Getting The Most Out Of Color.
Ever since colour film became affordable for the masses in the 70s, we've become very used to vibrant colours in our images – although 'colour' is not a fixed concept in photography, since processing methods styles and fashions change as the years go by (for a reminder of how cheesy 70s and 80s colour film processing looks to modern eyes, check out Robbie Augspurger's hilarious and technically very adept homage here.)
In the digital age, colour is much easier to edit and perfect, so here are eight tips for making the colours really pop in your shots.
1) Shoot in good light
The nicer the light, the nicer your colours will look. Try photographing a red ball on a lush lawn during a beautiful golden dusk, and then again on a murky winter's day, and you will see what I mean.
The golden hour after sunrise, or the blue hour around sunset, can make colours look amazing. That said, overcast but still relatively bright days can also be good for colours as the sky acts like a giant diffuser – very bright sunlight will generate harsh shadow when the sun is high, remember, which can blow colour out.
2) Get the exposure right
Don't rely on Photoshop to constantly sort out under or overexposed shots. Try to get the exposure as correct as possible – use the Exposure Compensation (+/-) button to keep adjusting for the light, and constantly check your camera's exposure chart, or histogram.
As I am sure you know by now, a histogram bunched up to the left indicates underexposure, over to the right suggests overexposure. Don't fall into the trap of assuming that it's better to err on the side of underexposure either; while it's possible to fix in software, you can also generate noise, which will make colours muddy.
Overexposing, so long as you are not totally blowing out, can be easier to recover in your photo-editing software, particularly if you shoot raw.
3) Use muted flash
On-camera flash is frowned on by a lot of purists but a quick burst of fill Flash or bounce flash can help to add vibrancy to colour and help them to pop. I often use bounce flash indoors when shooting weddings for this very reason – it's great for bringing out the colours of flowers, or the cake.
Just be careful that you don't overpower the subject with flash or get ugly flash shadows behind them. Effectively you are making the most of available light with flash, while just using a burst of flash to fill in shadows.
4) Get a polarising filter
Another easy way to make your colours pop is to fit a polarising filter to your lens. As well as enhancing and brightening colours, they help get rid of glare and unwanted reflections (and can be lifesavers if you lose your lens cap). They just screw on to the lens and are particular useful for landscape photography.
5) Tweak the white balance
Another compelling reason to shoot in raw is that you can easily change the colour temperature and white balance (the type of light source in the image – sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent etc.). This is much harder in JPEG. Even if you choose the 'correct' white balance on your camera for the available light in which you took the image, digital photographs can often benefit from a bit of warming up. If you use Lightroom, there is a very helpful 'Temp' slider in the Develop mode, where you can move incrementally away from blue (cold) to yellow (very warm). Unless you are deliberately playing with colour temperature for creative effect, try to keep your colours looking as natural as possible.
6) Shoot colourful things
However amazing Steve's technique, he wouldn't have got such memorable results if he'd never left Darby, Pennsylvania. Now, not everyone can get to the shoot the Holi festival in India (and it's been done to death, anyway), but don't worry, your local flower show or vintage car rally can be full of lovely colours too.
If you do get the chance to travel, the light in India and Southeast Asia, combined with the local love of colour, will leave you spoilt for choice. Religious festivals in Spain, Italy or Latin America can also be very colourful. Don't forget food photography too – even a humble spaghetti Bolognese can look very vibrant in the right light
7) Make the most of your photo-editing software
There is much more to editing colours in your photo-editing software than just kicking up the saturation. Indeed, crudely saturated colours can look really terrible. Returning to Lightroom again, there is a great panel called Hue, Saturation, Luminance (HSL) that enable you to tweak colours in much more subtle ways. Luminance in particular is great for adding richness and depth to hues, so it's a must for deepening blue skies.