Looking at Color Photography

Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals

Here is a assortment of some of my favorite contemporary photographers working in color, and web links to their work.

ASSIGNMENT: Visit all the photographer’s websites. Pick three photos from three different websites that interest or excite you. Create a google doc. Write a short paragraph (minimum 5, maximum 7) sentences describing what you see in the photo. For each, be sure to comment on what you see (what’s happening in the photo? Is it really happening, staged or fantasy? What’s the subject or idea? Where are we? Why is it important?), AND how composition and color are used by the photographer to enhance the image. Add the image to your description, so I can see what you are talking about. 

Add a fourth photographer–one you find yourself. Your teacher can point you in the right direction if you like, but I recommend finding an area of interest and doing a web search to find photography you are interested in. Copy or screenshot an image for your google doc, and write about it. Be sure to write the name of the photographer and include a link to their website. 

Barbara Bosworth, (“Natural Histories” “Birds and other Angels” and other projects) https://www.barbarabosworth.com/the-heavens

Christopher Payne  (“Asylum”)  http://www.chrispaynephoto.com/asylum/

Cig Harvey (“You Look At Me Like an Emergency”  “Gardening at Night” “You an Orchestra, You a Bomb” or “Pavlovas at Midnight”) http://www.cigharvey.com

Rania Matar http://www.raniamatar.com/portfolio/girl-and-her-room.php


Richard Renaldi (focus on the color images/projects) http://renaldi.com/projects/

Kahn and Selesnick http://kahnselesnick.biz/

Edward Burtynski  http://www.edwardburtynsky.com

and http://ideas.ted.com/2006/10/31/gallery-edward-burtynskys-extraordinary-images-of-manufactured-landscapes/

Alec Soth (“Sleeping by the Mississippi”) http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14


Laura McPhee  http://www.lauramcphee.com

Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb http://www.burnmagazine.org/essays/2009/10/alex-webb-rebecca-norris-webb-violet-isle/

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Creating a Photo Blog

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Every student in Digital Photography class will post work to personalized photo blog they make themselves. The blogs are free and easy to create through WordPress.com. Follow these steps:

  1. Sign into http://www.wordpress.com (create a free account). You must  remember which email you use and your password–write it down somewhere!
  2. Create a free blog. Title your blog (something other than your name), that has to do with photography (think hard about this–once you choose it, you will be using it for the rest of the semester and beyond!)
  3. Choose a template for your blog. A template controls the design–how the images and words appear. Choose one from the Subject category “Art.” Make sure it’s free. https://wordpress.com/themes/free/filter/art OR filter for “photography”  https://wordpress.com/themes/free/filter/photography Here are some that would work well for photography, but you can choose others. :
    1. https://wordpress.com/theme/pictorico
    2. https://wordpress.com/theme/visual
    3. https://wordpress.com/theme/dyad-2
    4. https://wordpress.com/theme/cubic
    5. https://wordpress.com/theme/altofocus
    6. https://wordpress.com/theme/snaps
    7. https://wordpress.com/theme/orvis
    8. https://wordpress.com/theme/baskerville-2
  4. Customize your site (we will demonstrate / work through this in class).
    1. Give your site a “Site Title”
    2. Edit your “Primary Menu” to add or subtract menus. You need to add a “About the Photographer”
    3. Add one of your photos as a “Header Image” (if applicable to your site template)
    4. …and so on! Note that you may alter your site after adding posts / content–that shouldn’t change or erase your content, but it may move things around. You can even apply a NEW template after you’ve started your blog, if you decide later that the template isn’t working for you.
  5. Create your first post. Click “Write” in the upper left side of the screen to get started.

Defining Color

Digital Photography 101: The basics of color theory

How to use color theory to improve your photography, part 1

Can you imagine a world without color? It’s such an intrinsic part of our lives that sometimes we don’t even notice it. We only stop to think about color when we encounter a particularly jarring or particularly pleasing combination. But for a good photographer, color is a integral part of the constant image processing we do in our heads. We don’t just see a composition in terms of lines and shapes; we see the colors in it and the way they work in harmony or opposition.
“Orphaned Rhino” from Saving Africa’s Great Animals, National Geographic Magazine. Photograph by Ami Vitale, (United States)

It’s well known that color can affect mood and, like particular shapes and lines, can be used to evoke feelings of calmness and serenity or of tension and passion. Color can make or break a photograph, so it’s a good idea to have some clue what it’s all about. In part 1 of this two-part series, we’ll explain the basics of color theory. In part 2, we’ll go into more detail about how it applies to photography.

