How to Enhance Colors in Nature Photography

The colors in a photo have a strong impact on the emotions which the photo conveys. Fortunately, all kinds of colors are present in nature. They can appear through natural or artificial light, with or without filters. They create perspective and affect the height and depth of the image. A palette limited to one or two colors creates a sense of grandeur and immensity. Conversely, a profusion of colors returns the emphasis to the main subject of the photo.

Processing is an important step in enhancing the colors in nature photographs and changing either their saturation or their brightness. But these specific treatments require careful work, which is time-consuming. It is crucial to emphasize the colors without distorting the photos. The photographer must preserve the natural appearance of the scenes and of animals’ coats or feathers. Often, when I show my photographs to other photographers who went to the same place that I did, they me that I was not in the same place or that the lighting was different when they were there. This is because of the art of creating pictures.

However, it is not easy to fix the colors in a photo. You have to follow certain rules to acquire harmonious photographs.

In this photo of a purple heron, I worked the red colors to create contrast with the green.
In this photo of a purple heron, I worked the red colors to create contrast with the green.
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Qualities of a Color

There are three main qualities of a color:

  • the tone (the color can be light or dark in tone; some people call this clarity),
  • the hue (e.g. red, green, or yellow). This is what qualifies the more a color,
  • the saturation (intensity).

When he creates a photograph, a photographer should always analyze the attributes of the colors in the photo so that the image is as harmonious as possible. This is pretty easy to do with a digital camera, because the display on the back of the camera makes it possible to analyze the colors, even if the screen is not properly calibrated.

Primary, Secondary and Complementary Colors

The concepts that I am going to describe here are valid only in photography (not in painting, for example). If you blend colors haphazardly, you cannot expect to create a harmonious composition. The first important concept is that of primary colors. A primary color cannot be created by mixing other colors. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. All the other colors are obtained by mixing the primary colors together.

The second concept is that of secondary colors. Blending equal parts of two primary colors produces a secondary color. Green is made by combining blue and yellow, orange by combining red and yellow, and purple by combining blue and red.

The third concept is that of complementary colors. A color is always enhanced by its complementary color, so if you have both colors in a photo, the colors will have a great deal of impact. Blue is complementary to yellow, red is complementary to cyan, and green is complementary to magenta.

Green, blue and red are also called "light colors" because when I mix them, a lighter color is produced. They are the primary colors of the "additive color" system, where colors are created by mixing different colored light. Yellow, cyan and magenta are also called the "dark colors". They are the primary colors of the "subtractive color" system, where colors are obtained by absorbing certain wavelengths of light from white light. When these colors are mixed, darker shades are the result.

Warm and Cool Colors

Warm colors range from yellow to red-violet on the color wheel. Cool colors from blue-violet to yellow-green. Depending on whether they are warm or cool, colors can have a calm or bracing effect, and have a different impact on the emotions. They highlight a subject and flesh out the message that the photographer wants to convey in the photo. Advertisers are familiar with these effects. A nature photographer can use colors to make it clear which is his main and which his secondary subject. For example, in underwater photography, if a photographer wants to photograph a whale, the photograph’s overall color should be blue to evoke the whale’s wisdom, slowness, and grace, because those are the qualities associated with whales in the collective unconscious. A clown fish, on the other hand, would be perfectly matched with a yellow and red multicolored anemone, which will enhance its cheerful and naughty appearance.

Mixing colors

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