Improving Colour in your Photography

by Eric Butcher

There are numerous definitions of colour depending on where you look. They are mostly based on the same fundamental principle though:

“The property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light.”

So, in a nutshell, colour is simply the way we perceive light.

The visible spectrum for humans falls between ultraviolet light and red light.

Scientists estimate that humans can distinguish up to 10 million colours.

How Do We 'See' Colour?

Light receptors in our eyes transmit messages to the brain, which produces the familiar sensations of colour. Colour is not inherent in objects, rather, it simply reflects some colours and absorbs others. We interpret only these reflected colours.

Everyone sees colour differently. As such the colours I see may well be very slightly different to the colours that you see. Some people are unable to interpret some frequencies of light at all, and as a consequence may see distinctly different colours, or even be colour-blind.

Primary Colours

These are basic colours that can be mixed together to produce other colours. They are usually considered to be red, yellow, blue, and sometimes green.

Black is not a colour. A black object absorbs all the colours of the visible spectrum and reflects none of them to the eyes. 

RGB stands for Red, Green & Blue. RGB refers to three hues of light that can be mixed together to create different colours. 

Where I Look for Colour 

I think the main thing to keep in mind when improving colour in your photography is to keep looking all around you for opportunities.

Don’t forget to look up, and behind you as well. 

The more light there is, the more likely you are to get “better” colours. This may involve the use of flash photography too. I won’t go into that in any detail, as the iPhotography team have this topic well covered…

(Note from the Tutors – ‘Eric’s right – check out Module 4 of the iPhotography Course for more about flash).

…I tend to find really colourful subjects in street art. Flowers and wildlife can be naturally colourful, so always keep an eye out when you’re in the countryside. Here are a few other suggestions:


  • Local garden centre
  • Fruit and vegetables in your kitchen
  • Zoo or animal sanctuary
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Join the iPhotography course

How I Edit Colour

Whilst editing can really help with the look and feel of a photo, it’s always best to try to get as much of the details including colour in place when you actually take the shot in the first place.

I sometimes transfer photos taken on the phone onto my iMac, but normally, I just edit them directly on the phone. 

You can generally get reasonable results using smartphone editing apps, but the more you need to alter something in a photo, the more time consuming it can be.

Personally, I like to try and keep an edit as close as possible to the original, just tweaking a few minor things such as contrast, shadows, exposure, saturation, etc.

For example, here’s a windmill that I edited quite significantly from its original. I think the edited version is better:

Here are ideas of multiple effects you can achieve from one photo. The second one is a more saturated and contrasted version of the first. The third has been inverted:

improving colour in your photography Eric Butcher copyright 2020
improving colour in your photography Eric Butcher copyright 2020
improving colour in your photography Eric Butcher copyright 2020

Special Colour Effects

Another really effective way to emphasise colour in a photo is the use of a colour splash. This is where you have a subject in the photo in full colour, while the rest of the photo is in black and white.

You need to be careful about overdoing the editing. It’s very easy to put too much contrast, saturation, shadow, exposure, etc, in a photo, which really doesn’t enhance a photo at all, and in some cases can even spoil it.

Colour Editing in Action: Video

I believe It’s also important to treat each photo on its own merits. I wouldn’t advise having a standard set of editing rules that you rigidly adhere to when improving colour in your photography.

Different photos require individual editing. To me, the aim of photo editing is to try and enhance your photo, not to show how great you are at editing.

I have also produced a short video of how I would typically edit a photo on my phone.

Typically camera phone edits are a lot quicker to make, as there is less functionality in the photo editor than there is with Affinity.

This should help you to understand my simple editing process on a smartphone and guide you to on how to improve colour in your photography too!

About Me

I was born and raised in Herefordshire in the Welsh Marches area of the UK. Since leaving college, I predominantly worked as an IT professional providing services for various major companies in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Germany.

I am married with a young daughter and living in Fleet, Hampshire, UK.

Find me on Instagram

How I Got Started in Photography

I have always enjoyed taking photos, but never really anything serious. Until 2 years ago I only ever used a point and click camera or the basic camera functionality of his mobile phone.

After buying a Canon EOS EOS 700D, I started getting more interested in the subject, and over the last year or two has become an active member of the iPhotography community, and is slowly and steadily trying to build skills in both basic photography and also exploring various editing techniques. The aim is to keep on improving a little bit each week.

What I Love in Photography

At present, I don’t tend to put a lot of planning into the photos I take. Typically I tend to take photos very much on the spur of the moment, or if I stumble across something really interesting. Having said that, I do sometimes have a very rough idea of what I would like to capture, even if I don’t always get the result I want.

I’m sure as my photography skills improve, a lot more pre-planning will be likely, but at this stage, that’s not really the case.

Currently, my main interests for photos include:

  • landscapes
  • architecture
  • street
  • wildlife
  • … although I’m happy to attempt any type of photography.

I’m also now enjoying the creation of abstracts through photo editing, although some of the abstracts that I now produce are probably more artwork than photography.

My Camera Equipment

A while ago I bought a Canon EOS 700D, with the standard EFS 18-55mm lens. After a few months, I purchased an EFS 55-250mm lens, and then a little later an EFS 10-18mm lens. I have a tendency to use the EFS 55-250mm when I can because personally I like to get close up details of most subjects. Having said that the other lens both get plenty of use, especially with landscapes.

Until joining iPhotography, I’d never used any sort of manual settings, always relying on the auto settings. I’m still getting comfortable using manual settings, but believe I’m improving all the time, and look forward to the time when it becomes second nature.

As well as the Canon EOS 700D, I also take a large number of photos using my mobile phone. Currently, I use the Sony Xperia XZ3. The camera is pretty good and also has some basic manual settings which I often use. It’s really handy having a pretty good mobile phone camera, especially when I’m out and about without the Canon. I believe the newer Sony phones have cameras with technology from the Alpha range, so I would expect them to be even better quality.

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