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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Colour relationships - Exercise

This exercise is in 2 parts in order to start exploring the relationships of colour in the frame. The first part is to produce a photograph for each of the primary and secondary colours in the correct proportions (or nearest to them). The second part is to produce 3 to 4 photographs in any colour combination that is appealing. 

I struggled to find the colour combinations for the first part of this exercise; trying to get the exact proportions of primary to secondary colour, as well as finding the examples in the first place. However I gave it my best go anyway! 

Red / Green 1:1

55mm f/4 1/125 sec ISO 100

Probably the easiest to find out of the Primary combinations; red and green I found a lot of this combination in nature as well as in the ‘manmade’ world, however to make myself work harder I tried to stick with nature or ‘found’ shots where I could.

The frame was composed in camera getting in close and using a 100mm focal length to maintain the 1 to 1 ratio as much as possible. The flower is fairly central and and relatively static however I felt that the contrast between the brighter red and darker green balances nicely.

Orange / Blue 1:2

44mm f/4/5 1/60 sec ISO 800

Not a very interesting photograph, subject wise however it posed an opportunity to get the colour combination for the exercise. Overall I don’t actually like the image, the ratio isn’t correct and it feels very off-balance. I considered cropping it further to correct the rations and although It is closer to the right ration it could be considered a bit too abstract.

Yellow / Violet 1:3

55mm f/13 1/125 sec ISO 100

I’m again not really happy with this image, it’s off-balance and although sometimes that creates a more dynamic image, it just doesn’t work this time. The problem I had was getting the focal length so that the ratios between the colours were close to their ideal proportions but keep the composition interesting; but even though the proportions are pretty close the image doesn’t work. in my mind.

The second part of the exercise was a little easier as there were no restrictions on the colours or the proportions

Yellow / Blue

18mm f/11 1/250 sec ISO 400

I love the contrasting blue and yellow in these beach huts. The alternating pattern of the blue then yellow doors creates a regular pattern drawing the eyes into the distance. This is also strengthened by the zigzag of the roofs and the diagonals lines that create the perspective, depth and rhythm. I guess the ratio is close to 1:2 Yellow to blue which is similar to the Orange/Blue ideal. Although not quite complimentary on the colour wheel I think the balance works very well.



50mm* f/22 2 sec ISO 100

The contrast between the dark green and bright yellow draws attention to the flower. placement in the frame adds to the interest and balances the image. However the flower disappearing top right from the frame ‘bleeds’ colour away from the subject and I find this a little distracting.


Orange / Green

50mm* f/22 2 sec ISO 100

I don’t own a macro lens (saving up still!) but I used a 50mm Prime with some macro extension rings to be able to focus a lot closer to the subject. In this case a pepper! I wanted to try something a bit more abstract. I personally really like the green orange combination and even though the composition is tight I fell there is still movement around the curves of the pepper.


Red / Orange / Green

50mm f/22 3 sec ISO 100

I used the same setup and natural lighting for the above 2 shots of the strawberry and the tomato. I wanted to show how light affected the colours. Where the light hits the subject creates an orange tone and in the shaded area the redder it becomes. I also wanted to include the red/green combination out of the ideal proportions.


250mm f/11 1/180 sec ISO 200

Something that struck me just before posting this entry was that I have tended to look for a contrast; I’ve looked for strong tone changes, for example yellow and green are from the same part of the colour circle however I chose a darker green against the bright yellow, all of the images in the exercise follow the same pattern ‘bright Vs. Dark’, creating that contrast. Not sure if this is a conscious thing or not as this exercise was about what ‘I’ liked in terms of colour combinations. I will see if the trend follows as I progress…


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Colour relationships

Complementary colours - Colours that are opposite each other on the colour circle. The ideal proportions of colours in a frame for harmony are:

  • Red: Green 1:1
  • Orange: Blue 1:2
  • Yellow: Violet 1:3

Similar colours - Those colours that are near each other on the colour wheel, as in a cool or warm range of colours, for example:

  • Yellow: Orange
  • Blue: Violet

Contrasting colours - Colours combinations that are spaced about a third of the way around the circle, for example:

  • Orange: Green: Violet
  • Red: Blue: Yellow

Colour accents - Where a small area of colour sits against a much larger background of another colour, Could be any of the above, but may work better is some combinations than others

Monday, 20 September 2010

Camille Silvy: Photographer of Modern Life 1834-1910

I just happened to be in London the other week and walking past the National Portrait Gallery with some time to kill and I noticed an exhibition was currently showing for Camille Silvy. Not having heard of him until now, I decided to pop in for a viewing.

