Tag Archives: color


Using a Limited Color Palette

One ‘disadvantage’ of being a visual glutton is that colors distract you.

It’s easy to get distracted by the colorful when you are searching for images to capture. This is one reason why Southeast Asian temples, different festivals, and markets are at the top of a photography enthusiast’s list to visit or experience.

Although colorful photos are attractive, to the viewer sometimes they are confusing. The kaleidoscope is clamoring for attention; the viewer does not have an easy time deciding where to enter the image visually, and how to exit the image with ease. This is where the photographer comes in, to make the experience of viewing a photograph a lot easier on the audience.

Photographers have many ways to help audiences enter and exit a photograph. We can use composition techniques to gently guide the eye across the image. We can help using balance. We can simplify the image accessibility using only light and dark, in a monochrome. We can use contrast between the sharp subject and the bokeh background.

We can also use color to help the audience access our images. That is, instead of including a rainbow in the image, we can limit the image’s color palette.

Finding a limited color palette is a challenge and requires some visual discipline. Knowing your color complements on the color wheel is essential knowledge here, and you’re going to have to practice seeing these combinations and then making decisions about the composition so that your image framing is of the limited part of the color spectrum.

What are some things you might look for in an image with a limited color palette? Here are a few important advantages.

You can focus on shapes and patterns.


Limited color palette: using hues of the same color

The image of the trees in various hues of warm colors was set off in great contrast with the green of the rest of the forest.

The similarity between the shapes of the trees are made interesting by the variation in their hues, making the image vibrant.

You can focus on content.



Limited color palette: the color as a message.

These pilgrims praying around a stupa are wearing the shades of pious people—the monk’s wine-red robes. Set against the whitewash of the stupa, the red jumps out at us in the photo, like the fervent devotion of the praying women.

You can focus on contrast.


Limited color palette: subtle contrast in color.

You can always make monochrome images to set off high contrast subjects. But sometimes, you may want color to help you give the image an emotional facet. In the early morning mist the air turned blue and the terracotta silhouettes of the fence posts and the bare trees set off a good color contrast.

Your assignment this week is to find some images of limited color palette, and to explain your thinking on one of them that you’re particularly proud of. Why did you pick the elements in the frame? What does the color tell us about the message in the image?

Good luck! Post your work in the Imagine That Photography Tribe page on Facebook.


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vibrance adds intensity to color copyright Aloha Lavina.

Beginner’s Guide: Seven Tools for Working with Color in Photoshop

Working with digital color images, there are many ways of doing the same thing. Part of what makes Photoshop seem so complicated is that it has a host of different ways you can enhance your images. For color adjustments alone, there is a bunch of tools on the menu. Here’s a quick list of the top seven tools you can use in Photoshop to bring stunning color into your pictures.

1. RAW Vibrance and Saturation

If you shoot in RAW, you can enhance color right on the original file in the RAW Camera window. At the bottom of the default menu, there are two sliders you can use to increase vibrance and saturation. Slide those over to the right a little, and you get extra punch in your photos.copyright Aloha Lavina

Caution: If your photo has dark edges in sharp contrast to very bright edges, you might get some discoloration around these areas if you pump up the vibrance and saturation.

2. Adjusting Hue in RAW

There’s another place in the RAW Camera window where you can make adjustments to the color. Click on the icon that looks like a zigzagging line, and you reach the HSL/Grayscale menu. Here you can adjust the hues in your image. For instance, if you wanted the greens to look more yellow, you can move the appropriate slider to adjust this hue.HSL adjustments in RAW

Caution: Each move of a slider affects the color of other like hues, so be careful when you’re making adjustments in this menu. There is no way to mask the adjustments in this mode.

Once you open the file in Photoshop and you’re out of Camera RAW, there are a bunch of  color adjustment modes in the menu you can choose from.

3. Hue Saturation Adjustment

The HS menu allows you to adjust the hue and saturation of individual colors. For example, in the original photo, the reds were too intense, even though I had not adjusted Vibrance or Saturation in Camera RAW before opening the file. So I toned down the red using the individual color adjustment available in the Hue Saturation menu.toning down red

4. Color Balance

Another menu that is available for color work in PS is the Color Balance menu. Here, complementary colors are matched upon sliders that work like scales, for instance Yellow and Blue.

