Category Archives: Part 3 Colour

Assignment 3 – Planning

I have to admit that I have found finding preparing for this assignment more onerous than the previous ones. I think it has to due with the fact that colour seems so deceptively simple, yet it is actually quite complex. My planning began with obtaining a good foundation in the subject of colour and to this end I read Johannes Itten’s The Elements of Color. This book is based on his book The Art of Color which was used in the Bauhaus as a reference text. The book has many exercises that build on understanding colour. I tried to do as many of the exercises as possible, but owing to the fact that the book is really geared towards artists, ie painters, there were a few exercises that I had to skip as I was not about to run out and purchase painting materials.

The next step was to research photographers who make exceptional use of colour and I chose to research Steve McCurry, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and Fred Herzog.

I created a mind map to play with some ideas that I might work with:

Assignment 3 - Mind map - first draft

Assignment 3 – Mind map – first draft

I had initially intended to see if I could ‘recreate’ some of Fred Herzog’s scenarios by going to the same locations and photographing the area as it is now. I had managed to find quite a few of the locations of his photographs and thought this would be a very interesting exercise.

However, the typical Vancouver weather set in and torrential downpours began making it impossible to photograph anything without risking my equipment. Some of the areas Herzog photographed are a little inaccessible in the fact that they are not car friendly – there is zero parking space in the streets these days (there was ample space when he roamed these streets). In between showers I managed to shoot in some areas nearer to home, but it was a little all over the place. I looked at fellow students’ assignments and didn’t see much of a theme for assignment 3 in many of the blogs I looked at. I then began to wonder if a theme was necessary.

So I posed the question on the OCA forum and I got this reply from Clive [1]:

It’s good practice for future courses to make connected bodies of work. As in Assignment 2 which investigates the compositional scaffolding that supports and enhances meaning in an image, colour relationships are another means of strengthening and supporting meaning in an image. Unless working in purely abstract terms the colour relationships should be subordinate to the meaning of the image but should enhance it.

Something to avoid is making images that have no other intent than to demonstrate a specific colour relationship and be reduced to ‘this is a blue flower with a yellow flower’, ‘this is a red flower with green leaves’. Working to a theme, say documenting your local shopping area, helps avoid this and gives purpose to the functioning of colour relationships in the course of making images with narratives that are essentially independent of their formal qualities.

OK – so a theme was preferable. My planning was now totally out of the window and shot to pieces by the rain. I continued on with research and while researching Eggleston, became aware of how he made his series “Democratic Forest” and I decided to switch my theme to something similar by creating a series along the lines of “My Democratic Vancouver”.

Here is my amended mind map for assignment 3:

Assignment 3 - Mind map - second draft

Assignment 3 – Mind map – second draft

The plan may change slightly, but this is more doable given the crazy weather we are experiencing right now.

Reference List

[1] CliveW, 2014. ‘TAOP Assignment 3’. [28 October 2014] OCA Forum: Photography, Film & Digital Media [online]. Available from: [2 November, 2014]


Exercise: Colours into tones in black-and-white

The Brief

Make a still life photo of objects made up of red, yellow, green and blue colours. Include a grey card in the photo. For a digital version of this exercise convert the image to grayscale in Photoshop using the Image > Adjustments > Black and White option. Create five monochrome versions of the photo. For the neutral, no filter version just accept the default settings for the sliders. I could then choose to either use the sliders to control the brightness for the respective versions, or choose the appropriate preset filter. I chose to go with the preset filter route and created photos with a red, green, yellow and blue filter.

For this exercise I wanted to use objects with bright chromas, but not finding anything suitable at home I delved into the stationery closet at work and found these brightly coloured micro binder clips and quickly proceeded to shoot the images before the day got underway. I just roughly grouped the coloured clips together in their respective colours on a sheet of white paper and put my grey card behind. The grey card is not in sharp focus, but that probably doesn’t matter for the sake of this exercise. Unfortunately I had to shoot at a high ISO as I didn’t have a tripod at work.

