Composition Special pt.2: Color and Texture
Every week I introduce several artists that inspire me on inspired by 7188, my visual diary on tumblr. This blog post is a distillation of the good stuff.
Today’s blog post is the promised second part of my composition and visual elements that make a photograph series. In the first part, I was writing about how shapes and lines make up a photograph, and how they influence the mood and emotional response of the viewer.
Today I’m going to introduce the two other main visual elements in a photograph: color and texture.
These 4 elements – shape, line, color, texture – are the basic elements from which you build your composition and perspective. It’s like cooking: once you know your ingredients, you know how to cook better. All of a sudden you know exactly what’s missing in your meal, and what spice you have to add to give it that special taste you’re after. Not only that, you’ll also start to appreciate that incredible dish you had in that new classy restaurant or at your friend’s mom’s much more, and you’ll understand exactly what makes it taste special/awesome. (Did I mention that cooking is one of my biggest passions after creating photographs?) Bottom line: Know your ingredients.
How can color and texture be used more consciously in a photograph, to say what you want to say? Or if you’re the viewer, how come you find some photos speak stronger and clearer to you than others? Let’s start with color.
There’s a “correct” color that you can achieve with choosing the right white balance, but often times changing the white balance will work much more in your favor to express a certain emotion.
In this photograph, a shift to the blue side of the spectrum gives it another message than if it was perfectly white-balanced. You could also warm this up, but it would feel much, much different.
Besides from changing color temperature, as illustrated in the last photo, you can pay attention to using synergistic colors or analogous colors in your photographs. This can be brought to the extreme by using almost exclusively shades of one single color, like in this photograph of the absolutely fantastic Jaime Ibarra (definitely check out his work or one of his post-processing tutorials!) or more generally by using colors next to each other on the color wheel.
This creates a harmonious picture and reduces the depth of a photograph, e.g. often makes it more flat.
Next on the list are complementing colors, colors that are opposite on the color wheel. Red and green, for example. This enhances depth. Creates dynamics in the photograph and visual tension.
A bit trickier than the other photos so far, but who can see the complementary colors here? Well, one color is red – that’s obvious – and the other one… is the green’ish toning of the remaining photo. This works well because the balance between tiny but saturated spot of red vs. large area of more subtle green is in nice harmony.
How texture appears in a photograph depends on the direction and quality of light. Side lighting shows most of the texture, and a high contrast, such as the contrast a hard light source like the sun provides, reveals more of the texture, as well. Of course, the surface of whatever it is you are photographing influences the texture, too. There’s more to texture than that, though:
Before we get into the texture that’s contained into the scene you’re recording with your camera, let’s tick off external textures. These textures are physical on a print, or digitally made to mimic physical textures like scratches and dust. I also want to include noise in this category. All of these can make a photograph feel less sterile, more warm, more natural… they give it a connection to the physical world, which is often nonexistent especially nowadays when most people consume photographs on a screen.
Low light skimming across a surface produces very pronounced texture, especially when the light source is relatively small, like the sun.
Texture can also be created in portraits, with lighting and post-processing that produces high local contrasts, like in Raphael Guarino’s work here. He also uses some external textures which give a less synthetic feeling. I love this photo.
Now, if you want very smooth texture, long exposures are a great way to achieve that for moving surfaces like water or clouds. Don’t forget that light quality (soft / hard) still plays a big role, though.
Use soft and diffused light, on cloudy days, foggy days, just after sunset, etc. to reduce the texture of whatever you’re shooting.
This concludes the second part of this series. Together with the information in the first part about shapes and lines, you are now equipped with the “4 elements of composition” – I hope this helps you a bit to become more aware of what makes a compositionally strong picture that strong, and enables you to use these elements more effectively in your own photography, as well.
It certainly helped me to understand photographs more – the next step is actually going out there and using the knowledge. Oh yes, action, going out and doing it… I’ve written about that in The Yin and Yang of Creativity before, but that’s the really hard part, isn’t it 😉
I’ll keep you updated with how it goes – and if you have any progress and ideas of your own to share, go ahead. I’d love to hear them. No surrender, no retreat!