This third section of the course looks at colour and colour theory. We explore the properties of colour, understand it as an element of design, and learn how to control and modify it.
I’ve not studied colour before. Not really even when designing user interfaces, as the colour palette has usually been mostly decided when I come to write an application. I don’t consciously tend to use it in photographs and when I do use it, I rely on instinct rather than knowledge.
I’ve been slow in starting this part of the course. I have been reading bits and taking photos, but until now I’ve avoided completing exercises or writing in my blog. I told myself it was a break for Christmas, but actually it’s been a bit longer than that. I think partly it’s been due to being in the middle of winter and the middle of the course, when enthusiasm wanes and tiredness kicks in. But, also it’s because so far I’ve found colour surprisingly difficult subject to grasp. After dealing with black and white for so long, I was expecting colour to be a breath of fresh air, but it’s actually been quite a difficult transition. I’ve been looking at other photographers and trying to consider how they’ve used colour in their images, which has been helpful. It’s been more difficult trying to find colour in my surroundings though.
I’ve seen in a number of places monochrome being described as a step removed from reality; something that allows for artistic scope, and as I found when looking at the elements of design, something that really allows concentration on the graphic elements of an image. Colour however, is seen as being more realistic and representative of our environment. It is also more emotive and colours can have psychological associations. Colour can be a powerful element of an image, it’s visually striking. Colour can also be symbolic, with various colours carrying different meanings in different cultures.
This is a comparatively short section of the course, however for me it introduces a lot of new concepts. I’ve needed to read up on the theory and have been finding it hard to absorb. I find most suggested colour combinations quite jarring and so far I don’t really relate to the complimentary colours in the traditional colour wheel. However, I’ve been finding this infographic to be a useful reference tool, for learning how different colours relate to each other.
Complaining over with for now, I fully understand how this will be very useful part of the course, both for my photography and outside of the course, with things like web design. I’m really looking forward to learning and seeing how I’ve progressed at the end.
From our course notes:
Johannes Itten wrote that colours ‘have a mystical capacity for spiritual
expression without being tied to objects.’ In other words, you can make
colour the reason for and the subject of a picture.
Following these words will be the real challenge for this part of the course, but I will endeavour to keep it in mind when taking photos, for the assignment especially.
Artists to Study
From my tutor, other students and general research, I’ve come up with a list of photographers I think will be useful to research to learn more about how colour is used.
- Martin Parr
- I don’t really enjoy much of his work, but I have found that I do like ‘Common Sense’, which I’ve now borrowed from the library.
- Paul Graham
- Cartier-Bresson’s A Question of Colour
- William Eggleston
- Stephen Shore
ReferencesOpen College of the Arts (2012). Basic Colour Theory – Photography Course Supplement.