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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”.

Geoff Harris

I am a photography journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill, Steve McCurry and the late Mary Ellen Mark. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time.

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