The Colour Quest (IX) – The Colour Is The Composition

This year I’ve been on a quest to explore colour again, after nearly two years of shooting b/w almost exclusively. 

You can read the other colour quest posts in the series so far here.

The last two Colour Quest posts have been about how I’ve rediscovered the delights of a CCD sensor, in this instance in two positively antique, in digital terms, Pentax DSLRs. 

The K100D with its 6MP sensor and the K-m with 10MP have both been delivering colour pictures I love straight out of camera.

Which has made me very happy indeed.

In between this I was reviewing some old film photographs where the main subject was red.

Something I’ve struggled with when shooting colour with digital cameras is how to incorporate colour within the overall composition. 

Because I was finding the extra element of colour too distracting, and another layer of decisions to make, I’d retreated to b/w photography, which I find far easier.

The problem with colour, as I saw it, was that too often I was shooting something simply because I liked the colour of it, rather than the overall composition or scene appealing to me. 

Then it occurred to me that perhaps this isn’t a problem at all.

Perhaps sometimes it’s perfectly valid with colour photography for the dominant colour to be the composition. 

So after some further delving into my archives, here are a few shots where colour was the composition, that wouldn’t have worked for me if the colours present weren’t so vibrant and memorable.









How about you? Do you sometimes make a photograph based purely on the appeal of the colour of the subject?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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6 thoughts on “The Colour Quest (IX) – The Colour Is The Composition”

  1. Sometimes color can be the subject of a photograph pure and simple. Your photograph of the sky and cloud with the exaggerated vignette is an excellent example. Viewed as a black and white film image it would be hard to tell if it was a cloud, a light leak or a processing problem.

    One thing I’ve been trying to do, with no success so far, is take a black and white picture where the missing color is the subject of the photograph.

    1. Doug, yes! I think whilst some photographs would work in some way as colour or b/w, because the composition and the arrangement of the objects/shapes was the main focus, some work much better in either colour or b/w only.

      That’s a very intriguing project of yours. Have you something in mind? Initially I thought of some of the winter photographs I’ve taken in colour, that converted to b/w would look nearly identical, such was the lack of colour in the scene in reality. But I don’t think that’s what you mean.

      1. Dan, Monochrome is a familiar abstraction of the natural scene. People are used to it. It doesn’t capture attention. I have been trying to find a subject or genre that is not generally seen in monochrome, to see if I can capture attention with the lack of color. Butterflies, flowers and flags were obvious ideas I tried but the pictures were boring, the exact opposite of what I was hoping for. If I was into digital I might try monochromizing (is there such a word?) one of the hyperrealistic HDR images that I see more and more of these days.

      2. Doug, yes I have found with b/w that unless there are strong elements of shape, light, texture, contrast, the photograph ends up very bland, whereas the same shot in colour might be saved if the dominant colour is engaging enough.

        I’ll continue trying to think about and picture what a monochrome shot that is striking for it’s specific lack of colour might look like.

        (Perhaps something with flags of uniforms that are as instantly recognisable because of their colour?)

  2. I’ll shoot exclusively for colour, most definitely. You wouldn’t necessarily deduce this from the scarcity of pictures I share in my journal but I do like the challenge of a good study in isolation (colour, light values, lines and textures, etc.) and putting them together for a rewarding sum of the parts.

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