The Importance of Color in Photography: An Interview with Mitchell Kanashkevich
Since launching our Captivating Color eBook last week I’ve had a few questions from readers on the topic of color, its importance and why we created a whole eBook on a topic like this. I thought there was no better person to ask than the eBook’s author – Mitchell Kanashkevich.
Mitchell, why did you decide to write a whole eBook to color?
The main reason is that there’s a real lack of understanding when it comes to color. Generally people just don’t realize how important it is. I find this to be the case with even with some of the more experienced photographers. If they have a great grasp of everything, except for color, their images ultimately still fall apart, they don’t quite have the intended impact or the maximum impact. It can be extremely frustrating when you feel you did everything right, but the image still doesn’t grab you, doesn’t captivate or engage you emotionally.
I wrote the eBook in large part to help those who already understand some of the photography basics to get to the next level, but also to make those who are just starting out aware, right from the beginning of how important color is.
So why exactly is color important?
There are two main reasons. Color can help tell us stories (visually) and it can be used to communicate on an emotional level. The emotion part is what I find really, really important. I would go so far as to say that color is the primary factor responsible for making a photo feel exciting, lively, mysterious or perhaps melancholic or a little sombre. Looking at the image at the top of the page, you can see that something as simple as clothes on a line against a wall can look dramatic and feel exciting, just because of color.
It’s true, emotions can be a vital part of photography, please expand a little on this topic.
Emotions are vital. Most people would agree that when looking at photographs they’re not particularly concerned if a photo has been composed in a clever way, but everyone responds when the image makes them feel something.
That color plays part in evoking emotions is not a new idea, if you look into other fields – interior decorators for example put great emphasis on color, if you watch most high production movies carefully, you’ll notice that a lot of them have stylized scenes, the color in those scenes is of a certain tint that’s very evocative of emotions and moods. If you search the internet, people are even talking about healing with color. So it is ultimately very significant, but as I say, a lot of folks do not understand it and are not aware of it.
Could it be because we don’t think that we can control color in any way? For example, we can’t change the colors in a landscape when we are making the shot; can we?
We can actually do a number of things to control color. With the landscape example you mention we can control color indirectly, if we understand how it works. You see, the colors in that landscape won’t stay the same, they will change depending on time of day, on the lighting conditions. Light is one factor that changes color tremendously, if we understand how it does that, we essentially gain some control over how the color in our landscape photo will look. Obviously it’s not the same amount of control as we’d have if we were to paint that landscape, but it can still have a huge impact. The strong presence of golden yellow in the image above for example, is only there because I shot this scene at a particular time of day, during the magic/golden hour, when light tends to give colors this magical, golden tint. You could say that I indirectly controlled color by deciding when to shoot, under what light.
You mention that there are a number of things we can do to control color. What are some of the others?
Composition – we can obviously frame certain colors in and others out, we can find angles from where colors look like patterns. If we have any control over the shoot, we can have models/subjects change costumes or we can re-arrange still life objects. Then of course there’s the post processing stage, where we can really do a lot of color manipulation, down to the most minute detail, depending on what we are trying to achieve.
Ok, we can control color, but other than the emotional side of things; why would we want to control it?
Well, as I mentioned, emotions do play a huge part in determining whether an image is basically good or not, but it’s also about using color to tell stories.
Visual story-telling (which is what we do with photography) is all about drawing attention to what’s important to the story and keeping our gaze there, color helps with that a lot. As you can see in the image above, the bright colored part of the frame is where our gaze goes immediately, it’s like I’m saying “Look, the lamp and the man are where the story is!” The rest of the colors in the image are fairly subdued and much darker, so we don’t really notice those until later and that’s fine, because the main part of the story is not there. On the other hand, if there was a bright color which didn’t have purpose within the story, it would confuse the viewer. There are ultimately quite a few things to keep in mind about color and visual story-telling, there’s a lot that we can do to make our stories more powerful and clear and that’s what I discuss at length in the eBook.
What would you say is the number one mistake that people make, when it comes to color?
Thinking that more is better or not realizing that too many colors, especially colors that don’t follow any order (e.g. not in a pattern) make for pretty disengaging, confusing, even visually unpleasant imagery.
When we see something in real life, we are able to process, subtract and to filter out everything outside of what we are focusing on, including color, this way we can make sense of the world around us. With an image, the photographer is essentially the “filter” that gets rid of everything that isn’t important to the story or the emotions that the photo aims to convey. If that “filter” isn’t working effectively, if there’s a whole bunch of colors in the image, which don’t play a specific role, we end up with chaos and whatever message the photographer intended to convey is lost.
Do you have anything else to say about the eBook? Who is it for? What is its ultimate aim?
This eBook is a down to earth, practical, understandable look at color, without confusing technical jargon or excessive philosophy, it’s easily accessible. It covers the essentials, from the time of the shoot to adjusting color in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. There are exercises that encourage you to learn and see results by doing and there are resources to explore the topic in more depth.
The eBook is for absolutely anyone and everyone who shoots color photographs and the ultimate aim of it is to help people understand why color is important and how they can use it to better convey the stories they want to tell and the feelings they had at the time of taking the photo to those who view the image. After all, isn’t that the purpose of almost any photograph, to share a story, a moment and to tell others how exciting, interesting or magical something was?
Do you have your copy of Captivating Color yet?