5 Tips to Improve Your Fine Art Color Photography
Although black-and-white purists such as Henri Cartier Bresson were dismissive of colour photography, it's undoubtedly been one of the biggest breakthroughs of the last 70 or so years.
With digital, getting rich and eye-catching colour has never been easier – some would say too easy, as there is unfortunately a profusion of rather psychedelic looking images out there that have been ludicrously over-processed on the computer (or smartphone). So, how do you get more colourful and vibrant images without making your work look like a bad acid trip?
1) Shoot colourful things
It sounds obvious, but true devotees of colour will go to where the colour is. Visually fascinating countries such as India, Italy or Thailand are obviously synonymous with gorgeous colour, but often you don't need to jump on a plane – a colourful local festival or a particularly vibrant garden can yield wonderfully colourful shots.
Brightly coloured buildings and houses, particularly some of the more striking examples of modern architecture, can really stand out too.
2) Check the weather
Now, here's an interesting thing. Colours, especially the colours of a garden, don't always look their best on a bright sunny day. Often the strong light and harsh shadows can have the opposite effect to what you would expect.
Overcast days with high cloud are particularly good for shooting gardens – I remember MyPhotoSchool.com tutor and prolific author, Michael Freeman, saying one of the best times to shoot a Japanese garden was on a cloudy day, or even in light rain.
3) Pick great light
If you find a colourful subject, it will look even better in nice light, which, in photographic terms, is usually found early in the morning or around dusk. This is particularly true with travel photography. If you are shooting in the tropics, even the most colourful objects or colourfully dressed people will be competing against harsh, bleaching sunlight from about 10am onwards. So get up early!
4) Try restrained flash
A good way to make colours pop (and to cope with strong shadows caused by harsh mid-day sunlight) is to stick on your flashgun and take a few shots at a low power output. Get it right and it won't be at all obvious that you have used flash, but the colours will be noticeably richer.
Whether shooting in TTL or Manual mode on your flashgun, it's very easy to wind the power output down so you get all the benefits of flash without that horrible, over-flashed look. This is why you often see wedding and event photographers still using flash, but it's nearly always diffused (softened by a flash diffuser) or bounced (re-directed against a white or pale wall or ceiling) indoors.
5) Experiment with Picture Styles
It's easy enough to boost the colours of JPEG images in camera but we'd hope most people reading this are doing at least some of their shooting in raw – and yes, it's also possible to boost colours in-camera with raw. You can set different picture styles depending on your camera, and most allow you to choose between standard, portrait, vivid, muted, monochrome and so on.
Obviously you can also add these effects in raw-editing software too, but setting a vivid style in-camera (if that is the effect you want) can save time on the computer. It's worth experimenting with different white balance settings too. The Flash white balance setting often helps with more natural looking skin tones for example.
One plea though – be restrained and tasteful when boosting the colour saturation in software. Bump it up in increments rather than big jumps, or your photos can look like a cheap postcard.
If you would like to learn to master colour photography, Why not enrol on Phil Malpas’s4 week online Fine Art Colour Photography Course. You will be set weekly assignments and have your work assessed and marked by Phil. You will also be able to learn from your fellow students and pick Phil ‘s brains on any aspect of photography.