Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Exercise – Colour relationships

Brief:

This exercise is in two parts. The first is to produce one photograph for each combination of primary and secondary colours, adjusting the distance, focal length or framing when you shoot so that you compose the picture to the proportions given, as closely as possible.

For the second part, produce three or four images which feature colour combinations that appeal to you. They can be combinations of two colours or more.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 18-200mm f/3.5 lens; Leica X1 24mm; Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 18-55mm f/2.8 lens

Results:

Part 1:

Red-green, 1:1

This pair of cottage doors in Whitby jumped out as being a great example of red-green balance, albeit with the black border round the red door. The colours are equally strong and I think it does demonstrate how well-balanced an equal mix of red and green can be.

Red-green

Red-green

Orange-blue, 1:2

I believe the ratio here is approximately 1 orange to 2 blue, slightly interrupted by the green of the tiles, but I think it gives enough orange and blue to demonstrate the point. To me, the brightness of the orange does indeed mean that you need less of it than the less bright blue of the sky.

Orange-blue

Orange-blue

Yellow-violet, 1:3

I found this combination the hardest to find naturally so resorted to making my wife accessorise a new violet jacket with an old yellow t-shirt. I think the ratio is about 1:3 but find it quite hard to judge by eye. In this particular composition the yellow cuts through the middle of the violet and widens, almost like a necktie until it flows into the bottom left corner. To be absolutely honest I’m not sure if I agree that this combination is harmonious – possibly as it is too bright a shade of violet?

Yellow-violet

Yellow-violet

Part 2:

Red-green-yellow/orange

This fiery red facade of an apartment building in the old town in Nice really caught my eye, with the accents of green and the yellow/orange trim lines. The abundance of deep red makes this eye-catching rather than balanced, but that’s what attracted me to the image.

Red-green-yellow

Red-green-yellow

Orange-violet-yellow

Above a restaurant in south west London is this row of three very brightly painted townhouses. As they are of approximately equal size (orange slightly wider) and the two outside ones are brighter than the middle one, the colours are not in what you would call perfect harmony, but as per the last photo, it’s this fact that makes the image stand out so much.

 Orange-violet-yellow

Orange-violet-yellow

Red-blue

While it may be considered cheating slightly to photograph a painting, the truth is that I saw and bought this painting between starting the exercise and finishing it; I was evidently in the ‘colour blocking zone’ and it really appealed to me. The strong red depicts a beach but in a hue not normally associated with a beach, and similarly the sea is shown as a deep green, giving this a more impressionistic, other-worldy air. Only the sky keeps a naturalistic colour. The overall effect is almost, but not quite, abstract. As in the mediterranean building above, it’s the strong, full-blooded red that catches my eye here.

Red-blue

Red-blue

Multi-coloured

I found this set of nested mixing bowls/spoons in our kitchen very interesting from a colour combination point of view, as it seems the designer put some thought into the arrangement of the colours, following an approximate path around the colour wheel. This rainbow effect is rendered slightly less jarring than it otherwise could have been by this effect of gradation rather than having wholly clashing adjacent colours. That said, it is still quite jarring visually. It draws the eye in to the centre.

Multi-coloured

Multi-coloured

What I’ve learned:

These colour exercises are taking me much longer than I expected; I’m finding it much harder to find examples of colours, and especially combinations of colours, in daily life than I found the equivalent exercise with design elements. That said, I’m satisfied with the outcome of this exercise and the learning points. I broadly agree with the expected findings in the combinations / ratios in part one of the exercise, maybe slightly less so in the yellow/violet combo. The ‘freestyle’ examples that I chose are more examples of deliberately not following the principles of colour balance, to make the pictures more visually interesting, if less truly harmonious.


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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 – A sequence of composition

Brief:

Choose a situation that involves people and a mix of interesting potential subjects. Move through the scene looking through the viewfinder, taking a sequence of photos as you go along. Record all the images that you consider as possible photographs, culminating in the final shot that captures the scene best.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens.

Method:

I chose the daily market on Cours Saleya in the old town in Nice, early in the morning while the sun was still quite low. The various stalls sell fresh fruit, veg and flowers, plus you get the local cafes setting up around the outside – so I thought there would be plenty of interesting photo opportunities.

Results:

The brief says to keep the viewfinder to your eye throughout, but I found this quite difficult, especially with all the people around! It felt like I was constantly in danger of bumping into something or someone… So I did intermittently lower the camera to navigate around.

The sequence is detailed below. Clicking on a thumbnail will open a slideshow view.

The photo that I landed on at the end of the sequence is one that I think best captures the sights and atmosphere of the market, with the colourful produce as a strong foreground and the people milling around in the background. Whilst the produce is clearly the focus, the background covers a cross-section of the types of people that frequent the market – stallholders, customers, commuters, cafe diners, even a cleaner. This may not mean much to most viewers, but to me it captures the atmosphere of the market really well.

The market at Cours Saleya, May 2013

The market at Cours Saleya, May 2013

In the final photo I reduced the highlights in the top portion of the image, as they were blown to white in the original.

What I’ve learned:

If you’ll pardon the pun, this was real eye-opener. I thought I already took in my surroundings looking for potential photo opportunities, but literally holding the viewfinder to your eye (even if it feels unnatural at first) gives you a much stronger feeling for how the image will turn out. By fixing a frame around the image before you even decide to click the shutter you realise how much or how little of the subject you’re going to get in shot, and what the end result is going to look like.

I found it a little odd to capture all the ‘not quite right’ shots as some of these I’d have rejected at the time. It felt even odder to post the ‘outtakes’ here as I’m usually quite selective about what I publish! But I appreciate that part of the exercise is to capture what didn’t work in addition to what did.