Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Exercise – Primary and secondary colours

Brief:

Find scenes or parts of scenes that are each dominated by a single one of the primary and secondary colours. Take shots at different exposures to get the closest match.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 18-200mm f/3.5 lens.

Results:

Green:

Green is an abundant colour in nature and so symbolises growth, freshness and fertility. It is seen by many to be calming colour.

In this set of three, the one that I felt corresponded most closely to the colour wheel was -2/3 EV.

Yellow:

Yellow is the colour of sunshine and so is often associated with happiness, energy and warmth.

In this set of three, the one that I felt corresponded most closely to the colour wheel was 0 EV.

Orange:

Orange is a hot colour, sometimes seen to represent emotions such as enthusiasm, fascination, creativity and stimulation.

In this set of three, the one that I felt corresponded most closely to the colour wheel was -2/3 EV.

Red:

Red is the colour of blood, and is associated with passion, danger and intense emotion.

In this set of three, the one that I felt corresponded most closely to the colour wheel was 0 EV.

Violet:

Violet, or purple, is associated with royalty and can symbolise power, luxury, wealth and extravagance.

In this set of three, the one that I felt corresponded most closely to the colour wheel was -1/3 EV.

Blue:

Blue is the colour of the sky and the sea, often associated with depth, stability, calmness and coolness.

In this set of three, the one that I felt corresponded most closely to the colour wheel given was -2/3 EV.

Putting them all together:

What I’ve learned:

It took me a while to find good natural examples of these colours (as the brief warned it might) and it took me even longer to select the ones that I felt most closely matched the primary and secondary colours on a standard colour wheel. I found that what looked close on my camera display could look quite different on my laptop screen and different again on my desktop monitor. (I think I would benefit from proper monitor colour calibration, and I have a device on the way to do so. I may update or redo the exercise after recalibrating my displays).

Beyond these technical challenges: I found this exercise very interesting, especially after shooting in back and white a lot recently. Naturally occurring examples of ‘pure’ primary and secondary colours are actually quite rare, and can look different based on the light and surrounding colours. My eyes have been opened to colours I see around me when I shoot. This was helped by being on holiday in the south of France whilst I was working on this exercise, where the light is still good and strong, and the local buildings are famous for their rich mediterranean colours. Back in grey, rainy old England, the colours aren’t quite so vibrant or obvious!


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Exercise – Control the strength of a colour

Brief:

Find a strong, definite colour and choose a viewpoint so that the colour fills the viewfinder frame. Find the average exposure setting. Then take a sequence of pictures; all composed exactly the same, but differently exposed from bright to dark by adjusting the aperture setting.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 18-200mm f/3.5 lens.

Results:

I chose a red scatter cushion against red upholstery. The over-exposed shots, especially the +1.0EV, render the red rather bright, almost pink-like. As the exposure was changed the colour became more saturated, as expected. Also, in the under-exposed shots the detail and texture in the material becomes more visible. In my opinion the slightly under-exposed one (–0.5EV) most closely matched how my eyes saw the colour in real life, which goes to show that the camera’s metering isn’t always perfect.

1/20s at f4.0

1/20s at f4.0 (+1.0EV)

1/20s at f4.5

1/20s at f4.5 (+0.5EV)

1/20s at f5.6

1/20s at f5.6 (0.0EV)

1/20s at f6.7

1/20s at f6.7 (–0.5EV)

1/20s at f8.0

1/20s at f8.0 (–1.0EV)

What I’ve learned:

It’s possible to control the strength of a colour through a deliberate choice of exposure. This is something I’ve usually left to post-processing, often boosting saturation if I think the camera didn’t quite catch the colours well enough. What this exercise has taught me is that to a certain extent I can actually do this in camera. Very interesting.