what I wanted to achieve and then methodically working to turn that idea into reality
    • By contrast, with the exterior shots I found it more frustrating and restrictive that I couldn’t control all the elements of the image to meet my inner vision of the desired effect
    • In terms of subject matter, I wanted to avoid too many clichés and at one point was determined not to even have a flower included (I folded on that one)
    • I did work on thinking a little more laterally, for example on image 15, the inside/outside split view from the OXO Tower, where I saw the different light colours giving me the colour split I was looking for
  • Context:
    • As mentioned earlier, I found this assignment a little tricky to get into; my difficulties weren’t really with the theory, as I think I got my head around this early on, from the course notes and other reading (including Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure [1], not specifically about colour but contains some great examples of colour combinations) but more with the inspiration to actually make or find practical examples that demonstrated the theories
    • Regarding colour theory, in particular the changing relationships between colours when used in certain combinations, I found an iPad app called Interaction of Color [2] – an interactive version of Josef Albers’ famous workbook on the subject – hugely educational, and I strongly recommend it
    • I found a colour search engine on the web that was fantastic for both providing examples of colour relationships in the suggested ratios (to validate the theories) and for inspiration on subject matter
    • I did a couple of learning log posts in my preparatory stage for the assignment, first of all detailing my difficulties in getting started and what advice my tutor gave, and a much more positive second one from when I was seeing the series take shape
    • Even more than in assignments 1 and 2, I have kept in touch with other TAOP students on the same assignment, and shared ideas and discussed mutual concerns and challenges – which has hugely helped me in realise that my doubts and difficulties are not unique
    • I looked at and took some inspiration from photographers who are known particularly for their colour work such as Saul Leiter, William Eggleston and Martin Parr – the latter not so much for subject matter inspiration, as he’s very much a people photographer, but for his colour palette choices.

In summary, whilst it has been the most challenging assignment so far, I am proud of my achievement here and am really looking forward to getting comments and suggestions back from my tutor.

Equipment and technical info:

  1. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1.2 sec at f/11, ISO 200
  2. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1 sec at f/11, ISO 200
  3. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens at 55mm. 4 sec at f/16, ISO 200
  4. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens at 55mm. 2 sec at f/16, ISO 200
  5. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 2.5 sec at f/16, ISO 200
  6. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 0.5 sec at f/8, ISO 200
  7. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 2.5 sec at f/16, ISO 200
  8. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1 sec at f/16, ISO 200
  9. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 27mm lens. 1/35 sec at f/2.8, ISO 200
  10. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/700 sec at f/1.4, ISO 200
  11. Fujifilm XF1 compact at 25mm. 0.5 sec at f/4.9, ISO 400
  12. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 27mm lens. 1/600 sec at f/8, ISO 200
  13. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/250 sec at f/2, ISO 400
  14. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens at 55mm. 1/125 sec at f/6.4, ISO 200
  15. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/50 sec at f/1.4, ISO 1000
  16. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens at 18mm. 1/350 sec at f/2.8, ISO 800


1. Peterson, B. 2004. Understanding Exposure: Revised Edition. New York: Amphoto

2. Albers, J. 2013. Interaction of Color: iPad Edition. Yale 



5 thoughts on “Assignment 3: Colour

  1. Well done a great set of images ! My favourites are the apples and padlocks – I’ll also have a look at the IPad application you mentioned. The next module on lighting looks interesting and I am looking forward to starting it.

  2. Really well done Rob a really nice set of images. Toys as a theme was a great idea! Think my faves are the apples (a really clever idea to line up the shading!) and the Rubiks cube – but then I’m a sucker for orange. Like your London pics too – ‘LOVE” went into one of my exercises! Do you work in the City?

    • Thank you, you’re very kind.

      I don’t work in the City, but I am working down in London (well, Richmond) at the moment and have had cause to pop into central London to meet up with friends on an evening now and again — hence the Bishopsgate and OXO Tower pics…

      Have you finished Assignment 3 yet?

      • Assignment 3 is with my tutor so now manically trying to catch up with my blog posts before he views them – a dangerous game! Assignment 3 – all will be revealed very shortly …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s