‘Camille Silvy was a pioneer of early photography and one of the greatest French photographers of the 19th century’


‘Working under the patronage of Queen Victoria, Silvy photographed royalty, aristocrats and celebrities. He also portrayed uncelebrated people, the professional classes and country gentry, their wives, children and servants.’

Exhibition text – National Portrait Gallery

The exhibition was divided into various sections, detailing particular times/genres in his life.

Introducing Camille Silvy

As with all photographers I’ve seen he started off as an amateur while working as a French diplomat. The first section of the exhibition consisted of family and self portraits, and I was struck by his stature; he was a large powerful looking man and caused me to think of a cross between Brian Blessed (with the think bushy beard) and the fictional character of Harry Flashman; perhaps not the most complementary of images, but that’s what came into my head and this is my blog!

If you have ever read the Harry Flashman novels you will think of the dashing cavalry officers of the 19th century (think charge of the light brigade) with those elegant and elaborate uniforms of the officer class.

The other thing that struck me about these early portraits where his use of props; the elaborate uniforms and costumes, but also chairs tables, ornaments and especially books; either a bookshelf in the background or holding a book, quite different from more contemporary photographs. Although a different age and style I though back to an Irving Penn exhibition with minimal props so that your attention is directed to focus the inner ‘character’

Silvy also used a technique where he produced a photograph of the same image 4 times – Think of a 19th Century Andy Warhol!

Early Photographs: Algeria and Rural France

There were 2 photographs from his early years Algeria; ‘the courtyard of the library’, which had really nice use of light and shadow that created perspective and depth to the photograph.

The other image photograph ‘Hashish smoker on balcony’ also used light and shadow to create depth, but also the use of diagonal lines drawing the eye to the centre. I did find the position of the ‘smoker’ a little eccentric as they were very close to the left edge of the frame, but somehow the use of directional light (coming into the balcony) and leading lines still makes the photograph ‘work’

Although not a particularly remarkable photograph, the old building in his ‘Cider Press’ photograph 1858 (France), did attract my attention to its texture details of the roof tiles, a great use of light to create dimension.

River Scene, France

One of Silvy's more famous photographs from France was ‘La Vallée de l'Huisne', (River Scene) 1958. This was really fascinating, not only for the composition and lines creating movement in the frame but also the technique Silvy employed to produce the image.

The photograph was actually a composite of more than one shot and a combination of filters; 2 photographs one for the sky and one for the landscape detail. By joining the negatives together he created a more evenly exposed ‘photograph’. The exhibition text explained that Silvy used other techniques to further improve the overall photograph by ‘cropping’ the frame appropriately and using a technique called burning to darken other parts of the photograph.

These techniques made me think about how photographs are produced in our time, compared to those in Silvy’s and how those techniques remain remarkably unchanged albeit using different mediums. The idea of combining shots at different exposures to produce a final result and the use of ‘burning’ and creative cropping are still employed to day on both film and digital formats. It turns out photography hasn’t really changed as much as we think! Thought provoking...

'The Emperor's Order of the Day'

Techniques aside (will return to this idea later) the historical value of seeing older works is fascinating. Another famous image from his collection ‘The Emperor’s order of the day’ and history was that of a group of men reading a poster in the streets of Paris; A message from the Emperor Napoleon III while campaigning in Italy to drive out the Austrians. The photograph has a subtle triangle that leads up to the poster, a great image. I later found out that the photograph was actually staged and the people in the shot where instructed to stand in their positions by Silvy! To have taken the shot candidly would have taken a long exposure and if it were not staged then the photograph would not have worked.