I also realised during this exercise that while up until now I have been using the RYB colour wheel, I would have to refer to the RGB one (known as the additive primaries) for this exercise as this is what the software uses. The only post-processing that has been done is just the Image > Adjustments > Black and White and then the selection of the different colour filters. I think my grey card has remained consistent throughout the application of the different filters.

Fig 01 Original image - colour

Fig 01 Original image – colour
f7.1, 1/40, 50mm, ISO 800

The first step was to take the image into Photoshop and then add a black-white layer adjustment to it. This can be seen in fig 2. No colour adjustments have been made. The default settings can be seen in fig 03. As can be seen there is no difference between the green and red tones once converted to black-and-white.

Fig 02 - Black-and-white control image - default settings - no filters

Fig 02 – Black-and-white control image – default settings – no filters

Fig 03 - Black-and-white control image - default settings - no filters applied

Fig 03 – Black-and-white control image – default settings – no filters applied

I then took the control image and applied a red filter adjustment layer to it (fig 4). The adjustment settings can be seen in fig 05. The red clips are now quite a lot brighter and so are the yellow ones. The green and blue clips are about the same intensity of shade. The red filter has actually blocked a lot of the light of the blue and green clips.

Fig 04 - Red filter

Fig 04 – Red filter

Fig 05 - Red filter settings

Fig 05 – Red filter settings

Next I applied a yellow filter to the control image (fig 06). Adjustments settings can be seen in fig 07. While the tones for the yellow and red clips remained the same as those when the red filter was used, the tones for the blue and green clips show more distinction and it is clear that they are different colours. This is probably to the fact that the yellow filter has a lighter green value (40) than the red filter (-10).

Fig 06 - Yellow filter

Fig 06 – Yellow filter

Fig 07 - Yellow filter settings

Fig 07 – Yellow filter settings

The following filter that was applied was the green filter (fig 08) with the adjustment settings in fig 09. The green filter adds more depth to the red clips, while brightening the green clips. The yellow and blue clips remain the same.

Fig 08 - Green filter

Fig 08 – Green filter

Fig 09 - Green filter settings

Fig 09 – Green filter settings

Fig 10 and 11 show the image for the blue filter and settings respectively. The blue filter cuts all values for red, yellow and green rendering the yellow and red clips a solid black. The green clips, however, are a tad brighter than the blue and yellow ones, even though the value is at 0. This is probably due to the fact that the clips are painted with a glossy paint (and paint is a pigment, not light) and therefore, the colour green would contain blue (blue and yellow make green), green being the only secondary colour in the image (according to the RYB colour wheel).

Fig 10 - Blue filter

Fig 10 – Blue filter

Fig 11 - Blue filter settings

Fig 11 – Blue filter settings

What I have realized while doing this exercise is that while the camera and software use the RGB colour wheel, the objects photographed are created with the RYB colour wheel and this will affect tones when a photo is converted to black-and-white. I also did some rough sketches to work out the colour distribution of each filter according to the filter layer adjustment settings and in each filter the complementary opposite colour is zeroed out. The colour composition of the filters are also analogous as can be seen in my rough sketch.

Fig 12 - Filters

Fig 12 – Filters

Reference List

Freeman, Michael (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and design for Better Digital Photos. Lewes, England: The Ilex Press.

Prakel, David (2009). Basics Photography 06: Working in Black & White. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

Exercise: Colour relationships

The 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 listed according to Goethe’s ratios – or at least close to them.

For the second part, the rules are not so strict. Produce three or four images which feature colour combinations that appeal to you. They can be combinations of two colours or more. The objective here is to demonstrate that there is no single ‘correctness’ to complementary colours. But you should be aware of any imbalance in the combination and study its effect. Write this in your learning log for future reference.

