Category Archives: 16 Colour relationships

Exercise 25 Colours into Tones in Black & White

This exercise is designed to provide a “taste” of how understanding colour and putting it to work in black and white imagery gives a powerful tonal control.

I chose to take two still life pictures as my basis for this exercise. In both cases I set up the still life under a hot-shoe soft box loaded with a flash gun set to trigger remotely from my camera. The soft box was set to the left and slightly above the still life to allow me to glance the light off the objects and emphasise their texture. The set was in front of a small window so there was some natural light from the back and to reduce shadows on the right I used two small LED video lights that are of a similar colour temperature to the flash gun. The LED lights are diffused by translucent plastic sheets and the soft box is diffused with material.

Image 1 was a still life using fruit and vegetables.

Fig 1 - 1/60 at f/11, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig 1 – 1/60 at f/11, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Following the instructions in the exercise brief I used Photoshop (PS) to convert the image to black and white and then adjusted the tones using the sliders in PS and, as a comparison I followed the same sequence using Silver Efex Pro (SEP). In PS I used the sliders manually whereas in SEP I simply used their pre-set colour filters. Note that there is an orange filter in SEP but no orange slider in PS. As there were no blues in the still life I did not produce an image with a blue filter.

Fig. 2 Default PS and Neutral SEP

Fig. 2 Default PS and Neutral SEP

Fig. 3 Red Filter

Fig. 3 Red Filter

Fig. 4 Yellow Filter

Fig. 4 Yellow Filter

Fig. 5 Orange Filter

Fig. 5 Orange Filter

Fig. 6 Green Filter

Fig. 6 Green Filter

The results are mostly unsurprising. The most interesting aspects are:

  1. Silver Efex Pro gives a much more satisfactory neutral or default image that achieves a better overall tonal balance than the Photoshop  version.
  2. The red chillies are obviously quite a pure red because the other filters have minimal impact on their tone but we can see that the red tomatoes actually contain a lot of yellow and orange as those filters also effect their tone.
  3. I am surprised by the significant effect on the red tomatoes of the green filter in Silver Efex Pro.

For my second set of colours I wanted a wider range so I set up two sets of coloured pens and some Postit notes. This gave me a much broader spectrum. I restricted myself to using the filters in Silver Efex Pro which is the tool I now use for black and white processing.

Fig. 7 1/60 at f/22, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 7 1/60 at f/22, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 8 Silver Efex Pro Red Filter

Fig. 8 Silver Efex Pro Red Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeBlue and dark green become black. Yellow becomes white. Red becomes a mid-tone grey. Obvious why the red filter is a favourite with landscape photographers seeking a Ansel Adams black sky and very white clouds.

Fig. 9 - Silver Efex Pro Orange Filter

Fig. 9 – Silver Efex Pro Orange Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeSimilar effect to the red filter but more muted. Blue is nearly black so some texture is just discernible. there is more variation between blue and dark green especially on the coloured paper. Orange and yellow are much the same tone as the red filter. An autumn landscape would have an infrared feel and we would be able to tell the difference between grass and blue sky.

Fig. 10 - Silver Efex Pro Yellow Filter

Fig. 10 – Silver Efex Pro Yellow Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeOnly a  small shift from the orange filter. Blue and green have moved a little further apart as have red and orange, red is slightly darker and orange lighter.Yellow now has some texture.

Fig. 11 - Silver Efex Pro Green Filter

Fig. 11 – Silver Efex Pro Green Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeA continuation of the progression. Blue has more texture so is becoming lighter, Orange and yellow are darker and green much lighter. Blue and green have moved much further apart. Red  and purple are now black on the pen tops.

Fig. 12 - Silver Efex Pro Blue Filter

Fig. 12 – Silver Efex Pro Blue Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeWith the blue filter there is quite a significant shift. Yellow, orange and red have all become much darker with yellow quite black on he paper and orange black on the pen tops which shows how different materials reflect light and thereby effect colour.

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Exercise 24 Colour Relationships

In this exercise we are seeking to create images containing complimentary colours. These are colours that are opposite each other on the colour circle which balance each other in an image but because their brightness varies their relationship needs to be proportional.

The idea rations are:

Red : Green     1:1 (they are of equal brightness)

Orange : Blue  1:2 (orange is twice as bright as blue we need twice as much blue)

Yellow : Violet 1:3 (yellow is three times as bright as violet)

To complete this exercise, and given that spring colours are currently limited to white and yellow in the countryside, I visited Winchester thinking that I might find these colours in shop windows and on signs.

Red : Green

Fig. 2 - 1/1000 at f/4, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 1 – 1/1000 at f/4, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 1 - 1/60 at f/11, ISO 250. 55,mm to 200mm lens at 200mm

Fig. 2 – 1/60 at f/11, ISO 250. 55,mm to 200mm lens at 200mm

Fig. 3 - 1/1000 at f/4, ISO 100. 50 mm prime lens

Fig. 3 – 1/1000 at f/4, ISO 100. 50 mm prime lens

Three quite different images with a variety of hues. Green is known to have a very large number of different hues so it was good to find this variation. As an image my favourite is the deep red church sign against the green lawn (fig. 3), I like the orange wall which adds a third balancing colour.

