Part 3 – Colour

I recently bought my first full frame camera, I was instantly blown away by the sharpness and incredible amount of detail. I have been looking at various photographers’ work, I love the way the Russian photographer, Anastasia Volkova [1] and the London based photographer, Marc Hayden [2] colour their images, not just getting it right in camera, but the retouching skills, how distinctive their style is, they are just admirable. Anastasia is the main reason I became very interested in photography the first place, I have been following her beautiful work at least 5 years now, she’s also the inspiration behind my camera choice. But having a great camera does not equal breathtaking images, now I gained better understanding behind the meaning of colour, I can truly appreciate their hard work put into each photograph. I hope I can achieve the same one day, develop my own unique style.

Following my passion, I decided to take some portraits of a friend for this assignment but I also included few images I took as I was walking in town for a greater variation of subjects. I asked her to bring colourful clothes so we can create different colour harmonies as required for this task, since my retouching skills are nowhere near as the artists mentioned above (I only started experimenting in Photoshop), I made all the adjustments in Lightroom, following the ratios suggested by Goethe [3], indicating the brightness of each colour with a number: yellow 9, orange 8, red and green 6, blue 4, violet 3.

Colour harmony through complementary colours

1. red-green-1-1-7805

Red: Green 1:1 – Equally bright

Orange: Blue 1:2 – Orange two times bright as Blue


Yellow: Violet 1:3 – Yellow three times bright as Violet

1. red-green-1-1-7794

Red: Green 1:1 – Equally bright
























Complementary colours are the hues found opposite of each other on the colour wheel. For this set of images I tried to make sure that the amount of colours are the closest to the ideal proportions as well as they are equally intense. Although it seems to be a lazy choice, it wasn’t that easy, I also wanted to achieve pleasing images overall in terms of composition to avoid taking pictures for the sake of colour harmonies. I’m aware that I included other colours too such as the skin and hair tones, the green leaves in the background in some cases, I brought down the saturation and brightness a little to direct the attention to the colour pairs.


Colour harmony through similar colours

2.harmony orange-red-7842

Orange: Red

2.harmony yellow-green-7784

Yellow: Green

2.colour harmony-blue-green

Blue: Green


Green: Blue























Similar colours are the ones close to each other on the colour wheel in terms of cool and warm range. I swapped the last photo in this set to a multiple exposure image of a british tennis player, Liam Broady after looking at the blue-green comparison, I realised I already shot the “opposite” and this is way more interesting than another green scene including the sky. I really like orange and red together, again I pulled the greens back a little the make these colours pop. The next image perhaps not that obvious yellow, I tried to compare the skin next to the green leaves which I think worked well.


Colour contrast through contrasting colours

3. green-orange-7874

Green: Orange

3. yellow-red-7905

Yellow: Red

3. green-violet-7829

Green: Violet

3. blue-red-7931

Blue: Red























Contrasting colours are spaced in between, they aren’t close to each other, nor on the opposite sides on the colour wheel. My favorite is green an orange together, I love the way the sun peeking through the leaves painting them gold, the yellow top works well with the green leaves, it doesn’t feel disharmonious at all. I like the splash of yellow with a greater amount of red together; although green is twice as bright as violet, adding a bit of brightness and saturation to the violet here balances the proportions. In spite of the fact that red (6) is brighter than blue (4), by increasing the brightness and saturation of the blue and decreasing a little of the red, the ideal balance between the two colours seem to be restored.


Colour accent

4. colour pop 1.-7957

Red as accent

4. pop of colour 4

Blue as spot

4. colour pop 2.-142

Red as accent

4. pop of colour 3

Red and Green as spot























The first time I came across colour accent in photography when I was looking at black-and-white images with a splash of colour, only a small detail left out of the conversion. For this set of images I needed to find similar colour relationships as mentioned above and frame them to create this effect without black-and-white conversion. For the first image I stepped pretty far away from my friend, trying to exaggerate the background, like she’s lost in the woods and only can be noticed by her red top. The second photo features a little blue, small amount of cool in contrast with warm colours, also I liked the way the leaves are creating a natural frame around the door. The third photograph features red against green again in a different way, ideally I would have captured this much more far away making the bench look tiny, but I had no space, nor wider lens. The last one is red and green in equal amounts but this time only very little part of the image, since most of my image backgrounds are solid colours, I found this to be a good example putting this colour pair against white, grey and black.

As I was researching for more in terms of retouching portraits just by changing colour, I came across this brilliant article featuring a high end retoucher, Natalia Taffarel [4], how she’s editing and correcting images with different hues, and a colour harmony tool [5] to help determining the desired colours. This is beyond amazing!


