Do you have a city that you love so much it actually is difficult to visit because you know you'll have to leave? Yeah, that's Budapest to me. I've been lucky enough to visit Budapest many times, always staying with my close friends who grew up there. This time was a little different, though. With only one week in BP, I took it as my job to show the city to my husband through my eyes. But naturally mother nature had different plans for us. 'The Beast from the East' (as it was so lovingly deemed by European news outlets) blanketed the continent with arctic air and one and off again snow. We managed maybe a total of 3 hours of true sunlight and blue skies - and one killer sunset, of which I did my best to take advantage. But, mostly the grey haze of winter won out.
As photographers, we have a lot of tools available to us: compositional rules, lighting knowledge, the exposure triangle, and so on. Color is just another one of those tools. While it can be an intimidating element to a photographer, color can help solidify a voice. Knowing and understanding color theory - the way painters, designers, and artists of all trades do - a photographer can utilize color to their benefit.
You may already be aware of the concept of additive and subtractive color (RGB vs. RYB), which is something we will touch upon in the next post in this series. For the sake of this article, we will be talking in generics about color theory and are focusing on Red Yellow Blue (RYB).
orders of colors
This may cause some flashbacks to elementary school art class, but let's start at the beginning: The orders of colors. There are three orders: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary colors. When working in RYB color, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. That is to say, they are the three pure colors from which all other colors are derived. If we take two primary colors and add combine them equally, we get a secondary color. Finally, a tertiary color is one which is a combination of a primary and secondary color. Below you will see a graphic which depicts these three orders using an RYB color wheel.
- Primary Colors
- Red, yellow, and blue are what we call "pure colors." They are not created by the combining of other colors.
- Secondary Colors
- A 50/50 combination of any two primary colors. Example: Red + Yellow = Orange.
- Tertiary Colors
- A 25/75 or 75/25 combination of a primary color and secondary color. Example: Blue + Green = Tourquise.
Now, how do the orders of colors help a photographer? Well, by knowing the three orders, we can make decisions about which colors we want to show in frame. As this article continues we will explore how to effectively make those decisions to achieve the final look you are aiming for, but before then, lets look at some examples of the three orders in actual photographs.
The Three Variables of Color
Now that we've been introduced to the orders of the colors, let's look at their variables. Those who have post processed images in Adobe Lightroom, Apple Photos, Capture One, or any other RAW editor may be familiar with what is commonly known as the 'HSL sliders.' HSL meaning: Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity. Let's start with hue.
Hue simply is the shade or name of the color. In our editing programs, this slider allows us to completely change a color.
Watch what happens when I take this photo of an orange sunset and move the orange hue slider left and right.
Saturation is the amount of color, or its intensity. This is how we end up with those selective color photos we all... er... love so much, but it can also be used to isolate the strength of one color over the others.
The photo in figure 2b consists of mainly 3 colors: blue, yellow, and orange. Watch what happens when I move each color's individual saturation slider.
Luminance is the brightness of the color. This helps us bring out bright color, recover skin tones, and many other techniques.
In figure 2c you can see how the blues react to the luminance slider.
When you decorate a house, you choose the color of the walls to go with the furniture, wall hangings, curtains, and so on. You're essentially creating a color scheme. We do the same thing when we set up a shot. When being intentional with the color in your images, scheme absolutely comes into play. Three of the most popular color schemes are complimentary, analogous, and monochrome. To look at each individually, it will help to revisit our RYB color wheel.
Simply put, complementary colors are the ones which sit completely opposite one another on the color wheel, and they, ahem - complement one another. For example, red and green may make you think of Christmas, or light blue and orange may make you think of the Mets (oh, only me?) But there's a reason these combinations create such strong emotions in us - they just look good together.
Below you will see a few images which utilize complementary colors. Note how our attention is not being fought for by strong colors, but rather the colors create balance.
Colors which sit next to each other on the color wheel and share similar colors are known as analogous colors. They will have one dominant color in common, most often a primary color, but can also be a secondary or tertiary. Analogous colors are often found in nature - think those rich oranges and yellows in a New England autumn.
Landscape photographers can really benefit from knowingly utilizing analogous colors, of course, but they also lend themselves to other aspects of photography, such as beautifully bokeh'd backgrounds of a portrait. By having similar colors in the background, the subject remains the focus.
Below you will see some examples of analogous colors.
While you may be familiar with monochrome referring to black and white, it actually refers to anything which uses solely one color value. Those images you see where there is overwhelmingly one color present are monochrome, for all intents and purposes. We see this technique often in those hazy sunrise/set shots, but it is also a very impactful technique for street shots.
