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In Praise of Pastels

In Praise of Pastels

Using pastel colours in your photographs

I love pastel colours. Sometimes these more gentle shades are overlooked when photographers, in search of impact, choose to use lots of strong, bright, saturated colours. But a scene or subject containing soft pastel tones has a more subtle and understated beauty, and can sometimes result in a more visually sophisticated photograph.


allium unifolium

When a fully saturated colour is diluted by white, it becomes a pastel colour. The pastel shades are more delicate than their saturated counterparts. Because of this delicacy, it’s usually better to photograph pastel colours in soft, diffused light, not in bright sunlight, which can be too harsh for their subtle tones, and sometimes makes them appear washed out. The even, shadowless light of an overcast day is often ideal for pastel shades.

Imagine how if bright sunlight had been falling on the delicate mauve petals of this tiny allium flower, it might have bleached them out and made them appear almost white. Luckily for me, the sun was hidden behind white clouds, which softened and diffused the light beautifully.

Just as saturated colours can harmonise or contrast with each other, so can pastel colours. However the impact of colour contrast will never be as strong with pastels as it is with saturated hues. And a photo using harmonising, pastel colours in soft light will have a very gentle quality to it.

If you’re interested in learning more about colour and how it works, you may like to consider taking MyPhotoSchool’s course with Phil Malpas “A Master Class in Light & Colour”.

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