Ever since I first held a camera, every photo I’ve taken has been in colour. The finished article may not stay that way, but my eyes see in colour, and my view through the viewfinder is always in colour.
People more qualified than me to talk about photography have said that, aesthetically, colour photography is more difficult to get right that black and white—that extra variable added into the mix of form, shape, line and texture can get us into trouble. Toy photographers have it harder than most.
Toys are, in general, not subtle when it comes to colour. Looking through my boxes of minifigs I can see mostly bright, bold primary and secondary colours—including complex figures with multiple contrasting coloured parts. It takes a very skillful eye to work with so many strong colours in the same image—I certainly can’t do it well.
I looked through my past photographs and there is a definite trend towards either neutral tones or a single big, bold colour. Very few images have made it out into the wild that I would call “garish”.
This came as a revelation to me. I hadn’t really though about how many major colours were used in my photos before, but now I have another tool to use when analysing my reaction to photographs (something I have been purposefully studying since we mentioned the possibility of critiquing photographs here on SiP). My personal preference, certainly in my own work, is for colour to perform the job of a graphic statement—it’s there for a reason—and not just that the figure or surroundings happen to be that particular colour.
Let’s rip some of my photos apart as examples. The following four images don’t work for me. Mostly because of the colour. Some of the ideas are terrible too, but let’s just focus on the colour rather than when on earth I was thinking at the time.
And now we can contrast those with some photos where colour plays a major part in why they work.
I think this is why I love the LEGO stormtrooper so much! Simple black and white works pretty well with any other colour. Some of the figures I have trouble photographing—like Boba Fett, Yoda, the X-wing pilots—are bright multi-coloured figures that need a very careful choice of background. They’re quite easy to do as “hero” shots against a featureless backdrop—I’m certainly no stranger to that genre—but more difficult to weave into a more story-based shot without ending up in a colourful mess.
It’s a subject I’m reading more about as we speak, and I’m enjoying looking at photographs with a new colour-critical eye. Feel free to point me at photos whose colours do it for you in the comments.
Mike, First let me tell you how much I enjoyed this post. It is a delightful read as well as instructive. As I was reading through two thoughts jumped into my head: 1) Check out the Photographers Playbook’s assignment Composing in Color by Sara Terry. The assignment helps to train the eye to look for color trends. The quick and dirty is to take any view, flatten it like a photograph, pick a color and then find it repeated else where in your view. It is a way to start seeing color as another pattern, like lights and darks, that… Read more »
That’s a great observation about red. I hadn’t even noticed. I like that exercise in the handbook too. Sounds like a great way to look at scenes differently. I’m going to have to pick that book up.
I shall have a look at the Playbook assignment, I’ve had the book since Christmas but haven’t actually opened it yet.
As for red, it wasn’t a conscious choice, but it seems I’m quite fond of red and oranges as stand-out colours. They’re normally the complement of the green/blue backgrounds I use often, so maybe that’s it.
I have just read ‘Lifelike’, a book on colour theory and practice in photography, and it talks about harmonising colours by desaturation and colour overlays. Made me realise why a lot of images look better with Instagram/vintage filters!
Fabulous article… I think I need to study up on color! It does explain the attraction to storm troopers and the Boba Fett prototype. Very interesting subject!
Since I read this post I haven’t stopped thinking about colors in my pictures. I think I still have to figure out why some pictures seems to me to work better than other despite not using complementary colors. On the other hand it brings my attention to details I never noticed. In particular I understand why I love to take Rex riding a red bike. I never realized how strong was the contrast in terms of colors.