In one of my previous blogs, I focussed on black and white landscape photography. In this blog, I will address colour in landscape photos this time. The appropriate use of colour in photography adds dynamic elements to images to please our eyes. To create photographs to be proud of, we have to use colour to our advantage.
Definition of colour
Colours are components of light that are reflected off from an object. Light is radiation that behaves like waves. So, the colour starts with light. The colours we see are influenced by the characteristics of the light source, not just a property of the subject. The colour range that we can see have different characteristics.
Users of Photoshop or Lightroom will be acquainted with the terminology of hue, saturation and luminance. Hue is a name we give colours on the colour wheel (red, yellow, green, blue, and so on). Saturation (also known as purity) is the level of greyness present. The less saturated, the greyer a colour appears. Luminance refers to the light and dark property of colour.
More than colour in landscape photography
Capturing colourful objects is not enough to create beautiful colour images. A picture of colourful flowers is not necessarily a nice colour picture. It’s difficult, I admit. So often the colour can detract us from a nice composition. As photographers we have to use it to make visual statements combining colour and content, otherwise, our images are empty.
Seasonal colour in landscapes
Colours in landscape photographs are very seasonal. Brown, red and ochre are associated with autumn, such as white and grey with winter.
Spring has a clear light green as its main colour, slowly changing to deep green with shadows in the summer. All of this completed with a whole range of delicate spring or bright summer flowers. The colour package of nature changes throughout the year. Colour evokes a certain mood for the viewer, from lightness to melancholy. Yellow colours feel warmer and are therefore more comfortable than blueish ones. Although that does not always hold true: we immediately associate the deep blue of some marine landscapes with warm tropical islands! Our colour experience is therefore relative to a specific subject.
In the four-picture panel below I have shot the same forest scene, in 4 different seasons, with typical colours to illustrate the contribution of colour to the seasonal mood of the landscapes
Colour balance in landscape photography
Blue is a counterbalance to many colours. In sunny weather, the landscape is covered by blue, while water also absorbs that colour. Because blue, as a cool colour, tend to recede in our eyes (while the red of flowers just comes at you), it gives us space and air. The dark grey of a cloudy sky can, therefore, create a certain pressure. You feel you are pushed back in a way.
The intensity of the colours plays a role in the balance an image need. Strong contrasting colours can cause undesired imbalances. This is contrasting to when the colours are in harmony with each other.
Unfortunately, the sky is often rather colourless, certainly just above the horizon. This is especially the case on fairly sunny days with no clear clouds. This does not provide us with attractive scenery.
Colours and emotions are interlinked. The same colour picture can trigger different emotional reactions. The emotional value of colours explains why a view or a certain light touches us and makes us reach for our camera. The final photo means what it means to us and reminds us of the emotion of that moment.
Colours can be influenced with the help of filters as in the old days. Nowadays post-processing is the way to handle this. Red is a colour that attracts a lot of attention, while cool colours such as blue and green seem to disappear into the background. Colour contrasts can give the photo an extra dimension.
Colour photos are defined by the quality of the colour. This concerns primary versus secondary colours, intrusive versus receding; to saturation and brightness. The primary colours red, blue and yellow are more pronounced and more present in the foreground than the secondary ones such as brown or lilac. The red colour jumps towards you. You need less of bright colours in a composition to create a balanced image.
In the photo below the red mailbox draws all the attention
We can use blue in larger quantities – because it seems to give way, it does not require our attention that much. The warmer the colour, the more it comes to you. Cooler colours give way. The red-green, or blue-yellow contrasts are very striking and often gives a colour photo extra punch.
Colour and perspective
You can use those intrusive and receding characteristics of colours to support perspective. Because of its blueness, the horizon seems even further away, while the red of poppies, for example, gives the feeling that you are in the middle of the field.
In general, one can say that too many different colours in a photo create a restless effect. Especially when there are relatively many intrusive and few receding elements our eyes cannot find a focal point. However, many different secondary colours, such as in a flower meadow, are not disturbing.
In a landscape photo, layers may appear in your image due to contrast differences between elements such as air, water and land. Dividing the surface on the basis of those colour areas in conjunction with the rule of thirds produces better results.
In the below picture we only see three colours without any focus point and yet by applying the rule of thirds, this picture becomes attractive. The 3-D effect is enforced by the dance of the light
Single colour photos
Perhaps the most special effect shows when almost the entire photo consists of only one major colour. Under certain light conditions, a monochrome view can occur, even though the subject actually has different colours. In the bleu picture of the beach below, you notice that even the sand in the foreground has turned blue
In the next picture, the main colour is green in different shades. The evening light accentuates the flow of the slope. And all together this brings a tranquil but interesting picture
I am very interested to hear your comments or experiences. Leave them here below.