Good colour pictures can be found in situations where the camera is often put away. When we are about to take our shots, we always consider the quantity of light, but many of us never really consider the actual quality of the light available.

The quality of light changes throughout the day. The rising and setting sun on a clear day can have quite a warm red colour. When the sun is at its highest at midday, the light is bluer, or ‘cooler’. This variation in the appearance of light is measured on a scale known as degrees Kelvin (°K). In photography it is called colour temperature. An average domestic tungsten bulb is about 3,000°K.

On most digital cameras we can select an icon from the camera’s white balance such as Sunny, Overcast, Tungsten; while on more sophisticated cameras we can choose from K settings. If your camera is continually set to AWB – auto white balance – certain scenes (such as sunsets) can get neutralised and the atmosphere will be lost.

Natural Frame (Right)
Colour can be used to make a natural frame, such as in this portrait of a young girl. The shot is made stronger by the contrast of the red outfit that she is wearing.

Changing The Light with a Polarising Filter

Fitting a polariser to the lens will enhance a blue sky and make the clouds stand out more. Increase your exposure by about one and a half stops, keep the sun at right angles to the camera and choose a time of day – usually mid-morning – when it is at about 45º. If you shoot towards the sun or if the sun is directly behind you, this filter will have no effect. Remember that with extreme wideangle lenses the coverage of the polariser is only partial – one side of the frame has a deep blue sky, while the other is unaffected.

Colour Balance
In most situations, I use an 18% grey card called a Qpcard. This card also has a white and a black area. When I have established my lighting I take a shot of my subject with this card facing the camera and shoot a frame. I then take my shots in the normal way, but without the card present. After I have downloaded the shots into the computer I can look at the one with the card in it in Photoshop. Choosing Image > Adjust > Curves then using the grey pipette I can neutralise the image on the grey area of the card. I can then save this as an ACV profile, to be applied to the other images. Of course, though the profile might be a ‘correct’ assessment, I might prefer it if the shot was warmer or cooler, particularly when it comes to skin tones.

Complementary Colour (Right)
By placing this slice of lemon on a blue plate I have created an interesting picture using two complementary colours. The use of a colour wheel can help you understand the relationship between complementary and contrasting colours.

Isolating Colour (Left)
The material that these two people are draped in is enhanced by being shot against a neutral background. The spatial element between the two figures adds to the compositional quality of the picture. 


  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. John Freeman's Guide to Colour: Page 2
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