The power of colour (retouch by Natalia Taffarel)

What did I learn from this part of the course? I’m very much aware of harmonising colours now, I can see them just looking through my window and able to find them instead of intentional arrangements and I’m looking forward to put this knowledge into retouching like Natalia does. Completing this assignment was a lot harder than I anticipated but it also feels incredibly rewarding, knowing this will definitely make me a better photographer.




[3] Michael Freeman – The photographer’s eye – Page 121.




Feedback and reflection

Please find my tutor’s report here.

I kind of fallen into the trap of worrying about colour ratios too much, but I began to understand the importance of creating a set of images that work well separately as well as a set, creating a scene which is already interesting and colour relationships will only strengthen the composition as oppose to letting colours to take control. I was looking for inspiration and came across David LaChapelle’s work, as he’s known for his unique, hyper-realistic aesthetic and colourful imaginary.  I was blown away, could not stop looking at the images, trying to understand what’s going on, what is the message what he’s trying to say and I realise how boring my images are and where I’ve gone wrong. “Make love not walls” has a clear message, feels like there isn’t much going on but there is with the colourful tank, the naked man facing towards it in the heart shaped light punched in the wall and the sun comes through. I was wondering of the colour choice of the tank, why these colours and why so many in a particular shape as well, I would like to know what he was thinking when he composed this image. Clearly I should have done this before the assignment, sadly I was rushed to finish it due to work commitments which I am trying to resolve as I have been working most days, only getting couple days off in a month, not having a life nor much time to spend on the course which is very frustrating.


Before this exercise I didn’t know much about black-and-white photography, I didn’t understand why some images stand out over others, I assumed the secret was contrasting colours but didn’t think about tones, how colours turn into different shades of grey. I guess I never really experimented with this.

I chose to shoot a still life photo as advised in the course notes, I used the grey card to determine the white balance, made sure it stays the same shade during the filtering process than cropped it out as it was disturbing the composition.

Original filter

No filter filter

Green filter filter

Blue filter filter

Red filter filter

Yellow filter



It’s interesting to see that the normal black and white conversion lightened the dark colour (blue) and darkened all lighter colours (red, green, yellow). Reviewing these images I learned that each filter makes its tone very light and makes other colours darker and it appears to me that the effect depends on each colour’s brightness, for example there isn’t much difference between red filter changing red and green, and yellow changing red and green, there is only slight difference, probably the same as between red and yellow colours. However on this chart the differences are more significant, but they aren’t the exact shade though. I hope I got this right, I feel I’m on the right way to understand how this works.

Since I’m shooting with my DSLR, I always take images in colour, I tried to convert some of my photos to black and white but I didn’t get pleasing results most of the time, but when I did, the message of the image was something emotional. I was thinking, how can I decide when to convert (or shoot) in black and white, Freeman [1] validates my opinion when I see the picture of the lioness, there are no distracting colours, the attention is on the animal rather than the surroundings. He also mentions texture and form, how this format enhances lines and shapes giving a different overall feel to the image, absolutely amazed by Ansel Adams’ work [2], incredible amount detail and contrast.

Looking for more practical advice, I came across an article [3] on this subject showing what filters do to different images and also found this brilliant chart which really helped me understand how this work.




I really like how the red filter enhanced the sky on a beautiful landscape, how orange filter gives smooth skin tone, how green filter separates objects from nature’s green, the way blue filter gives smooth, calming feeling by reducing contrast as it darkens most colours. On that account I will definitely experiment more with black and white photography.



[1] Michael Freeman – The photographer’s eye, Page 126.




Colour has such a huge impact on everything. Some colours are unpleasant to look at, some we just love, they just work together. Thinking about fashion, when a garment piece is designed or an entire outfit is planned; interior design, how the furniture, the accessories are in harmony with the wall colour and of course in photography the same applies, our eye is seeking for pleasant colour combinations but what’s the science behind all?

For this exercise I needed to study complementary colours, the colour harmony between two colours that found directly across from each other on the colour wheel. Colours are in harmony when they are in inverse proportion to their relative brightness, for example red and green are equally bright therefore the ideal combination is 1:1, orange is twice as bright as blue so two times more blue needed compare to the amount of orange to create a balanced combination (1:2), yellow is even brighter so the ideal proportion is 1:3 as opposed to violet.

Part 1

The right proportions

Red: Green 1:1

Orange: Blue 1:2


Yellow: Violet 1:3























Part 2

No strict rules

Red: Green Less red compare to previous part

Orange: Blue Overpowering green, orange and blue as colour accent.


