I took the picture above of the Perth city skyline a few years ago. It is a picture that received a great deal of praise on various photography forums. It had to be an HDR image because of the very wide dynamic range however I worked hard to reduce the color saturation that normally comes with popular HDR images these days. I never really liked the image because, in spite of my best efforts, I could not pull down the color saturation to a nice balancing point. This photo, lacks the color balance to make it a truly good photo. The truth is that I love B&W images but I struggle with the place color should have in photography.
I view color like vanilla. Everything these days seems to come with a hefty dose of vanilla. Across cultural or religious spectrums there is a love of vanilla. We add it to everything including coffee, air scents, shampoo, soap, everything seems to come with vanilla. So if you want to make something for mass consumption just add a large bit of vanilla.
I like a hint of vanilla in some of my foods and drinks but like so many things in life a little of a good thing leaves you wanting more, too much of a good thing leaves me desperately looking for something bland to counter balance it.
The same applies to color. Trey Ratcliff does some amazing travel photography and he helped find a proper place for HDR images in modern photography. But again he often relies on hefty wallops of color to draw viewers in. This saturation of color leaves me gasping and desperate for something more subdued.
In the hands of a good photographer, color can be a wonderful tool. Look to the work of William Eggleston and you see what I mean. He is one of the first photographers who successfully used color in artistic photography because he found a wonderful balance.
When people first get into photography they all seem to go through a color saturation phase and receive positive feedback from the vanilla accustomed mass consumers. Some never go beyond this phase, and continue to use wallops of color in their photography. Nothing is subtle, everything is over the top. It is like Jolly Ranchers for your eyes...
The first is a google search of color photography and the second is an image I took in 2012 when I was deep in my color saturation phase. Shooting in B&W strips this concern away but mastering color in photography seems to be a lost art these days. Digital photography allows us to play with color with the simple movement of a slider, and so enhance the flavor by adding tons of vanilla.
I encourage you to look at your own photography and ask if you are using color in a balanced way or are you inundating your viewer in wallops of color, completely over-riding an semblance of balance.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.