Contrast in Color Photography

Color is actually a combination of three terms: hue, saturation (intensity), and brightness/tonal contrast (how light or dark a color appears.)

Hue

When children learn to identify colors, they learn to identity hue. Hue refers to the attribute of a color dependent on its dominant wavelength. It what makes a color discernible as red, green, etc, and is independent of intensity or lightness.

A color wheel shows a wide range of different hues:
color_wheel_730

Examples of photographs with similar (analogous) hues:

Photo Credit: Manny

Photo Credit: Manny

Photo Credit: Nelsie

Photo Credit: Nelsie

Examples of photographs with contrasting (complementary) hues:

Photo Credit: Steve McCurry

Photo Credit: Steve McCurry

Photo Credit: Mika Ninagawa

Photo Credit: Mika Ninagawa

Saturation (Intensity)

Saturation refers to how intense a color is. The hues in the color wheel shown above are fully saturated. Most things we come across in nature will be much more dull.

Examples of photographs with saturated colors:

showimg_trn135_1600_1600

Photo Credit: Mika Ninagawa

Photo Credit: Steve McCurry

Photo Credit: Steve McCurry

Examples of photographs with desaturated (muted) colors:
bicycle_muted
bird_muted_color

Photo Credit: Deanna

Photo Credit: Deanna

Brightness, Tone, and Value

Brightness or tonal contrast is the range between light and dark. This term is usually used in association with black and white photography, though color photos do have tonal contrast. Think of this in terms of highlights and shadows or blacks and whites. Our ability to perceive these differences in tone is why we can recognize shapes and lines. High tonal contrast photos are primarily light and dark or white and black elements with a sharp difference between them. They are dramatic and strong.

Examples of photographs with high tonal contrast:

Photo Credit: Manny

Photo Credit: Manny

Adams_The_Tetons_and_the_Snake_River

Photo Credit: Ansel Adams

Examples of photographs with low tonal contrast:
pink_green_macaroons

Combining hue, saturation, and tone

A strong photograph will often combine many of the above elements.
Here are some examples of photographs that combine contrasting hues, tone, and saturation:

Photo Credit: Steve McCurry

Photo Credit: Steve McCurry

Photo Credit: Steve McCurry

Photo Credit: Steve McCurry

Today we will:

  • Take photos outside, trying to capture good examples of how each of the following elements affects the perception of color: hue, saturation, and brightness/tone
  • Publish a new blog post with the best unedited photos you took today
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