The ratios mentioned above refer to Goethe’s numerical ratios to measure the contrast of extension. Contrast of extension is degree of contrast between ‘much and little, or great and small’ (Itten, 1970, p.59). Goethe’s values for the colours are:

  • Yellow = 9
  • Orange = 8
  • Red = 6
  • Violet = 3
  • Blue = 4
  • Green = 6

How these ratios work is something like this: yellow is three times as strong as its complementary colour, violet, therefore when we convert these numbers to harmonious proportions we should use only one part yellow to three parts violet. Otherwise the yellow would totally overpower the violet and most probably be very glaring on the eye. In the same way orange is twice as strong as its complementary blue, so the correct harmonious ratio to use would be one part orange to two parts blue. Red and green, however are equal in intensity so a fifty-fifty colour split would be in order here.

Part 1

Fig 01 - Yellow-violet

Fig 01 – Yellow – violet
f6.3, 1/80, 45mm, ISO 200

I have really struggled to find the colour combination in Vancouver. I had to resort to visiting the Queen Elizabeth Park, a horticultural park to find this combination. As I mentioned elsewhere in a posting, Vancouver is not a city with a riot of colour. Blues, greens, greys, blacks – yes most definitely. This is even reflected in the way the local people dress, as if to blend in with their surroundings. Now if I was looking for this in my native South Africa, this would be no problem. Colour is embraced wholeheartedly there. But I digress … Although the yellow flowers have almost orange centres I’m going to classify them as yellow because the petals are a solid shade of yellow. I think the proportion of 1:3 is close enough as well. One part yellow to three parts violet – there are violet flowers to the left and above the yellow as well. The violet doesn’t match the intensity of the yellow and is probably a few tints lighter, It is probably clearer in the abstract version below.

Fig 02 - Yellow-violet abstract

Fig 02 – Yellow – violet (abstract)

Fig 03 Orange:blue

Fig 03 – Orange – blue
f8, 1/640, 50mm, ISO 100

Goethe’s ideal ratio for the complementary colours orange and blue are 1:2. Although the orange bollards seem to dominate the scene in fig 03, the blue screen is more than twice the height of the bollard thereby creating a 1:2 ratio (or fairly close). There are also blue accents in the signs at the end of the blue screen as well as above it. There is also a blue tint in the girl’s T-shirt and signs which are hanging on the blue screen. When viewing the abstract rendition of this photo below (fig 04) the colour ratio is clearly visible and more “solidified”

Fig 04 Orange: blue - Abstract

Fig 04 – Orange – blue (abstract)

Fig 05 Red-green

Fig 05 Red – green
f6.3, 1/160, 34mm, ISO 200

Back in Queen Elizabeth Park I spotted this tree surrounded by red begonias (Fig 05). The various shades of green from the lawn, cypress tree and the rhododendron at the back provide a harmonious contrast to the vivid red of the begonias. Even though Goethe’s combination for red-green are 1:1 it is obvious that the contrast works in other combinations as well. In a red-green scenario I think sometimes less is more. The abstract version can be seen in fig 06 below.

Fig 06 - Red-green abstract

Fig 06 – Red – green (abstract)

Part 2

Fig 07 Blue - pink

Fig 07 – Blue – pink
f4, 1/160, 50mm, ISO 200

Even in this age of equal opportunity and genderless roles that society has created, it is still a strange sight to come across a man sitting crocheting berets. This reminded me so much of the African ladies back in South Africa who would sit with their backs against their huts, legs stretched out in the sun, crocheting or doing bead-work. However, this is in Canada and this photo depicts an example of cold-warm contrast (both literally and theoretically). The cold of the blue of the window frames, the man’s shirt and jeans and the tarpaulin on which his wares are displayed contrast with the warm reds and pinks of the winter berets he has crocheted and is busy crocheting. The abstract depiction below almost looks like one of those heat sensing images one sees at the movies.

Fig 08 Blue - pink (abstract)

Fig 08 – Blue – pink (abstract)

Fig 09 - Blue - yellow

Fig 09 – Blue – yellow
f5.6, 1/1250, 50mm, ISO 100

Fig 09 was shot at the Vancouver Peace Rally in Support of the Ukraine. I am rather apolitical, but find protest rallies good places for street photography as the people protesting usually do want their photos taken. This shot was taken at the beginning of the march. Most of the protesters had the Ukrainian blue and yellow flags or were dressed in blue and yellow clothing. The ratio of blue and yellow here is probably about 1:1 or fifty-fifty, this combination does work. Again, this is a cold-warm contrast which probably helps to offset the ‘imbalance of ratio’. The abstract version can be seen in fig 10.