If you move the Yellow-Blue slider toward the yellow, the photo gains more yellow and loses some blue. If you’re doing selective color adjustments, you can mess up one color if you adjust another using the Color Balance menu. However, there’s a way you can get around this. color balance menu sliders

Using the Lasso or Magnetic Lasso tool, select the area you want to enhance and then work in Color Balance mode. That way, you leave the rest of the photo unchanged.

 5. Selective Color

Selective color menu is more discrete than Color Balance. Opening the Selective Color adjustment menu, you will see each color with its own hue sliders. For instance, if I adjust Cyan, I can pump it up by minimizing Yellow, by moving the Yellow slider in the Cyan menu to the left.selective color menu in Photoshop

The advantage of using the Selective Color menu is that the changes you make on one color doesn’t affect the other colors in the photograph. This can save you having to mask out unwanted color casts as a result of changes to one color that could affect the hue of another.

6. Photo Filter

This is an addition to the newer versions of Photoshop. Photo Filter adjustments are simple temperature changes to the photo. By choosing the Warm filters, your photo gets a warm tinge, and by choosing a Cool filter, you add more blue and coolness to the photo’s look.using the warm filter in photshop

7. Vibrance

Vibrance adjusts the intensity of color in your photo. By moving the slider to the right, your colors pop more. The Vibrance slider is only one adjustment, and it works best not only for enhancing the intensity of the colors in the photo, but also helps pump up what might just be a tinge of color. For instance, if you had a sky with a tinge of orange, you can use Vibrance to enhance that little blush of orange.

vibrance adds intensity to color copyright Aloha Lavina.

The image still looks natural, but the colors are enhanced after processing using color-enhancing tools in Photoshop.

Although this list is only for Photoshop, you can find the same tools (except for the Camera RAW ones) in other photo processing software, most often with the same terminology. They work the same way, so you don’t have to worry that you’ll lack the tools to help you enhance color in your digital photographs.

What other tutorials would you like to see covered in Imagine That? Let me know in the comments!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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conservative saturation copyright Aloha Lavina

Would You Resort to Oversaturating Color in a Boring Photo?

Saturating colors in a photo is something that is easy to do, if you have the right tool. Many times, all it takes for Super! Saturated! Color! in a photo is to move a slider to the right.

But before you get slider happy, let’s think about saturation and why it might be wise to saturate moderately.

Take Photo 1 as an example. To super-saturate the colors in this photo, I simply went to Photoshop’s Adjustments Menu, scrolled down to Hue/Saturation, and in the ‘Master’ setting, moved the Saturation slider to the far right.

oversaturated photo copyright Aloha Lavina

Photo 1. Over the top saturation.

Instant super saturated color. Even more saturated and vibrant than real life, which is Photo 2, taken straight off-camera.

straight off camera copyright Aloha Lavina

Photo 2. What the camera actually took.

Compare the two and tell me with a straight face that the super saturated photo is still believable.

Like fiction writers, one of the things you have to do as a photographer is to suspend disbelief. This literary terms means to make us believe a story even though it is made up, or fiction.

Like fiction writers select what readers discover in the story’s scenes, photographers select what’s in the frame for the viewer to see. Skillful and thoughtful framing can result in skillful and engaging storytelling for both fiction writers and photographers.

Since we are selectively presenting the world through artistic expression, we often develop a style of storytelling.

This is where saturation comes in.

Saturation of colors in a photo is often done ‘to taste.’

Personally, I do adjust saturation in post-production, to enhance a photo. In Photo 3, I saturated color-by-color in Photoshop, but didn’t go over more than a 6 on the slider. Why? I try to suspend disbelief, so that folks who look at my photo look at the whole thing and make of it a believable story, rather than losing themselves in the candied gimmickry of an over-saturated image.

conservative saturation copyright Aloha Lavina

Photo 3. Saturated, but not beyond belief.

Wouldn’t you rather get really good at composition, interpreting concepts, and recognizing decisive moments than use gimmickry to attract attention to what may be a mediocre photo?

What are your thoughts on color saturation?

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Develop a Creative Vision

This is the second in a series of posts about how changing the ways we see as photographers can change the stories in our photos.

Reading this article on the journey from snapshot to expressive imagery got me thinking about how to make creative vision concrete for people learning photography. I want to share some insights here and hopefully make this abstract and wonderful idea into something you can practice after reading this post.

One of the most challenging parts of being creative is to look at things from a different perspective. We may find that subjects we shoot don’t vary in a topical way. We can shoot faces for the rest of our lives, or land and water. Others of us just hunt for light, and make images from that. But a viewfinder is a viewfinder is a viewfinder. To really make a new image, we have to practice seeing in ways that make our efforts more expressive, and less of snapshots.

