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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Making Summer Color

In a season dominated by green, you can help the natural landscape with your camera, filters and the delicate use of Photoshop tools

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Making Summer Cooler
Junk, Halong Bay, Vietnam. This image was shot on a dull, gray morning. Using the Tungsten setting in the camera’s White Balance options created an overall blue cast. Before digital, Benson would have used an 80A blue filter to achieve a similar effect. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm at 16mm, ISO 200
In the summer, hot on the heels of a season that positively bursts with varied hues, the color that most comes to mind is green. The landscape becomes a green carpet, and finding dramatic color combinations can be a daunting task. Sure, there still are flowers and blooms to work with, but compared to the explosion of spring colors, summer photography can be tough. To make summer color really pop, you can turn to some special equipment and technology.

Making Summer Cooler
Color Relativity
Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you make hundreds of color judgments daily, but they’re strictly relative to you and your perception. I have a red-green color deficiency in my vision. I’m not alone; approximately 10 percent of the male population has this minor color deficiency. If you’re curious about your own color perception, there are plenty of websites on the topic. As one example, visit www.toledo-bend.com/colorblind/Ishihara.html and test your color vision there (I can see the 25 and 56 clearly; the rest are a bunch of dots). The thing is, everything looks fine to me. I can’t tell that my perception of red is different from anyone else’s. Everyone has color biases and perception differences. Color is relative to the observer.

You’re probably familiar with the color wheel and how opposite colors on the wheel complement each other. For example, red and cyan, green and magenta or blue and yellow visually intensify one another if placed in close proximity. It’s not always possible to get those colors next to one another in the outdoors, but being aware of this effect will help you recognize and compose images to best take advantage of complementary colors.

Making Summer Cooler
John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon. High overcast clouds made for even light, but gave a bluish colorcast to everything. Digitally, Benson was able to select and restore red to layers in the hills and yellow to the rivers of wildflowers growing in the ravines. Pentax 645, Pentax 45mm, Fujichrome Velvia
Again, the whole thing is relative. The colors red and cyan next to one another may not visually intensify or complement one another for you the same way they do for someone else. Study your images and the work of other artists you admire. Try to find clues to what preferences or biases you may have. We all have different visual triggers, be they certain subjects, shapes, colors or patterns to which we respond. Understanding what they are will help you identify that something when you’re out shooting. I know I respond to almost any strong color—magenta being a favorite—and also to triangular shapes. I see them often in my own photography and in the work of others I admire. Know yourself, recognize what triggers your whoopee buttons. Both photography and life are a lot more fun when you know where these buttons are and how to get them pushed.


Filters used to be the most common way to add or control color in photography. I carried around more than 40 different filters in the attempt to control exposure and color. I used cooling filters (e.g., 80A) to produce a duskish blue cast, several types of warming filters (e.g., 85 orange) or sepia filters to replicate the look of old or aged prints. I used color-enhancing filters, combined with high-contrast films like Fujichrome Velvia to intensify colors, and numerous grads of varying intensity and color to help balance contrast and exposure.


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