Fig 10 Blue-yellow (abstract)

Fig 10 – Blue – yellow (abstract)

Fig 11 Orange-green

Fig 11 – Orange – green
f8, 1/800, 50mm, ISO 100

While waiting for the protest rally to begin I kept circling the Art Gallery, which was the gathering place for the rally and came across this little juice stand. Quite the perfect refreshment for a hot day. Orange and green values are quite close together, namely 8 and 6 respectively so the combination works well together. Once again it is a cold-warm contrast. Set in mainly muted tones, the eye is immediately drawn to the orange stand and the green of the umbrella and base of the trailer, but there is a darker shade of green in the trees in the background and this balances out the intensity of the orange juice stand. Fig 12 shows the abstract version.

Fig 12 Orange-green (abstract)

Fig 12 – Orange – green (abstract)

Fig 13 Red-yellow-blue

Fig 13 – Red – yellow – blue
f8, 1/640, 34mm, ISO 100

Here are all three primary colours in one photo (fig 13) – red, yellow and blue. We have the blue sky, sea and railing as well as the overall blue tone of the city buildings in the distance. The red girders form a strong visual anchor point on the right of the frame together with the yellow caution sign, which holds the eye a little longer, before going off to explore the background and sea. I think the proportions form a good triadic, harmonious balance. Fig 14 shows the abstract version.

Fig 14 Red-yellow-blue (abstract)

Fig 14 – Red – yellow – blue (abstract)

Reference List

Freeman, Michael (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and design for Better Digital Photos. Lewes, England: The Ilex Press.

Itten, Johannes, 1970. The Elements of Color. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Exercise: Primary and secondary colours

The brief:

Find scenes or parts of scenes that are each dominated by a single one of the primary and secondary colours. With each colour that you find, vary the exposure slightly if your camera allows. To do this, make one exposure as the meter reading indicates, a second exposure half a stop brighter, and a third exposure half a stop darker. One of the three will more closely match the colours in the circle above, and for this exercise, select whichever is the closest match.

For ease of reference, I have included Johannes Itten’s twelve-part colour circle below.

Johannes Itten's twelve-park color circle

Johannes Itten’s twelve-part colour circle showing primary colours (yellow/red/blue) and the secondary colours (orange/green/violet) and tertiary colours (yellow-orange/red-orange/red-violet/blue-violet/blue-green/yellow-green)

Taken on a very sunny day, in the middle of the day (I know – not the best time – but I just have to shoot whenever I can) my control image was taken at f8 and the histogram is nicely balanced towards the centre. At one half stop lower (Fig 02) the highlights are almost clipping and the brightness level has increased, washing the image out. At f10 (fig 03) the image is considerably darker, the brightness level having gone down. I think Fig 01 is probably the closest match to the red in the colour wheel. Red is a primary colour.

My control image was taken at f8 (fig 04) again and I believe this photo to match closest to the yellow (another primary colour)  in the colour wheel. At f6.3 (fig 05) some details is lost in the petals of the sunflower, although the highlights are not clipping yet. My personal favourite is the one taken at f10 (fig 06) as the brightness level has been turned down a notch and the details in the petals are nicely visible. This is probably how the sunflower would look had I taken the shot earlier in the morning.

Back in an alley in an industrial area, I took my control image of the garbage container at f11 (fig 07), then opened up one-third to f10 (fig 08) for the next image and finally stopped down to f13 (fig 09).  I think the image in fig 08 is the closest representation to the actual garbage container. However, the brightness of the blue (primary colour) in fig 09 probably makes it a closer match to the blue of the colour wheel.

