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Worth 1000 Words #011 -- Are You Making the Best Use of Color?
March 16, 2011

In this month's issue, I share tips to make the best use of color in your photos. I also talk about how to use the "bulb" setting on your camera. The creativity exercise this month gets you turned on your head! And our “cool link” highlights a storm chasing photographer with some dramatic weather images. What more could you ask for? Enjoy!

Are You Making the Best Use of Color in Your Photographs?

All objects are colored, but do you ever stop to think about the impact of those colors before you take a picture? Color can be an important design element in your photographs. When used deliberately, it can help you tell your visual story more effectively. I’d like to share a few tips with you here.

First of all, keep your color palette fairly simple. By that, I mean avoid having too many colors competing for attention within the frame. In the computer field, we refer to a bad visual interface design that uses too many colors as “angry fruit salad.” Avoid angry fruit salad in your images.

Strong colors like red or yellow will stand out, so it’s best to reserve those colors for objects that are important to your story, otherwise the bright colors will only serve as distractions.

Light tones and warm colors advance in the image, and dark tones and cool colors recede. That means that if a yellow flower and a blue flower are the same distance from the viewer, the yellow flower will seem to be closer than the blue one just because of its color. If you photograph a blue subject against a yellow background, your brain will be getting mixed messages. The yellow of the background will jump forward to compete with your subject. A yellow subject against a blue background will work much better.

Finally, remember your complementary colors from high school art class? Blue and orange, red and green, and purple and yellow are complementary color pairs.. Placing a subject against a background of its complementary color makes it stand out, or “pop.” Just keep in mind the previous tip; use the lighter tones and warmer colors for the foreground subject.

Creativity Exercise

Turn it on its Side!

All too often, photographers forget that they can turn their camera vertically! It’s easy to automatically shoot only horizontal images. Set yourself a challenge. Go out on a photo expedition and shoot only verticals. This means that you have to look for subject matter that lends itself to being photographed vertically; not everything does. Let the shapes and lines of your subject matter guide you.

Something Every Photographer Needs to Know: Tip of the Month

Bulb Setting

Have you ever used the bulb setting on your camera? The bulb setting on your camera is used to get shutter speeds longer than the longest standard setting on your camera (usually 30 seconds). Bulb allows you to keep the shutter open for an arbitrary amount of time, for as long as you hold down the shutter button. If you use a cable release, you can usually slide it so it stays depressed without your having to hold it down.

Bulb setting can be used to shoot star trails, when you need to leave the shutter open for a long time. It can also be used to photograph lightning; leave the shutter open until you see the lightning flash, and then release the shutter.

Bulb setting is available on most cameras that allow you to manually change your shutter speed. Check your camera manual to see how to turn it on.

Too Cool Not to Share!

Storm Chaser

Storm chaser Jim Reed is an award-winning extreme weather photographer dedicated to documenting America's changing climate. Check out his dramatic photographs.

What’s New this Month at Ultimate Photo Tips

Photo Challenges

The topic of February's photo challenge was “Winter.” There were some wonderfully creative and chilly-feeling images! Check out the wonderful winning image of snow falling on shoreline rock patterns by Ron Whitaker from Nova Scotia, Canada:

The topic for March's challenge is "Pattern and Repetition." A pattern is a particular arrangement of visual elements. It may be repeated in a regular rhythm, or randomly. So, let's see some images from all of you where pattern is the star of the show.

Submit your pattern and repetition images here:

Happy shooting from Ultimate Photo Tips!

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