Assignment 3: Colour

In this third exercise of the Art of Photography course I have been asked to look at Colour, its role in photography, uses and my command of it. There is also the element that to look at the colour relationships, how individual colours when placed together in an infinite number of combinations can effect the overall impact of a photography, be it harmoniously or negatively.

Focusing on four pillars of colour relationship I looked at;

  • Complementary Colours,
  • Similar Colours,
  • Colours spaced a third around the colour circle,
  • Colour accent or spot.

When approaching this assignment the weather had been awful, looking for colourful, or even just colour in the day to day world was proving difficult, I then decided looking into it on a break in the rain and wind to further take the idea of colour in day to day life further as an idea to base these images on, looking at street scenes and street photography I wanted to progress on my already big passion of black and white street photography and looking how the use of colour gives an interesting and in some cases more dynamic depth and interest in the images. In the images I have captured small elements of both London and Portsmouth, two very different cities that I wanted to effectively show the architectural and street elements combined with the use of each colour relationship. I do find that this style of photography is automatically looked at, when processing, in a monochromatic mind set, in some cases unless significant attention is given do some consider the colour alternative, and in this case I feel a lot of this images give more due to the colour, the relationship of the colours and there place in the photograph. I aimed to focus highly on the composition of each image, not simply photographing the colours but to incorporate them into the overall composition to become an element of the image.

Image 1, using the blue house as a bases to an image I was aiming to capture this building and a variation of different colour cars as they passes the road in front, however just as I finished composing the image I noticed the postman about 50 yards down the road in the high visibility orange and red jacket and bag. I still wanted to capture the entirety of the front of the house, while maintaining an element of the pavement and road to fully capture the post man in, I then captured a number of images as the postman walked across the front of the building. Although naturally in photography we aim to give a moving subject room to move into a frame I felt this image gave significantly better balance to the image while also giving the impression that the postman has delivered to this house and is moving on. I like the balance of colour here, the colour relationship is obvious but not ghastly and the softer tone of blue works really well to balance the more vivid orange. After a comment from my tutor in regards to postcard photographer John Hinde it would be acceptable to consider this image as an effective postcard styled image in his style, using saturated complimentary colours.

Image 2 again uses the colours orange and blue, however in this occasion it is a more even relationship within the frame. Photographing these withered metal railings on the front of Portsmouth Round Tower, damaged by centuries of salt water and wind the rusted orange colour is very strong while still maintaining the texture within the railings and surrounding concrete. Framing the image using the window enabled me to focus the viewer on the relationship between the foreground and the predominantly blue background, this gives in my opinion an interesting use of the colours, being used at two very different distances and coming together so well in an image that the depth is still natural.

Similar to the orange on the colour circle, image 3 uses yellow which is naturally the brightest of colours, when coupled with blue, its natural surrounding when we think of the basis of yellow, being the sun surrounded by a blue sky. In this case I have used the hull of this small boat on the shore in Portsmouth against a bright blue sky. By using a slightly shallower depth of field, around f4 I was able to slightly blur the buildings in the background, focusing the eye more on not only the yellow but also the blue sky. I was concerned when reviewing this image of the space between the complimentary colours and the different tones, I therefore considered Itten’s complementary colour reference, the painting ‘Madonna of the Chancellor Rolin’ (Birren,1994:50). I found that in spite of the painting being a different subject matter, the

This street scene, photographed in London captures a building that is painted in both an orange and teal. This colours working well in complimenting each other with the aid of the surrounding brickwork, wood framing and and darker foreground. In this image, after notching the building and there colour I aimed to capture as in the first image a street scene that gives context and aids the image to not just be focusing on colour. After a wait and a return due to the quietness I photographed this man walking across the front of the street, again similar to the first image photographing him walking out of the frame to balance the door, perhaps giving the impression this is where he walked from.

Steve McCurry’s image, The Power of Play, is an emotive and excellent example of how complimentary colours relate to one and other, because the hues vary from dark (such as violet) to light (such as yellow), to make the most of the harmony between any two complementary colours you need to take account of the relative brightness. With red and green, the brightness is the same (OCA, Art of Photography Course Guide, 2010) It is also, in this case the composition and placement of the green that adds to the dynamic nature of this image, while also the angle of shot, being above the subjects allows for us to see a change in hue predominantly with the red from the top of the image to the bottom where it gets darker.

This first image uses the line and depth of the flowers to entice the viewer following them along the shopfront of the building. The warm tones given on the terracotta, and blue pots gives this image a warming feel that is also evident from the strong elongated shadows that give the impression of a low sun. The warming tones of the image bring the colours together, coupled with there placement on the pavement, the image is harmonious within the line of alternated plant pots while also taking into the surrounding colours and textures

This second image showing a alternative street scene in Portsmouth, combining the new of the Spinnaker Tower in the background and the victorian streets of Spice Island. I found that the beige and white mixture of colours of the buildings complimented well with the similar tones of the Spinnaker Tower and the pale blue and white sky. Perhaps the only anomaly of the image would be the black building, however this is lit face on from the sun giving it a warm tone that blends it well with the other buildings that are obviously lighter in tone but not receiving as much sunlight.

The third image, taken from the defensive walls surrounding the coast in Portsmouth shows the green tones to the sea coupled with the green sea channel marker. I found the mixture of green tones from the sea and metal work, coupled with the elements of rust and the white wash from the marker to be a very appealing and gentle mixture of  similar colours that subtly work very well together in a pleasing composition. I also like the the shadow along the whole length of the post, it gives the image better depth and creates added interest in the form of the marker, mainly at the top of it.

In the final image for similar colours I have captured this composition of varied green tones that give an interesting and more dynamic image than the previous, using both lines and rhythm the image draws the viewer in predominantly to the building, following its lines, it is then the reflection and tones of green in the water and the building that give harmonious feeling to the composition that is supported well by the hints of white, from the boat and windows that compliment the green tones rather than take your arm from them.