Defining color
First, a bit of technical explanation. Color, as we know it in regards to photography, is usually discussed in terms of hue, saturation, and brightness.

Hue is the color part of color. When we say a color is blue, purple, or yellow, we’re generally talking about hue. Technically, hue is “the degree to which a stimulus can be described as similar to or different from stimuli that are described as red, green, blue, and yellow (the unique hues).” Makes perfect sense, right? If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty technical definition, check out Wikipedia’s entry for hue — but for our purposes, it’s enough to say that hue is the actual color of the color.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL 01:09:2014 People playing soccer at sunset at Ipanema Beach. The sport was especially popular as Brazil prepared to host the World Cup. Yasuyoshi Chiba:Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL 01/09/2014 People playing soccer at sunset at Ipanema Beach. The sport was especially popular as Brazil prepared to host the World Cup. Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hue can be adjusted in image editing software such as Photoshop or Gimp. In the images on the left, the top left image is the original photo. In the other three quadrants, we’ve shifted the hue by varying degrees, moving it more toward green, red, or blue. This can be particularly useful both to adjust for interior lighting or simply for artistic purposes.

You’re probably familiar from childhood art classes with the traditional primary colors of red, yellow, and blue  — those reflected light colors are known as painters’ primaries. If you’ve worked with software like Photoshop or played around with your monitor or TV color settings, you might have noticed a different set of primary colors: red, green, and blue, abbreviated RGB. Those are the transmitted light primaries, and they create the colors you see in digital form in your camera or monitor. Printers work with yet another set of primary colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, abbreviated CMYK.

Brightness (sometimes called lightness, value, or tone) refers to how light or dark a hue is. Again, the technical definition gets complex, but the basic concept is simply how much white or black appears in the color. In photography, this is easily adjusted by the exposure; an overexposed image is very light, while an underexposed image is very dark.

BELLE PLAINE, MINN. 04/30/2014 A lockdown drill to address the threat of school shootings interrupted an eighth-grade gym class. Alec Soth/Magnum Photos

Saturation (also called chroma) is the degree to which a color is colorful, as opposed to grayscale. According to Wikipedia, “the saturation of a color is determined by a combination of light intensity and how much it is distributed across the spectrum of different wavelengths. The purest (most saturated) color is achieved by using just one wavelength at a high intensity, such as in laser light. If the intensity drops, then as a result the saturation drops.” Just how blue is that blue? A more saturated color looks more pure, while a less saturated color looks more dirty or diluted. Most colors found in nature are relatively unsaturated — natural, pure color is fairly rare.
Spinning through the color wheel
You may have seen a color wheel before — in it, you can see each of the primary colors, separated by wedges (or triangles, as in this example) of the various hues that result from mixing the primary colors to varying degrees. The color directly opposite each primary color on the wheel is called its complementary color  — those colors are green, violet, and orange.

Since colors and their complements are opposites, combining them creates a very strong contrast in an image and can create either harmony or tension, depending on the composition of the image. Combining colors that lie next to each other on the color wheel is called analogous harmony. For example, blue-green, blue, and blue-violet are analogous colors.

Intensity and harmony
One might think that we would logically see colors of the same saturation as having the same intensity, but that’s not the case. On the color wheel, we see yellow as being much more intense than violet, and orange as much more intense than blue. To build a harmoniously colored composition, you might want to include more blue than orange, because the orange is more intense.

DETROIT 04/30/2014 Theodore Roosevelt Pritchett Jr. in his home, which is flanked by two abandoned houses. Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Warmer colors are more intense than cooler colors, and they tend to appear to advance toward us, while cooler colors appear to recede. It has been theorized that we perceive colors in this way because in nature, most things that are shades of blue or green are harmless, whereas bright yellows, oranges, and reds frequently indicate poison or other danger. This is why warning signs are commonly colored yellow, orange, or red, because we naturally pay attention to those colors.

Part 2: How to use color theory to saturate your photographs

A few weeks ago, we gave you a basic overview of color theory. This week, we’re going to go more in-depth and explore how you can use color theory to enhance your photography.

