Author Eric Butcher
In this article, I will talk about how to take better colour photographs. 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.
There is a wide range of light frequencies that the human can interpret. We won’t go through them all here, but some interesting ones to note are…
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 technically 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. Combining red, green, and blue light is the standard method of producing color images on screens, such as TVs, computer monitors, and smartphone screens.
Until a year or two ago, I was very much a beginner when it came to photography. I really enjoyed taking photos, but only used a basic point and click or phone camera. I didn’t really have a clue about editing them. Good pictures were probably more luck than judgement.
I then 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.
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.
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 have a very rough idea what I would like to capture, even if I don’t always get the result I want.
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.
Although this article concentrates on colour within photography, I don’t actually go out looking specifically for anything particularly colourful. I think the main thing is to keep an eye out wherever you happen to be, as sometimes you can spot something really interesting and colourful where you might not necessarily expect it.
Don’t forget to look up, and behind you as well. You never know, but quite often opportunities for great shots are not where you would normally be looking for them.
Something you should always think about too is the amount of available light.
Remember from the introductory section of this piece – light is basically reflected light. This means the more light there is, the more likely you are to get “better” colours. This may involve the use of flash photography too.
Here are just a few examples of places of where you may find some interesting and colourful subjects:
• The local garden centres
• The fruit and vegetables in your kitchen, or local supermarket
• A local zoo or animal sanctuary
• The town or city you live
Obviously, 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.
There is a large number of different photo editing tools available on the market for the different platforms you may use. Some are only available on certain platforms, whilst others may be supported across several. A few of these apps are free, whilst others will require some investment. It’s probably a good idea to read up on reviews before purchasing any.
• Affinity Photo (similar functionality to Photoshop, but cheaper)
• Preview (Free)
• Sony Photos (Free)
• MirrorLab (I use this for creating some “cool” abstracts)
You can generally get reasonable results using most editing apps, but the more you need to alter something in a photo, the more sophisticated the editing may need to be, and 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 in edit, such as contrast, shadows, exposure, saturation, etc., However, sometimes you can get a “better” result with quite significant change.
For example, here’s a windmill that I edited quite significantly from it’s original. I think the edited version looks a lot better as a result:
Here is an example of the different effects you can achieve from the same simple source photo. In this case, a flower. The first photo is an enhanced version of the original. The second is significantly edited:
In the following example, the original photo, really didn’t need any editing at all as the colour was more or less what I wanted anyway direct from the camera. The edit I produced was purely a case of experimentation to see what effects I could easily get.
Another really effective way to take better colour photographs is create a colour splash. This is where you have a subject in the photo in full colour, while the rest of the photo is typically in a shade of black and white.
Not all photo editors can produce a colour splash. If this type of photo appeals to you, ensure the editor you chose has that functionality. Here is an example of a colour splash.
You need to be careful about overdoing the editing. It’s very easy to put too much contrast, saturation, shadow, exposure, in a photo, which really doesn’t enhance a photo at all. In some cases can even spoil it. If you do need to edit a photo, remember to not to be too extreme (unless you are specifically looking for a particular style of finish).
Here’s an example of a photo that hasn’t been sympathetically edited. The result really doesn’t enhance the photo in any way (it’s way too blue, which doesn’t look natural at all):
I believe it’s also important to treat each photo on its own merits. Don’t have a standard set of editing rules that you rigidly adhere to. 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 the camera phone edits are a lot quicker to make, as there is less functionality in the photos editor than there is with Affinity Photo.
Here’s the video. I hope it helps you to understand my editing technique for the phone.
Eric Butcher was born and raised in Herefordshire in the Welsh Marches area of the UK. Since leaving college, he has predominantly worked as an IT professional providing services for various major companies in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Germany.
Eric is happily married with a young daughter, and lives in Fleet, Hampshire. Outside work, he mainly enjoys sport, music and now photography:
Eric has always enjoyed taking photos, but never really anything serious. Until 2 years ago he only ever used a point and click camera, or the basic camera functionality of his mobile phone.
After buying a Canon EOS EOS 700D, he 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.
I always try to improve at whatever I do to try and achieve my potential. Sometimes I get to where I want, sometimes not, but so long as I’m always improving and enjoying what I do, I’m happy.