The best way to learn something complex such as creative vision is to break it up into discrete, bite-size skills. That way, someone can practice a skill and hone it until it becomes a part of the natural repertoire before moving on to the next.

The reflections of colors on the water, rather than the content, make this photo more interesting. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

See the colors

Spotting pleasing or unique colors to create an image is a great skill to have. Although it seems that luck has a big part to play in finding pleasing color palettes in our found images, it is also a matter of being a skillful observer. Ask questions like, is an explosion of color a great background for someone in silhouette? Will walking to another vantage point give the shot a better background? We don’t have control of what colors present themselves to us from day to day, but we do have control of where we stand and what we include in the frame. Training ourselves to think about color will produce images that use the color in expressive ways.

The values in this image made it a good choice for monochrome. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

See the values

The world is in Technicolor and we can’t see in monochrome. But imagining the values—the intensity of black, white and shades of gray in between— rendered by the light reflected by the color spectrum, gives us a creative way of seeing. Seeing a scene from darkest values to brightest is like putting a gray filter over your eyes. Seeing in values helps us to compose using them, instead of using shapes or positions of things. Seeing this way can help us break out of basic composition into the next level.

A few lines and a simple color palette are sometimes enough. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Seeing simplicity

Every beginning photog has heard the phrase “fill the frame.” This is great advice; when we compose, we don’t want nor need clutter. What we want is to use the shapes, color and content in a photo to speak to the person looking at it. Learning how to notice and photograph detail can help us zoom in on a story, and make our images more expressive.

Making Eyecandy

Like everything in photography, shooting in color is a decision. That sounds weird, right? After all, the world is in Technicolor and we can’t really turn all the color “off.”

Color has emotional content. We use it a lot in the ways we express our feelings. “Red as a beet” for both embarrassment and anger. “Blue” when we’re sad. “Green with envy.” Our perceptions of color reach far beyond just what color something is. We can add impact to a photo when we use color effectively.

Green is a soothing color.

Farmer and beautiful ricefield, Vietnam.

Some colors are cool—the blue-green part of the color spectrum. These colors are usually soothing. Photos that are mostly blue or green, such as this photo of lush forest around a beach in Krabi, Thailand, exude a sense of calm. The second photo, of a farmer walking across a rice field in Vietnam, is mostly green, and the blue shirt of the farmer gives the color palette in the photo unity. The yellow, although it should intrude on the cool color palette, instead serves to punctuate the blue and green and it also helps give the photo a three dimensional feeling, acting as a gradient running from foreground to background.

A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

The other end of the spectrum—the red-yellow part, are the warm colors. Reds, yellows, oranges are fiery, aggressive colors and we associate them with like feelings. This photo of a swami in Rajasthan, India, is full of red and yellow. The walls, the clothing of the swami, even the ground have reds in them. I think this image works because all the elements in it contain similar hues. This harmony then allows the content of the image to pop out—the humor in the pose of the swami, and the self-deprecating smile on his face, playing with the photographer and the situation.

Morning light at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

A sense of harmony in this shot from Siem Reap comes from the narrow color palette. The browns and yellows give the photo unity, and since everything is golden from the early morning light, even the green leaves in the photo are tinged with yellow.

But we can’t always photograph still objects, such as Angkor Wat and fallen leaves. A lot of travel photography is of people. One of the most used “tricks” of shooting travel portraits is to find a great background, wait until someone interesting walks past it, and shoot. Usually this strategy produces some gems. But after finding this wonderfully colorful wall in Saigon, Vietnam, I waited and sure enough, a girl in the traditional ao dai dress walks by. Click. Now I look at this photo and think, would it work better as a black and white photo? The clash between the purple tinge on the girl’s dress and the red, yellow and green of the wall might be distracting and does not add to the photo.

Girl in traditional dress in Saigon, Vietnam.

Another photo I think might work better in black and white is this one of a boy surrounded by his family at a market in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and they are all wearing striped shirts. The stripes on their shirts frames him, and I originally shot this in color but again wonder if the color does not really add to the photo at all.

A photo that might work better in black and white.

Sometimes, when the most compelling elements in a photo are lines or shapes, it works better as a black and white image.

Making a color image is a matter of decisions the photographer makes. Since the goal of capturing an image is to create order out of chaos, to somehow arrange the elements of a scene into a harmonious design, we can’t ignore the fact that there are ways to use color in achieving an image.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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