In 1859 Silvy moved to London and started his own photography studio. A lot of the photographs depicted his love for horsemanship, men in elegant riding clothes and elaborate military uniforms (think Harry Flashman books again!). What struck me most about his studio photographs though was the use of props.

There appeared to be a lot of props in his photographs; the use of furniture, leaning onto desks and book cases, standing behind chairs. The male subjects were often holding a book or Hat and standing very formally, similarly the female subjects were often seen to be holding a fan or hankie and generally more feminine objects than the men. Some of the studio work had picture backdrops or elaborate curtains too

I kept thinking about the difference between more contemporary studios with clean and bare environments, they also made me think of the Irving Penn exhibition I saw a while ago where his use of minimal ‘clutter’ made you concentrate of the character of the subject.

One really good photograph that caught my eye was that of ‘The Missus Booth’ 1861 a picture of two sisters with one faces the camera and the other facing away; however her face is reflected in a mirror that is behind them. In terms of composition there are a lot of triangles, both pointing up and inverted that leads you to the centre. I also see a heart shape between the sister’s arms signifying their love: I really liked this portrait.

Another photograph that stood out was a still life of ‘game’ (Rabbits, hairs etc) however he played with the idea over more traditional still life paintings by Jan Weenix 1642-1719 by introducing modern objects such as cutlery and even a newspaper with the date, showing as a sort of Juxtaposition between the modern (for the 19th century!) and traditional times.

As well as having clients including members of the Royal family (Queen Victoria never had per picture taken by him though) he took a lot of photos of actors and actresses. To improve his reputation and portfolio he would take the pictures for free so that he gained experience and his name spread but then his customers could then sell prints or use them as a sort of business car (I think they were called Carte de visite) to their fans as well as their own portfolios. Again I see this idea being still used to day; often models will need photos for their portfolio and emerging / amateur photographers need the same – cooperative arrangement!

Sun; Twilight; Fog – Studies on Light 1859

This section of the exhibition had to be the most fascinating part for me. There were 3 photographs each depicting an area of lighting; Sun, Fog and Twilight; with each one showing a different use of light. In the sun photograph of an Indian street sweeper you have strong direct light on the subject creating a hard shadow. However the next 2 images were even more interesting.

Silvy was able to create a finished ‘photograph’ that would not be possible by just taking a single shot of a scene. He used various techniques to create the final print. In the ‘Fog’ image (with the 2 musicians) some of the tree has actually been hand drawn in to add more details.

In ‘twilight’ one of his best known images is actually made of a number of images joined together, (one for the background, one for the street lamp, one for the wall and one for the 2 figures under the lamppost) much the same in the ‘river scene’ I also ready somewhere (can’t find the reference though now so don’t shoot me!) that some of the lamppost was also drawn in by hand to bring in some more details. I also believe it is one of the earliest intended images depicting motion blur.

What I like about this set and especially with ‘Fog’ and ‘Twilight’; it’s the way that Silvy adapted what equipment and processing techniques he had to create the photograph he wanted, very much knowing exactly what he wanted in the frame for the final image. I really like this idea as it is very similar to how I like to work. Controlling the scene and subject to create what I want.

Later Life

Later on in life Silvy moved back to France due to ill health and he also came up with a new technique to photograph battlefields and one of the final images in the exhibition was of a 360 degree panoramic photograph taken from the centre of the Champs Elysées. Another example of manipulation of the equipment and post processes.

I really enjoyed the exhibition – not bad considering I went by chance, with of the most interesting things I took away was the idea that photo manipulation has been around since photography itself!

Of course let’s not get carried away with this after all there is more to photography than manipulation and processing; it’s about light, composition, design etc and the idea of getting the photograph ‘right’ in camera first time, but you will still hear arguments like “but with Photoshop you can just crop that, burn this, merge those together, stitch them together and so on..”

But taking the composition (and medium) aside, when it comes to making an image as best it can be through post processing, how different is it from what Silvy was doing 150 years ago?