I am questioning whether the ratios defined really hold true. To my eye red is such a powerful and dominant colour that it is not at equilibrium with green on a 1:1 ratio. I think balance is probably nearer to 1 red: 2 green.

Orange : Blue

Fig. 6 - 1/125 @ f/11, ISO 200. 55mm to 200mm lens at 180mm

Fig. 4 – 1/125 @ f/11, ISO 200. 55mm to 200mm lens at 180mm

Fig. 4 - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 200. 55mm to 200mm lens at 200

Fig. 5 – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 200. 55mm to 200mm lens at 200

Fig. 5 - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 400. 55mm to 200mm lens at 165

Fig. 5 – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 400. 55mm to 200mm lens at 165

Brick work and the sky were obvious orange / blue combinations and I restricted myself to one example, I have used a mask to manage the curves separately in fig. 5 as the sky was a little too pale to achieve a strong contrast. My favourite is the bus door with the orange trim on the glass backed by the blue of the ticket machine inside the bus, I especially like the dust and other marks on the glass.

Yellow : Violet

Fig. - 1/80 at f/11, ISO 100. 55mm to 200mm lens at 150mm

Fig. 7  – 1/80 at f/11, ISO 100. 55mm to 200mm lens at 150mm

Fig - 1/100 at f/11, ISO 100. 55mm to 200mm lens at 200mm

Fig – 1/100 at f/11, ISO 100. 55mm to 200mm lens at 200mm

Yellow and violet was far harder to come by and more difficult to crop into the right ratios but a flower stall and an advert on the side of a bus came to the rescue. Of the two I prefer the advert which I think is a nicely balanced image and the sort of intimate landscape photo I like.

Appealing Colour Combinations

The second part of the exercise is to select colour combinations that appeal to me.

Fig. 9 - 1/1500 at f/4, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 9 – 1/1500 at f/4, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

My first choice is red and two different hues of blue. I would say that it is about 2:1 red to blue but the red is broken up by the white spots and this reduces it dominance. There were a lot of red / blue combinations in the high street but I liked the overall balance of this shot and think there is a little bit of mystery about it which is why I wanted to include a small piece of the mannequin’s hand.

Fig. 10 - 1/180 at f/4, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens.

Fig. 10 – 1/180 at f/4, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens.

Wandering around Winchester on a bright spring day I became more and more interested in the reflections in the shop windows and how colours became muted when I looked at them from an angle. Fig. 10 is a mix of green, brown and blue. I like the chaos of the scene and how it is given structure by the triangle of the  “A” and the three smaller triangles of the arches on the building on the other side of the street.

Fig. 11 - 1/125 at f/4, ISO 160. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 11 – 1/125 at f/4, ISO 160. 50mm prime lens

Continuing with the theme of reflections I like the “open” sign in orange and green which hangs over the reflection of the couple and their pushchair and the mirror image of the poster. I think it is interesting to ask the viewer to decide what is reflection and what is on the “mirror”. the colours do not dominate the scene but because they are a bright neon sign they still play an important role in the composition.

Fig. 12 - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 720. 55mm to 200mm lens at 82mm

Fig. 12 – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 720. 55mm to 200mm lens at 55mm

Fig. 12 is my favourite of the three reflection images. It has the same element of chaos as fig. 10 and has a subtle colour combination of two different hues of orange and a pale ethereal green-blue which comes from the angle of the shot and how the lights inside the shop and the daylight are playing on the glass. There is a balance of space and structure and of the two colours with the orange line creating an interesting tension. In all three reflection images the viewer is brought into the image to decide whether each element is inside the shop or on the other side of the street.

Fig. 13 - 1/2000 at f/4, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig. 13 – 1/2000 at f/4, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

I have included fig.13 because it shows how we select red and yellow as a combination when we want to catch people’s eye. Yellow is the brightest primary colour and red the most powerful so there is no doubt that this sign shouts “look at me”.

It also shows how red appears to be nearer to the viewer than any other colour so, in this image there are three distinct planes, red nearest to us, yellow in the middle distance because it is so bright and the dark green behind, even though they are all on the same plane both in the street scene and on the computer screen displaying the image.

Fig. 14 - 1/320 at f/11, ISO 100. 55mm to 200mm lens at 62mm

Fig. 14 – 1/320 at f/11, ISO 100. 55mm to 200mm lens at 62mm

My final choice is another chaos image with six colours fighting for our attention. I liked the composition because everything is so chaotic, the broken sign, the lines going in all directions and the different colours that have all been chosen to catch our attention.

It is interesting to see which colours draw our attention and which fade into the background. For me it is the pink theatre sign that leaps out and demands that I look at it first. From there I move to the yellows, then the blue, red and finally brown. It shows that different hues, different sizes and the other structures in the image will all effect us and can reduce the impact of dominant colours.