Controlling Color in Landscape Photography

Controlling Color in Landscape Photography

  • It's hard to look objectively at the colors of landscape, because our eyes tend to be drawn to the most dramatic hues and to areas of vigorous contrast. But if you can be dispassionate for a moment, you'll notice that in any landscape scene, the colors of the majority of subject elements are broadly similar. For example, a scene of rolling hills might be dominated by the green hues of the foliage, and the blue of the sky above.

  • The significance of this restricted palette of colors becomes clearer when you set into the landscape a single element of some different color. The chromatic imbalance introduced by the new color springs entirely from its context. Think of the brilliant colors of cactus flowers: the dots of color are tiny, yet they grab the attention simply because they provide the only visual relief from the surrounding areas of brown desert and green succulent.

  • The photographic lesson to be learned from nature's example is that restricting the background palette to just one or two hues gives special emphasis to small areas of some other hue. A color that would perhaps look unexceptional if it dominated the frame can arrest the eye when it is a counterpoint.

  • In practice, selection is the most useful tool for restricting and confining the colors of your images. In a uniformly colored landscape, look around for pockets of some other color that will set off the overall scene. Alternatively, start from the other standpoint: when you've found a color accent, move around and perhaps change lenses until you can frame it against a background dominated by just a few hues. If you are able to print your own pictures, it may be possible to use local color filtration to subdue any elements that interfere with the restricted palette of the whole photograph.

  • Subtle colors can sometimes weave as powerful a spell. Creating delicately-colored images isn't just a matter of spotting suitable subject matter: technique is all-important. You can make things easier for yourself by fitting a telephoto or long zoom. Their restricted field of view makes it easier to crop out brightly-colored detail that jars against the softness of the dominant hues.

  • Watch the weather and time of day, too. You'll find that overcast weather creates subtle, more delicate colors than sunlight, and that some of the most beautiful hues appear just after the moment when the sun has slipped down below the horizon.

  • To double the appeal of delicate colors, look for reflective surfaces. After rain, wet stone, grass and puddles act as crude mirrors - so if the sky is painted in quiet colors your whole photograph will pick up some chromatic theme.

  • Finally, if you are using film, try experimenting with different types of film. Slow films - particularly reversal emulsions - tend to be high in contrast, so instead pick one of the faster films such as Kodacolor 400 or 1000. These films produce flatter results and have a more muted repertoire of colors.

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