Below we see three example images using monochrome colors.
let's see this in practice
So now we know the orders and variables, as well as three popular schemes of color, but how do those tools aide us in our photography? When we combine the three aspects we discussed above, we can deliberately look for or create scenes that further our intended story.
Note Figure 6a below. When I first approached this scene, I saw two things, interesting lines and complementary colors. With a little patience and a whole lot of luck, the jogger ran into the scene wearing one of the two complementary colors. Had this color story not been introduced, the image would have had much less impact. In this instance, the color creates the story.
Figure 6b utilizes monochrome in secondary colors. With a stark gradient from dark to light oranges, the image projects a warm summer's sunset - which is exactly what I was hoping to acheive as it was well over 105F (42C) - and trying to capture that in a photo was an important part of the story of my time in that city.
Finally, in Figure 6c we see analogous tertiary colors. While the color is not so much the subject as it is in the other two, it is still crucial to set the mood for the shot. The various levels of greens and blues in the ocean water enhances the relaxed atmosphere I was intending to create with this image.
With great power comes great responsibility. or something.
To recap, we went over are three orders of colors (primary, secondary, and tertiary), three variables of color (hue, saturation, and luminance), and three popular color schemes (complementary, analogous, and monochrome). When you have a good grasp of these basic aspects of color theory, you're off to a good start and can work to manipulate a scene to create the desired ambiance or ~vibe~ in your shots.
In the coming posts we will delve deeper into color theory, approaching more advanced themes. We will also go over the mechanics of camera sensors and how they render color. In the meanwhile, please leave a comment with any questions or comments you may have. If there is something you would like to see addressed in the coming posts, please let me know!
Disclaimer: It is important to note that while RYB color is one with which we are all familiar, it is not the standard anymore. In fact, your photography software does not utilize RYB color by default. It uses a different, four color, subtractive color model known as "CMYK" (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key black). This post did not go in to that as I wanted to keep it as simple as possible to make sure the focus is on orders, variables, and schemes. In the following post we will talk about the different color models, focusing on CMYK. (Relevant xkcd is relevant).
In the meanwhile, an excellent resource for the choosing colors is Adobe's color wheel. Here you can chose a color wheel and scheme and be given applicable pairings of colors. If not for nothing, it's a fun and pretty to look at - try it out!
Winter in Ukraine may come with connotations of grey and desolation, but in L'viv the streets are as lively and bright in the dead of winter as they are in the summer. That vibrance is perfectly in balance with the shining personlity of yesterday's model. As she showed me around her university, the smile never waned, which is surprising considering she's years in to an intensive degree in Law.
Location: Ivan Franko National University of Lviv
Model: Anastasia (@anastasiiaberezhniuk)
2017 found me in 26 cities in 12 different countries. But what 2017 really gave me was a renewed confidence and motivation to create and put out consistent work which I can be proud of. I attribute my developed style focusing on colour and composition to focused hard work and constant support I received this year from family, friends, and fellow photographers.
I am very happy to share a small collection of my favourite shots from the past year. Photos available for purchase are linked.
The final photo gets to be set aside, as it was the one which pulled me out of impostor syndrome and into confident artist territory. After hitting the front page of Reddit, I saw a huge influx of engagement. What I’ve never shared is that this photo almost never left my Lightroom catalog. I went to this location at sunset knowing what I wanted to leave with, took about 10 shots from various angles, choosing my settings carefully. I went home and began to process - I was feeling frustrated. I simply wasn’t happy with it, but I showed it to my husband whose face dropped, uttering “wow.” He’s supportive of my work, and gives me honest critique - so this visceral reaction was a surprise. He must see something I didn’t, so I posted it to my personal Facebook. The reaction I got there mirrored my husband’s, so what the hell, I’ll post it to r/itookapicture. I woke up to incredibly supportive words from some of the toughest critics out there: Redditors .
From there, it was a pretty incredible experience of recognition from different sources. I’ve spent so many years not trusting myself and my art. Always thinking I’m not good. Not good enough to even pretend to be. While it’s dangerous to rely on outside validation, sometimes it’s the kick a person needs to gain confidence. Only through support of all artists will more beauty and art be brought into a world which needs it.
If you're one of those supporters, thank you for a year of encouragement and honest critique. I look positively to 2018 as yet another year of growth and art.
Lviv, Ukraine carries itself as a sleepy Eastern European town - with pastel buildings, charming chocolate shops, and small windy alleyways. But, sleepy it is not. Lviv is bright, colourful, and full of vibrance.
