One way to add impact to your images is with RICH saturated colors that appear to jump right off the photo. Note that the word “rich” is capitalized because there’s a huge difference between RICH and OVERLY. Overly saturated color definitely commands attention, but once the viewer studies the image, he or she realizes something isn’t natural and will question it. Color that’s striking can be rich and it doesn’t have to be overly saturated to be powerful. As a matter of fact, natural bold color can dominate so strongly, it can serve as the primary subject. Composition and lighting become secondary and serve as support pieces. Many factors go into the successful creation of vividly toned images. Subject choice, lighting, time of day, digital manipulation and filter choice all contribute to their impact.
Subjects with vivid or iridescent colors are the obvious building blocks upon which the image should be based. Subjects with bold reds, oranges and yellows, offset against vibrant blues and greens, are good candidates. Autumn-colored aspen leaves juxtaposed against a clear blue northern sky leap forward. The reason for this starts with color theory. I encourage you to Google “Color Wheel” and print a copy of one to place in your camera bag. The key factors you want to absorb are twofold: What colors are 180 degrees from any given color on the wheel? These are known as the opposites. What colors are adjacent to any given color on the wheel? These are known as complements.
Upon printing out the wheel, note that blue and yellow are opposites. Think about the above example of the cottonwood leaves. When opposites are juxtaposed in the same image, the warm color comes forward and the cool one recedes. This is what causes the powerful psychological impact on the viewer. This phenomenon of offsetting opposite colors causes the leaves to pop off the page. Study the macro shot of the bee on the sunflower to prove the above. Furthermore, study the temperature slider in Lightroom or ACR. One side is deep blue and the opposite side is deep yellow! (In regard to deep rich colors, think back to some of the ads for Velvia slide film! If you’re smiling now, right on! If you’re not, Google it.)
Beautiful sunrises and sunsets provide photographers with fantastic opportunities to capture catchy chromatic color. The conditions need to be just right with clouds above a clear horizon along with proper atmospheric conditions. When everything comes together, I look for bold silhouettes to offset against the vibrant hues. This doesn’t always happen, but there are filters that give Mother Nature a boost. Depending on how much you want to punch up the sky, try a warming, enhancing, sunset, graduated or even a straight yellow or orange filter. Post-processing can also provide a boost via the use of the temperature and tint sliders along with the vibrance and saturation sliders. The saturation slider is like vibrance on steroids, so use it conservatively to maintain as natural a look as possible.
Finally, flash can provide vibrance in a subject, where if it wasn’t used, the colors would be flat. The image of the scarlet macaw was made in late morning. The sun was high and to the right of the bird. In that a lot of it was in shadow, the image made without flash showed little true color of the rainbow-like feathers. I simply added a flash and fired away. I dialed in no compensation because I wanted the amount of emitted light to equal the amount of ambient light. It was a perfect mix. Always carry a flash. If the natural light isn’t the best and you have a small and very colorful subject in front of your lens, attach it to the hot-shoe. The premise is to add light where it doesn’t fall. This way, the light from the strobe illuminates the shadows and reveals all the colors in your subject.
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