Exercise – Control the strength of a colour – cameras with manual option

After the relief of submitting the assignment that saw the conclusion of the section on Elements of Design, we’re on the part three – Colour.

Looking back through my Flickr photostream, I can see that I’m obviously attracted to working in black and white with almost half of my uploaded pictures being monochrome. In part this is because I still enjoy shooting with film cameras and am able to process black and white at home, whereas colour I need to send away. I’m still delighted every time I unscrew the processing tank to reveal a film that has developed correctly. Shooting in black and white helps with seeing shape and tone. It also helps to make the photograph a step removed from reality, because we see in colour.

All of that is for later in this section,  for now it’s time to begin to understand what makes colour, the influence it has on composition and our perception of a scene, and how we, as photographers, can use it to our advantage. I understand our subconscious associations – that orange means warmth as we associate it with the sun; red can mean danger; green is the calming colour of the earth. What will be new for me as I study these effects, is actively looking for ways to use them in my photography. Colour can be as important in composition as line, shape and tone. It needs to be used with the ‘physical’ features to compliment or contrast as intended by the photographer.

The course notes point us towards ‘one of the great photographic colourists’ Ernst Haas. I know little of his work other than Route 66, Albuquerque, but found some of his philosophy entertaining:

Beware of colour theories. Theories in colour photography are dangerous. […] A colour philosophy comes much closer to the truth. […] I myself love to read theories without ever using them when working.

But especially:

Colour is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it. Learn by doing or even better, unlearn by doing. The opposite of what you learned. The paradoxical fact in the aesthetic is that theories are also true in reverse.

He sounds like quite a character, some of his views seem a little odd to reference at the start of course material on colour. I’ll read more though as his colour work demonstrates all of the theories (and philosophies) we’ll be learning.

The first exercise in the section shows us how we can affect the strength of colour by varying exposure. We were to find a strong, definite colour and find the average exposure setting. Then shoot a sequence of five photographs, altering the exposure from 1 stop under-exposed, to one stop over. The only colour I’m likely to be studying in the UK at the moment is grey, so a weekend visit to Faro in Portugal was very nicely timed.

I performed the exercise twice, but neither of the sequences feature particularly strong colours. The sun, wind and time seem to have bleached all colours from Faro. Nevertheless, the point is demonstrated and the colour changes with exposure. The under exposed roof is redder as the wall is yellower. On each occasion, I metered the average exposure, selected aperture priority and altered the EV setting, meaning that the camera automatically increased or decreased the shutter speed.

Using Photoshop to measure the hue, saturation and brightness of the same point (the top of the patch to the right of the door) on the brightest and darkest pictures, the levels help explain what makes colour.

In the brighter image, the HSB values are 43°, 58%, 90% and in the darker image 37°, 78%, 47%. The hue value is similar in each and explains the colour’s position in the spectrum. Saturation is commonly understood as how yellowyorange is the yellowyorange. In the darker image, the saturation value is higher. Brightness again is something that we can understand easily and the percentages change as we might expect.

-0.5ev = 1/125s
-0.5ev = 1/125s

The second set was taken of the colourful roofs on beach huts – results were similar.

Canon 5d2, 50mmm iso100, f/5.6, 1/750s
Canon 5d2, 50mmm iso100, f/5.6, 1/750s

Finally, I shot the yellow wall again, early in the morning with the low sun lighting it from an acute angle and adding texture to the battered plastering. As with the set above, I preferred the picture shot slightly under-exposed, bringing out the colour. We’ll study the effects of light at different times of day later in the course.


Shooting in RAW and using Photoshop allows adjustment of each of these elements after the event, but as with almost everything else, it is best to get them right in camera, at the time of shooting. Altering the exposure can control the brightness and saturation of an image and if it’ll help the end result be closer to the original intent, the technique should be adopted.


Haas, E. (unknown). Philosophy by Haas (online) Ernst Haas Estate. Available from: http://www.ernst-haas.com/philosophy02.html [Accessed:12 February, 2014]


  1. I especially like the yellow wall at -1ev but then I do like saturated colours, I sense the trend is more towards your +/- o or +.5ev so it was interesting to see that you also liked the more saturated version taken in the early morning light.


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