What is truly wonderful about life as a travelling photographer is the opportunity to work with people truly passionate about the city I am visiting. Liliana grew up in Lviv, and is proud of the fact. "I love it in Lviv. I would never want to live anywhere else." And why would she? Lviv is full of chocolate shops and unique cafes. That passion for ones hometown can be rare in this part of the world - it is so refreshing to meet someone who is truly happy in their home. Come along and see Lviv from her eyes. Also, Chewbacca.
Bonus outtakes, because how could I not share these?
Family vacations are a whirlwind - especially in a completely foreign environment with only a week to explore. The Catanzaritis made the most out of their time in Paris, packing in about as much of the sights as possible - and then some. A bateau ride, museums, prix fixe dinners, and even Versailles - have a look into their very first trip abroad.
Poetry by Giuseppe Catanzariti.
An idle curiosity is born from
The prose of quotidian living
Piquing the mind at first
And then ever swelling
A nascent snowball cascading down a
Its momentum ever growing
Until it is time to go
Human creation in all its splendor
And in all its handwrought glory
Enters the soul through the eyes
Before taking up a permanent
And warm residence in the heart
Where it is nurtured forever
Mementos for those who
Couldn’t come along
And for the itinerant patrons too
Simple physical keepsakes
To stimulate happy recollections
Palatial monuments to the
Grandeur of revered leaders
Of finished states stand today
Despite the vicissitudes of time
So that every man might learn
That every man is born a king
Merrymaking is mortal
But memories are eternal
Never dying but ever growing
The towers and the churches
Beheld and felt firsthand
Are but earthly monuments
While experiences are cosmic
There can be no going back
Not as the same person
Left behind back home
As home has become nothing
More than a slippery notion
In our newfound selves
Ashley and Kevin came to Paris on a promise made five years ago when they first got together. Having been friends for years prior, when they finally made the transition to a relationship, Ashley proposed that if they make it to their five year anniversary, they should go to Paris to celebrate - all the way from their home in LA. Kevin took this opportunity to make a proposition of his own.
And so, we set off around Paris under the guise of fun tourist/anniversary shots. Little did Ashley know that Kevin was walking around with a ring in his pocket. We began at the Louvre, spent some time on Pont des Arts, and the quay before heading over to the Eiffel Tower where Kevin, in all traditional fashions, got down on one knee and asked the big question. Luckily, Ashley said yes, otherwise that bottle of champagne would have become sad champagne - and no one wants sad champagne.
Take an overnight bus to Amsterdam from Paris for the day, they said. It'll be fun, they said. Well, yeah, it was fun. It was also a complete blur - and not entirely for the reasons I'm sure everyone here is now assuming. With just about 3 hours of sleep thanks to some of the least conscientious fellow bus-riders, we arrived in Amsterdam at the unholy time of 6AM on Sunday morning - so early, in fact, that there was no train to take us from the random Eurolines station to the city center for another 30 minutes. So it goes.
Upon arriving at the central station, we found ourselves on eerily quiet streets of the concentric canals. Having been in Amsterdam many times before, my biggest take away has always been how crowded the center is, so now being the only people on most streets was a pretty surreal experience. The deep haze seemed to exist solely to drive this point home.
The remainder of the day was spent in a sleepless stupor doing our best to make the most of the 6 hours we had before checking in to our hotel. Visited all the hot spots, naturally, and I may or may not have squealed when I discovered there was now a Primark in the city center. I also may or may not have had a bucket of water thrown on my from a high-up window - and no, I was nowhere near the Red Light district at the time.
Overall, our 31 hours in Amsterdam were well spent, if not only because of the three servings of cone frites I endulged in - and after the sweltering summer spent in Macedonia and Crete, the haze and cool air was more than welcomed.
Spending only a week in Sofia, I don't feel properly equipped to make a fair judgement on the city. But, it overall left a positive impression. With gorgeous Central-European inspired intertwined with Soviet and Byzintine archetectures, walking the city streets was a constant pleasant surprise. All pleasant until you happen upon a statue with eyeballs, that is.
The standout building is of course the famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which dominates the roundabout upon which it sits. Our Airbnb was literally on the corner, so we were lucky enough to get glimpses of it every day even doing mundane tasks like running to the grocery store.
But for me, the best bit was a table in an outdoor market chock-full of vintage analog cameras, from which I walked away with a ФЭД-2 (FED-2) Soviet Leica clone. I've already run a roll through it, and can't wait to get it developed. Stay tuned!