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The Emotion of Color Photography

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When I first moved from the world of black and white photography to the world of color photography I was warned by my mentor. “Do not get caught up in the emotion of Color,” he said. “A good photograph still has to have balance, harmony, leading lines, etc.”

Life goes in cycles. For a long time black and white photography sort of went underground. The new kid on the block “Color” was on every poster, magazine cover, and bill board you could imagine. Don’t get me wrong, I love color photography. But if some one looks at your image and says, “What a cool orange color!” does that not imply they have missed the subject you were actually shooting?

I love a good sunset photo, but if all I see is great color and there is no composition, no rule of thirds, or framing is it really a great photograph? In my view, “NO”, at that point what you are looking at is a great snapshot.

Now it seems that black and white photography is starting to make a comeback. I see more and more images where part of the photo is in color and part is in black and white. Interestingly enough, this also must be done with caution.

Let me give an example. I took a photo the other day where a baby was laying on fathers hand and mothers hand was laying on top. This was part of a series of shots for this family’s family portraits. The mother had expressed interest in seeing some of those photos that are part black and white and part color. In my experimentation, I made the baby black and white and mother and fathers hands in full color. The mother almost burst into tears.

What happened? This mother had two miscarriages before this child and this baby had been born three months premature. Now the baby was strong and healthy, but to this mother… the lack of color represented death. When I reversed the process and made the baby in full color it was acceptable, as if they were bringing new life into the world.

The use of selective color (or lack there of) can greatly increase the emotional connection to the image you are creating, but be aware of what emotions you may be creating. Different colors also mean different things in different cultures. In the great TV series “MASH” Klinger purposes to a beautiful Korean girl by asking her to wear a white wedding dress. Problem being, in Korea white is worn at funerals.

For some the color blue may represent “peace and harmony” to others it could symbolize “fear and depression”, thus the expression “feeling blue today?” If you take a photograph of say…a burning building, the color red could represent “fear and destruction”. But on the other hand, if you shoot a beautiful bride to be, holding a single red rose… red becomes a symbol for romance and passion.

To me I have always considered emotion in photography as a good thing. But obviously that is NOT always the case. I am not suggesting you second guess yourself about every color used in your shot. What I am suggesting is “A good photograph still has to have balance, harmony, leading lines, etc.” Be aware of color yes, and use it to your advantage… but do not get caught up in the emotion of Color. As a skilled photographer your first priority in any photograph you take is to shoot it good to begin with.

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