This week I would like to discuss how to use color as a graphic element. My readers know that I am a big fan of black and white photography, which can usually bring out textures, tonal variations and other aspects of composition which can benefit from the absence of color. But what happens if color is the entire point of the image? I'm not talking about a beautiful landscape image where the photographer stereotypically placed his wife, clad with a National Geographic regulation red jacket into the scene at an intersection provided by the "rule of thirds." I love graphic images, and color is one way to certainly bring out the nature of an image without necessarily caring about the "subject." Even though photography is a realistic medium, I think you can emphasize the power of color so that the color becomes the real subject of the photograph - even if the viewer is not aware of what you are up to.
It helps considerably if you can include other graphic elements - lines, shapes, repetitive elements - that can play off the color that you have chosen to feature in your image. Silhouettes can be very powerful in this regard, since their near black rendering can provide a visual element that will subdivide the areas of color and provide an element of realism without really competing with the color you are trying to celebrate. An example is this first image, which comments on the structure of an absolutely wonderful contraption whose beauty is frequently overlooked by its emergency function to keep the rain or the sun off our heads. The graphic nature of the image is preserved because the entire field of view is the RED umbrella, with no sky or humans involved. Even though the subject is red, whose power caused me to pay attention, the image could work with a yellow, or a blue umbrella as well, without getting involved with a discussion of color emotions as such - as long as the color was light enough to set off the black ribs. This red umbrella, back lit by the sun, didn't need any help with the saturation slider, but of course anything goes since we aren't trying to sell red umbrellas.
This image was all about the color in an elaborate fan light above an entry door at Benjamin Franklin High School in Portland. Centered and cropped to a square per coaster requirements, it is converted to another semi-abstract image by a total disregard for context. In this case the pretty gray Portland sky didn't do much for me, so I upped the saturation considerably without changing the hue. The following two examples show that Lightroom can completely change the hue, or color, as long as you generally keep to the blue side of the color wheel. If you need to change it to orange or such, you've got to go to Photoshop. When you change the color, you can also affect the saturation and the brightness.
A MUCH LIGHTER BLUE - DON'T ASK ME WHERE THE BROWN CAME FROM
A ROYAL PURPLE
A LONG VIEW OF A BROKEN PIER
We are heading toward realism here, but not really, since this wreck of a pier is pretty obscure even with a reflection in the waves. The blue is heightened by my not correcting the overwhelming blue color cast present in the camera's reality - our eyes and brains bring this much closer to gray, but who says I have to?
Here i noticed another hint of realism surrounded by a color field of water. The Willamette was of course gray, not blue, but when I changed the white balance to "cloudy", this beautiful light gold tone appeared out of nowhere. The "real" image started out almost black and white. Such is the power of the monochrome image that this gold water is perfectly acceptable as reality even though we know it can't be true in the Portland we know and love.
REALLY GOLDEN EIGHT
Oh, if that gold is not floating your boat, so to speak, then you can certainly change "cloudy" to "shade" which will achieve the sunset glow of your dreams. The silhouette of the racing skiff gives the viewer something to focus on, but the subject is really the color.
SAN JUAN SUNSET
Here is another silhouette, but just barely. As in astrophotography, a small sliver of the earth provides the "grounding" required for this sky study which can certainly be entered as "skyporn" on Instagram. It doesn't matter to anyone else but me and my memories that this took place in the San Juan Islands, but I can honestly say that the atmosphere provided the colors without any help from Lightroom.
These colors are almost all my invention. I focused on only a small section of a Richard Serra Corten Steel curving wall sculpture. Corten steel naturally rusts to shades of red and orange that actually serve to protect the steel below from really rusting. I brought out the variations in color which were certainly "there" but nowhere near the levels of contrast and saturation that I gave the pretty muted sculpture. Thus working with color allowed me to comment on another artist's artwork, achieving a level of abstraction that allows me to "paint" my own abstract, without a lot in common with the reality of a ten-foot tall curving steel wall.
Even nature images can be converted into color abstracts if you allow that to be your intent. This section of a banana leaf is ripped from its context in a greenhouse to become a study in pattern and shades of green. All I had to do line up the lines, restrict the field of view, and heighten the contrast to bring out the varieties of green.
OTHER WORLDLY BEACH
This panorama is almost totally abstract, since it is an example of both long exposure and intentional camera movement on my part at the end of a week starring out at a featureless North Carolina beach - no sea stacks here! While the viewer might recognize this as a series of waves, it is not apparent that this body of water is on our planet, not with those colors. But if you like yellow, how can you complain?
THE REAL WORLD, BUT IT IS KAUAI
Finally we come to another seascape which I swear is the spitting image of reality. Of course it helps that these stripes of paradise are on a beach in Kauai. All I did was make sure the horizon was straight, even though that brought out fact that the beachfront was in fact a little hilly. I might have darkened the sky a little to bring out the clouds, but that was it. The image is all about color, even if the four or five shades of the sea can seem unreal.
KAUAI IN BLACK AND WHITE, ONLY BECAUSE I CAN
I had to work much, much harder to make this black and white version come close to working at rendering this scene. I am actually pleased with the result, although it still seems to be the answer to a challenge that nobody else would take on. Although it might work as part of a black and white portfolio, most would wonder what the hell was the point. If the color moves you to say wow, then do not be afraid to communicate that with your audience. Someth=imes color is the whole point of an image.