Just ordinary…

Where we sometimes get disappointed, myself included, is when we set out to get a shot or two and the light turns out to be what we think is just ordinary & lifeless. The thing is, thinking that the light is just ordinary is, for the most part, wrong and the reason why I say this is that we then tend to put the camera away and ignore a potentially great photograph right in front of us. There’s essentially nothing wrong with what we call ordinary light because it’s how we choose to deal with it.

- Purple on the Vine -
– Purple on the Vine –

Take for example the above photograph & the lighting; it’s in shade with a slight bluish cast that makes the colors appear cool. Being a sunny evening, the shade is naturally cool in tone, so warming it up, as I played with in editing, made the colors murky & unfaithful to the scene as I had seen it. The light was what I would call ordinary, but only in that it was a clear day with little to no clouds and the shade had a bluish cast to it; I shot it with a white balance of about 7000K (for Olympus users, it’s the Shade setting) so it already did bring in a bit of warmth to the image itself. Shooting in RAW, the white balance isn’t hardwired into the data, but it does influence it a bit when processing the image which has to be done thanks to the file format; in this photograph, I ended up taking the yellows out a bit while still trying to remain truthful to the original scene.

Because of what we think is ordinary light, we tend to ignore scenes that could be really something, mostly due to being accustomed to it. If you really think about it, we’re so accustomed to blaring sounds & images, things that stick out, and the newest & latest item that we really forget what it means to slow down and really take a look around. The above photograph doesn’t speak loudly, but it wasn’t meant to; it was meant to show ordinary light on an ordinary flower growing on a vine. For me, it speaks about the balance of purple & green on a vine growing on the edge of a gazebo, showing how the flower can still stick out quite a bit even under ordinary light among the greens. So…get out there and make the ordinary extraordinary!

Thoughts on color…

I’ve heard that the real art in photography is in black & white, sepia, duotone among others, but what sticks out to me in these claims is that the one common thread is color. Sure, black & white is devoid of color, but in the whole scheme of things, it’s either a lack of color or an overabundance of it; in subtractive color (think paintings), black is the mix of every color and in additive color (think electronic displays), white is the mix of every color. I know I’ve oversimplified it, but this makes it easier for me to understand and, hopefully, easier for others to comprehend as well.

- Purple Rhododendrons -
– Purple Rhododendrons –

While values & ethics are better in black & white, in photography, color makes up what we see and how we feel in a scene; I’m not arguing against black & white, but, hopefully for a more careful consideration of it. Using the above photograph as an example, converting would’ve gotten rid of the purple/violet tone in the flowers and made it solely about the tone of the image; for this one, I wanted it to be about color & tone. Without the purple, it looked dry and somewhat lacking in mood, or at least the warm & stable (as if this makes any sense) mood of purple. In black & white, it looked good, but just not the way it did in color; a duotone treatment would’ve brought back the purple, but then other colors might’ve suffered. As it usually is, color treatment is a balancing act done either well or badly, depending on how we go about it.

The trouble that I had in capturing the above image, was the interplay of light on the colors, especially because it was a bit spotty because of buildings. My solution was to wait until the spots of light were in the right place for the right colors, in this case the purple & yellow, and then work the shot, using exposure bracketing as a backup (knowing that I’d most likely find some way to screw it up). Sometimes, I tend to take a while in figuring this stuff out (it’s admittedly like figuratively banging my head against a wall) and other times (as rare as they are) it comes near instantly, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. What I’m getting at is that color is, and should be, a careful consideration in how we present an image, both in capture & in post-processing; if we forget that, then our shots may not carry the intent & vision that we originally intended for them.

On graphics (lines & shapes)…

When you think about it, flattening the scene into two dimensions from three, lines & shapes take a strong position in the frame because they show distance, emphasis & motion. No lines can stop any sense of motion because there’s nothing to follow for the viewer and at the opposite end of the scale, lines can direct the viewer right out of the frame all too quickly. It’s something that presents itself as a challenge when going for shots that can’t be prearranged like studio shots can be. Shapes can also stop the motion, especially if they have self-containing attributes like circles & octagons (i.e. stop signs).

The trick in all of this is how to compose a shot from a scene that will turn out dynamic and hold the viewer’s attention for longer. By dynamic, I mean a shot that doesn’t become a simple snapshot and just look like any other shot, but conveys some kind of motion or mood that can have some impact; something that doesn’t look like a mugshot used for driver’s licenses. Using different shapes with different colors in a pattern to somehow convey mood and/or motion usually gives a sense of impact; I only say usually because there are exceptions, most of which have been unfortunately encountered by myself. Being far from perfect, I’m just trying to get some kind of impact with photography and I’ve come to realize that while working through photography, it’s important to study why a shot works & why it fails; so, for me, trying to work the above into the shots does take work, but it is completely worth it.

Pinks in light & shade
Pinks in light & shade

Like in the above photograph, there is a faint stream of light from the upper right, but held back when taking the shot to make it quite soft so that it’s only hinted at; it doesn’t convey motion, but it works because of the peaceful, blueish-green color of the leaves set against the pink flowers. It stops the motion on the slight beam of light, while giving it some mood (the cool green tones, as well as the pink ones). While I wasn’t completely analyzing the scene before taking the shot, I was trying to capture how the flowers looked & felt at that exact moment. In the end, learning to bring the elements of lines, shapes & color/tone into the shot are basically what photography’s about, at least for me…And I usually fail at one or more of those things, but it’s a learning process.

On tones…

Now for a simpler topic: tones of color. When looking at the different quality of light, we often see that there is a color cast on the subject that will vary with the light source; i.e. a warm cast for early morning or a blue for a gentle midday light. The beauty of this is that it can set the mood of the scene, especially if you have the right white balance set up, or change the mood with a different white balance set. Auto White Balance actually tries to remove the color cast, so using that for sunrises & sunsets especially won’t work as well, because it could potentially hurt the mood of the shot by changing the color cast. I’ve talked about this before, but I’d like to add the fact that white balance choice can significantly alter & influence the mood.

Boundary Bay Sunrise
Little Whites

Take for example the first of the above photographs and it’s color cast & tone. Taken at sunrise, it has a warm glow, a nearly deep red tone to it and because of that, it adds a warming sense to the scene. Like the slightly warm color tone/temperature in the one below it, it makes use of the fact that a warmer glow produces a sense of warmness to it, but the shot below does so in a more subtle way. So which can be more effective? It all depends on what you’re photographing and why; if you’re going for warmth, we might want to stay away from too much of a blue cast because that usually presents a cooler mood and if we’re going for a more peaceful mood, then a blue cast is usually the right choice. Now if we’re going for power & stability, we’d want a large object with a dark blue color cast. This may sound like basic color theory, but for photography, it definitely helps.

All this is what mostly goes in to thinking about color in a photograph in terms of tone & color cast, or, as it’s been called, color temperature & white balance. Although this is far from being in-depth, it’s a start point and it kinda does help to know color theory along the way, especially with color cast in a scene.