Our Expectation of Colour

Colour is likely to be one of the biggest problems you will face as a photographer, it certainly has been for me. No matter how much you seem to play around with them, they never seem to look just right. So I am going to try and provide some help as how best to use colour in your images, and how to modify the colours in an image to make them look just how you want them.

This is a huge topic so I will make many different posts on it each looking at a different aspect of colour. This post is just to serve as an introduction.

The Old and the New

It is my opinion that we have been conditioned to expect a certain colour style from the images we view, whether they be static or moving. If you watch a movie from the about 30 years ago you notice the colours are totally different from a modern movie. The colours in the older movie will look more like the colours you see through your own eyes in the real world.

It is the same with photography, images from decades ago will have colours that look more like reality; modern images less so.

So why is this the case? Well it’s basically the advent of digital editing. Before, the scope for altering colours was very limited, but with march of computer technology, image editing software can now manipulate every last pixel of colour individually giving you complete control over how the colours look.

From this, photographers and television producers have introduced almost a new reality in colour. Nearly every tv programme, movie and photograph you see now will have undergone some amount of colour alteration crafted specificially to fit the mood and context of the piece. E.g. dark, horror movies exhibit grey, desaturated colours.

Colour Conditioning

In this day and age we are constantly viewing images. We are addicted to watching TV, although most of it is garbage. And, if we are not staring goggle eyed at the TV we are playing around on our mobile phones. We are constantly being assaulted by images, images that have had the colour digitally altered. Although we know deep down that this is not reality we are viewing in these images, we become conditioned to seeing these images with their altered colour schemes, and thus we now expect to see images like this.

The Professional and the Amateur

Nowadays, digital editing software is easily accessible to anyone. Packages such as Photoshop and Lightroom are now available on a cheap monthly subscription and free apps such as Instagram allow you to radically alter the colours in your photos with ease. So you would think that with all that versatile power at your fingertips that colour manipulation, or colour grading would be quick and easy.

It is, but it is not if you want good quality results. As I said, we view a lot of images and this conditions us to expect a certain style and quality of colour. Most of the images we view tend to be the high quality ones, as we tend to ignore the poor quality ones. As such, we are effectively conditioned to viewing high quality images with professional looking colour grading. However, to achieve this is not easy as there is so much scope available for colour grading through the current digital technology. In addition, the people you see producing these high quality images are well trained and highly skilled.

Unfortunately, you are not going to achieve this high quality colour just by pressing a button on Instagram. Its going to take a lot of learning, practise, and trial and error until you get good at it.

Now, I am by no means a professional at this but I have been doing it for quite a while and have spent a lot of time thinking about colour and playing around with it in my photos. Thus, I will try and provide some insight into the huge topic of colour and how to manipulate it to suit your purpose in coming posts.

Thanks for Reading,



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