Yellow: Violet Slightly less violet, same amount of yellow





























I found it really difficult to find exact colour combinations in the right proportions in nature, so I asked my friend to be my subject with some colourful clothes. Although there aren’t just pure colour pairs, I tried to keep the brightness on the same level to illustrate their harmonious relationship. I recently came across a retoucher’s article about this subject, as I’m really into portrait photography it was fascinating to see using this technique to create beautiful images. Now I understand how it works and looking forward to practice with it in the future.
Article :


Michael Freeman – The photographer’s eye

This is probably the only thing I learned about colours back in school, I remember painting the colour wheel on Drawing and Painting class, primary colours (red, yellow, blue) and secondary colours (green, violet, orange). In photography using colour film or DSLR and monitors are working with different primary colours (red, blue, green) known as RGB but printers are using CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black referred to key colour). But why is that? It took a while to wrap my head around it.

The concept of paint is that colour absorbs every colour except itself, so when colours are added together, the amount of colour is absorbed by the paint, the light is subtracted that the paint can reflect and it turns black when all colours are added togther because there is no light left to reflect, that is why RYB is also known as the subtractive colour scheme. However we see light differently, light travels in RGB referred to additive colour scheme because when lights are added together, the spectrum of the light is added what it can reflect back creating lighter colours and eventually turns to white when all lights are added.


Painters’ primary colours (from


Hue wheel (from




Primary colours


2. primary and secondary colours-red (1 of 3)

Too bright

2. primary and secondary colours-red (2 of 3)

Closest to primary red

2. primary and secondary colours-red (3 of 3)

Too dark









2. primary and secondary colours-yellow (3 of 3)

Closest to primary yellow

2. primary and secondary colours-yellow (1 of 3)

Close match

2. primary and secondary colours-yellow (2 of 3)

Some parts are close, mostly darker








2. primary and secondary colours-blue (1 of 3)

Light blue

2. primary and secondary colours-blue (2 of 3)

Close to primary blue

2. primary and secondary colours-blue (3 of 3)

Closest match








Secondary colours


2. primary and secondary colours-green (3 of 3)

Close match

2. primary and secondary colours-green (1 of 3)

Closest match – leaves in shadow

2. primary and secondary colours-green (2 of 3)

Too dark









2. primary and secondary colours-violet (3 of 3)

Too bright

2. primary and secondary colours-violet (2 of 3)

Light violet

2. primary and secondary colours-violet (1 of 3)

Closest match







2. primary and secondary colours-orange (1 of 3)

Closest match

2. primary and secondary colours-orange (2 of 3)

Close but a bit dull colour

2. primary and secondary colours-orange (3 of 3)

Too dark








First I found it hard to match the colours to the hue wheel, I deliberately chose objects that are natural to avoid creating a paint manufacturer’s catalogue as advised, except my red dress against a window since I couldn’t find anything else red around me other than cars or doors. Before this exercise I never really thought about controlling the colour because I can enhance them in post processing, however this gave me a guideline to follow when it comes to colouring an image to get realistic results.



Michael Freeman – The photographer’s eye

Before taking this part of the course I never really thought about what makes a colour or how to change it, I was going with what I felt right instead of conscious choices. I gained better understanding reading Basic Colour Theory by OCA, Michael Freeman’s book [1] and finding couple pages interesting on [2] [3] as well.

So what makes a colour? Hue, saturation and brightness. To be precise, hue is the colour which can be changed by using filters or altering the white balance setting on camera. Saturation is the intensity of the hue which can only be adjusted slightly in camera (in my Canon camera this option called Picture style), or in post processing for greater control over the amount of grey in a colour. Brightness is the lightness or darkness of a particular hue, the amount of black and white found in a certain colour which can be changed easily in camera by varying exposure.

Changing the exposure can be done by altering the aperture, shutter speed or ISO, referred to the exposure triangle, or applying exposure compensation on a DSLR which effectively changes the shutter speed (Aperture priority mode) or the aperture (Shutter speed priority mode and Manual mode). For this exercise I needed to choose the aperture as a variable.

The first one I took to define the closest match to the actual door colour was the third image with F/4, all images were shot at 1/125 shutter speed and ISO 320. I left the white balance on auto, I shot these quite late afternoon in the shade. Lining up these images clearly shows how much the colour changes just by under or overexposing an image, at F/2 it’s very nice light blue, at F/8 it’s almost black, and also increases or decreases the highlights as well.











Although I’m sure I have been shooting like this all the time finding the right exposure,  I never thought of this as a tool for creating different colour effects, normally I like to change the exposure to the brighter side rather than dark, however this exercise made me create some darker, moody images too for my third assignment.

[1] Michael Freeman – The photographer’s eye, Chapter 4: Composing with light and color, Page 109