This hydrangea is about the closest I’ve been able to find to violet (secondary colour). Violet is not an easy colour to find here where I live in Canada – I have no clue why. Again my control image was taken at f8. At 6.3 the flower looks quite washed out, The photo taken at f10 is more representative of the violet in the colour wheel above.

At the tool rental yard I spotted some orange (secondary colour) items clustered together – an orange sign, hazard light and a forklift. I focused on the sign, but decided to include a bit of the orange forklift in the frame as the forklift and the hazard light are probably closer to the orange in the colour wheel generally speaking, while the sign is more of an red/orange colour. Once again my control image was shot at f8. The image shot at f10 is lacking highlights and is too saturated. The image taken at aperture f6.3 more closely matches the orange in the colour wheel above.

Vancouver is a city that consists of green and blue colours. Green (secondary colour) abounds everywhere. Surrounded by rain forests and maple trees and other vegetation, one is spoilt for choice of which green to photograph. However, matching the green in the colour wheel is not an easy task. I think these photographs of the zucchini plant in my garden come pretty close. I think the closest match would be fig 17, although it is a bit bright for my taste. Personally I prefer the control image in fig 16 where the saturation and brightness are nicely balanced. The green in fig 18 is too saturated.

Reference List

Freeman, Michael (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and design for Better Digital Photos. Lewes, England: The Ilex Press.

Itten, Johannes, 1970. The Elements of Color. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Exercise: Control the strength of a colour

The brief:

Find a strong, definite colour – a painted door, for instance – and choose a viewpoint so that the colour fills the viewfinder frame. Find the average exposure setting – the one your camera’s meter recommends. Then take a sequence of pictures; all composed exactly the same, but differently exposed from bright to dark. Start at one stop brighter than the original metered setting, then stop down the aperture by half a stop each time… Arrange the five images together. Apart from the obvious fact that the five photographs vary from over-exposure to under-exposure, what other difference is there in terms of the colour?

My front door is blue, albeit rather faded, so I decided to use that as my subject. My control image was taken with an aperture of f5.6.

Fig 1

Fig 1
f4, 1/160, 50mm, ISO 400

Fig 2

Fig 2
f4.5, 1/160, 50mm, ISO 400

Fig 3 - Control image

Fig 3 – Control image
f5.6, 1/160, 50mm, ISO 400

Fig 4

Fig 4
f6.3, 1/160, 50mm, ISO 400

Fig 5

Fig 5
f8, 1/160, 50mm, ISO 400

Hue is the quality of the colour – the name we give it, e.g. yellow, violet, blue. Saturation is the intensity of the hue, while brightness, or quantity has to do with the degree of lightness or darkness of a colour. (Painters change the brightness of colours by adding black, white or gray to a colour, or by adding another colour of unlike brilliance).

After downloading the images off my camera (no post processing done except cropping), I then uploaded them to so that I could obtain the necessary hue, saturation and brightness values. I do not have Photoshop and Lightroom 5 doesn’t have this functionality.

If we look at the Hue column in the table in figure 6 below, one can see that by stopping up and down from the control image using an aperture of f5.6 (highlighted in orange), there is a slight shift of about 2 degrees on either side in the hue of the door. Hue is measured as degrees around the colour wheel. In the Saturation column one can see that the saturation level in the overexposed image with an aperture of f4 differs by 17.02% (dull or weak intensity) from the control image and by 11.76% (intense) in the underexposed image with an aperture of f8. Conversely, the brightness levels increase by 17.26% (bright) and decreases by 25.88% (dark) respectively as can be seen in the final column. Thus when saturation levels decrease, brightness increases and when saturation levels increase, brightness levels decrease.

Fig 6 - Comparison table of HSB values

Fig 6 – Comparison table of HSB values

Reference List

Freeman, Michael (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and design for Better Digital Photos. Lewes, England: The Ilex Press. HTML Color Picker [online]. Available from [Accessed 23 August, 2014]

Itten, Johannes (1970). The Elements of Color. Ravensburg, Germany: Van Nostrand, Reinhold Company.

Prakel, David (2013). Basics Photography 02: Lighting. 2nd edition. London: Ava Publishing.