A while ago, I visited Norway. I'm not just saying this to brag ( but wow - it was stunning ), there was one thing which struck me there - lots and lots of houses and building painted in bright colours. I remember chatting about it to a Norwegian friend of mine and she confirmed my suspicion that the tradition of painting the houses in a rainbow of colours is very much to do with trying to lift people's mood in the depth of dark, long winters.
It made complete sense to me. It's amazing how colour has the capacity of changing our mood, energising us or doing the opposite. Different colours carry with them different cultural meanings ( we covered how our expectation for autmnal or spring colours shapes our perception in our Autumn Bootcamp. )
Shades of white, cream and pastels carry with them a sense of purity, innocence, 'newness' - which is why they're often used in newborn and baby photography.
Deep, dark hues give us drama, gravity, seriousness, sometimes even threat.
Muted 'dirtied' tones often are used for things that are supposed to suggest nostalgia
Joy - loves the loud, the energetic, the bold - and the same applies to colour. Think primary, 'clean', sharp, bright colours. Nothing muted about it. You can instantly inject a little fun into a picture by a simple action of adding a splash of colour.
So how do we work with colour?
Anyone who lives with children knows that bold bright primary colours come in abundance which could at times make Liberace dizzy. But the abundance rarely means clarity, so it's good to think about how to actually use the colours so they speak for us and not muddy the message.
How many colours is too many?
It is generally considered in photography that in order not to overdo it with colours, we should try and stick with no more than 3 key colours in a frame. That 'key' part is quite important - you don;t want to go crazy and start questioning whether the little yellow and white flowers on your daughter's blue dress constitute 3 colours or do you just take blue in consideration. The rule also doesn't mean you should colour coordinate every piece of clothing and furniture and start hiding everything in sight in your house.
But let's get real for a moment. Unless you are a professional photographer, you are rarely going to be in full control of your environment and what your subjects are wearing to limit the amount to colour. And frankly I'm not sure that you should aim for it when it comes to photographing joy. A rainbow splash of several colours at once is definitely promoting cheerfulness not confusion. A playground full of colours is just a backdrop to our children's lives, a floor full of colourful lego bricks, just a foot mangling torture waiting to happen, not a visual trap. And you don't have to fret over whether dressing your child in green shorts, blue trainers and red shirt exhausts your 3 colour allocation.
Instead, consider these simple strategies:
1. Pop of colour against a blanker canvas
This is where we take a stronger colour subject and set them against a background which has either predominantly single colour or neutral colour. The energy in the image comes from the subject.
2. Neutral coloured subject agains with a bold background.
If your subject's colour is relatively neutral you can afford to go a bit bold here - go either for a single colour or multicoloured pattern. The energy in the image comes from the background
3. Opposites attract
According to colour theory, complimentary colours are colour which are on the opposite sides of the visual spectrum and are best used ot offset one against the other. And so red pairs with green, yellow with purple, blue with orange. Put together, they create a strong contrast which works great when picturing high energy and fun.
What about black and white?
It doesn't seem like that should work, what with it being effectively stripped off colour, but actually it can - and does very well - and I touched upon it in our first lesson, on the smiles. When we strip colour away, we take the image down to it's bare bones - we focus the attention on the expressions, emotions, the shape of the movement. Stripping the colour away can help when you have too many competing colours because it can 'clean up' the image and bring the attention back to your subject. Converting to black and white, especially, a high contrast conversion can work excedingly well and still give us the same high energy feel.
High energy light
I could spend a year teaching about light in photography and I'd probably still not run out of topics, and we cover A LOT on that topic in our courses but there are a few things which I think are worth mentioning in relation to joy filled photography.
Shiny shiny backlight
1. Joy likes a little drama and loves things shiny and bright. This means that if you can find some harder, more direct light, it can work in your favour. Unfortunately that light is also a bit tricky to master without knowing a bit more about your camera and exposure. Backlight works bautifully because if you angle your camera well you can create a beautiful glow around your subject and literally make it come alive.
In our last lesson we were paying attention to body language and silhouettes are one kind of composition which really lets the body language shine while at the same time - if you find some lovely sky light - inject some colour into your images.
YOUR TASK FOR TODAY
Get excited for colour!
Pick one or 2 of our colour strategies from above and put them to work for yourself.
Go find a rainbow, discover a new some colourful environment or get your kids dressed to visually pop out of the frames! If your kids are old enough, you could ask them to help with colour hunting!