In this next group of images I am looking at colour contrast, and in this first image, the use of a very strong bright red stencil painted icon on a blue grey metallic box gives a very strong contrast not only in colour but also lines and visually due to the sharpness and composition. The texture and collection of lines, multitudes of colours and tones in the image make it very difficult to put a specific colour on it but the overall tone gives it a blue/grey appearance that then allows the red to stand out strongly.

In this second image looking across Portsmouth Harbour at Gosport captures the Haslar Mariner Lighthouse Boat against a modern block of flats. The viewers eye naturally gets drawn directly to the very bright green of the boat, which in most cases contrasts with the rest of the image, apart front he sea, however I find the central section of the building, being a burgundy tone to take my eye also as it stands out against the rest of the building and sky, I therefore looked at the balance of these colours in the image and felt that although they are both small within the image the placement of both within the frame was balanced well in which the contrasted against each other amongst there complete image.

This next image taken in Portsmouth on the edge of the Gunwarf Quays Shopping Center captures this stand-out building of the Portsmouth skyline. Set in the background the building gives an teal appearance against the blue sky which both contrast strongly against the red life ring holder in the foreground. I composed this image to show the height of the building compared to its surroundings, being both buildings either side and slow the more immediate foreground. I found that by including this element of red, that is darkened slightly by shadow it gives a more harmonious feel rather than a spot colour.

This final image shows a very strong contrast of colour between the overwhelming blue and orange buildings, put in context by the single figure and long shadow in the foreground it gives a great feel of the size and scale of the building compared to the single person. I think the contrast of this building works extremely well, while against the figure it gives an added element of interest and due to the size of the person he is not straight away apparent.

This first shot showing accent or spot colour within an image is taken at the base of The Shard in London, an overall interesting street photo, the juxtaposition of the single person looking up and the rest unbothered going about there daily routine and to viewer not knowing the location of the image it would give an interest and mystery to what he is looking at. In relation to the assignment I found that the orange plastic bag he had dropped on the floor while taking the photograph was an interesting element, not just a colour within the photograph but as a result of what we are seeing in the image, this makes it rather dynamic and adds to the interest. The bright orange stands out well against the rather cool tones of the image which only makes it stand out more.

In contrast to the cool tones of the previous image, the strong warm tones due to the sun bathing the stone of St Paul’s Cathedral, surrounding buildings, millennium bridge and its users in a low sun light. In this very warm image the eye is constantly taken by the red of the bag, helped by being surrounded by the black of the coat to stand out further. The placement of the colour spot in the foreground takes the viewers eye before leading further down the bridge to the dome of St Paul’s where Itten teaches that cold gives a sense of distance and warm colours bring the ‘distance’ forward (Birren,1994:46), this is evident in this image, although the lines of the bridge draw the viewer into the frame the warmer tones make the cathedral appear closer in the image.

As mention at the beginning of this assignment I find it very difficult on occasion, although this assignment has helped, to look at street photography with a view to keeping it in colour, this image amongst others, but none so much has shown me the importance of colour, in street photography and applying that to photography in general, the moment captured, of a young boy running around trying to catch up with his parents is an interesting composition that is balanced not just by the placement of both the parents and child but also how the bright red stands out of the image to draw you in against the shadowed tones of a London building.

This final quintessential street photography comprising of a large street art showing a realistic perspective of a street and person walking across it gives an interesting and surreal image. However the accent of red, from the persons hair and also the busses of the image give an instant attraction to the image as we then look further, and some checking whats real and what isn’t. The balance of this image in regards to the colour is very good, the colour of the street art is maintained throughout the image which aids the continuity and improves the use of the colours and warm tones. However due to the fading low sun and shadows and due to the reaction time I had to get this image I was unable to capture her in that placement using a faster shutter speed which would, in my opinion improved the image.

This group of images is similar in theory to John Hindes collection of work, who always included a red colour accent, in each image there is a strong element of saturated red/orange something that captures the viewer eye, draws them in and aides the depth and focus.

Jeff Wall’s image adorning the cover of his book, Jeff Wall, The Complete Edition, published by Phaidon for me is an excellent example of spot colour, the dark yet detailed background of the image portrays a strong element of foreboding and fear, the ominous location is created purely by the placement of the two focal points, the young girls. Who, by being in such a place give an unnerving emotion, that without the strong spot in colour against the background would not be as strong, the way they stand out, the skin tone and clothes really pulls in all the elements of the image with the emotion making it a very powerful image.

In conclusion I found this to be a very difficult and time consuming assignment but also one that has perhaps changed and advanced my mindset of street photography more than any previous assignment. Initially the difficulty was in the weather and the uncontrollable nature of the last couple of months. After a lot of reading and research namely, Birren, F (1994). Itten The Elements of Colour, a wonderfully insightful and interesting publication into colours in general and how they relate to photography, It then gave me an idea and more of an understanding in what I wanted to do. What this has taught me is that previous to this assignment I saw photographs not necessarily just in black and white but certainly not just the colours, taking more notice and interest in the lines, form, texture and balance of what I’m seeing so this has not only advanced my attitude to colour in photography in a more advanced nature than just using it but also how and why. I feel that perhaps I didn’t help myself with the subject I chose to use as a basis for this assignment but as it is something I feel I have an aptitude for I thought it would not only improve the assignment but also myself in that style.

I feel I have produced a good selection of images that accurately depict the requirements however I do feel improvements will be needed however what it perhaps lacks there I have certainly taken the mindset from this assignment that colour is a very useful and effective tool in composition, and is something that is perhaps overlooked so I will certainly continue to consider the impact and its place within an image when photographing and editing.


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