Mood lighting
The most obvious effect that color has on photography is creating and enhancing mood. In the pair of photos below, the image on the left is the original photo, taken on a bright, overcast day; the image on the right has been altered in Photoshop to more of a warm sepia tone. The coloring of the photo below evokes feelings of nostalgia, and one might even think the scene took place many years ago.

MANHATTAN 09/26/2014 Wendy Whelan, a senior ballerina with the New York City Ballet, a few weeks before retiring from her 30-year career. Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times
MANHATTAN 09/26/2014. Wendy Whelan, a senior ballerina with the New York City Ballet, a few weeks before retiring from her 30-year career. Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times

In contrast, blue tones tend to give a somber, cool, somewhat sad feeling. These responses are purely psychological, of course, and everyone reacts to color in slightly different ways. But generally speaking, warm colors such as yellow, gold, and greens that fall toward the yellow end of the spectrum make photos seem inviting, friendly, and happy. Cooler colors like blue and purple tend to give a more aloof, chilly feel.

Create colorful movement
You’ve probably heard it said that some colors “pop.” This effect is referred to as advancing and receding, and it’s most easily seen in bright blues and reds. Cool colors like blue tend to be seen as receding, whereas warm colors like red look like they’re advancing toward the viewer. You can use this theory to your advantage by putting elements with advancing colors like red in the foreground of your photos. This will add to the feeling of depth in your image.

Some colors are also associated very strongly with certain concepts. Red, for example, is frequently used as a warning, telling us to stop or be careful. Our eyes are naturally drawn to red in photographs, and we pay more attention to red objects than those of other colors.

KIEV, UKRAINE 02/19/2014 Antigovernment protesters burned barricades to keep riot police officers from storming Independence Square. Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Be complementary
Complementary colors are those located on opposite sides of the color wheel. These colors work well together in images meant to feel lively and energetic, because the two colors compete with one another. The photo of a yellow egg yolk on a purple plate is a great example of complementary colors.

Work together in harmony
Harmonious colors are those that are adjacent on the color wheel, such as red, orange, and yellow, or green, blue, and violet. Harmonious colors, as the name implies, work very well together and bring a peaceful feeling to an image.

Keep it simple

Monochrome commonly refers to what we also call black-and-white images, though technically the correct term is grayscale. However, monochrome can also be used to refer to images that use mainly either a single color or a small range of colors on the color wheel. The most obvious situation where this occurs naturally is in a summertime forest, where the leaves, moss, and warm summer light make a world of almost entirely shades of green.

Moss, Washington State
Moss, Washington State, December 2014 (photo by Adam Gooder)

To keep a monochrome photograph from looking dull or flat, try to find different saturations and shades of your chosen color, to add a sense of depth and movement.

Spot colors keep it interesting
One of the fun things that’s pretty easy to do with image editing programs like Photoshop to create an image that uses spot color. Usually this is done by cloning a part of your image and keeping it the original color while desaturating the rest of the image until it’s grayscale. You can use this technique to draw the viewer’s attention to a bright yellow flower, a model’s ruby-red lips, or a colorful balloon.

The inverse of this technique is also possible, where all but one part of a photograph is in color. When the grayscale part of the image is a person, this can lend a ghostly, surreal quality to the scene.

Whether you’re a fan of serene black-and-white photography or deeply saturated hues, a basic understanding of color theory will help you visualize color combinations that work and compose even more striking photographs.

[Writing Credit: Katherine Gray; posted on http://www.steves-digicams.com.]

The Identity Assignment (Portraits)

Charles, Vasa, Minnesota by Alec Soth, 2003
Charles, Vasa, Minnesota by Alec Soth, 2003

Essential Questions:

  • What defines you as a person? Is it: Culture? Personality? History? Gender? Your interests or activities?
  • How can the visual medium of photography be used to represent these aspects of identity?
  • What do you wish to share about yourself? What do you wish to keep private? How much can a photographic portrait show about a person?

Directions for Shooting this Assignment:

  1. With a partner assigned by the teacher, shoot one portrait in the studio. You will photograph them, and they will photograph you. For this image, think about one specific theme in your life (rather than every aspect of your life–that might be impossible to capture in one image!) You need to bring one prop or clothing item that shows a theme in your life. The quality of the light (direction, intensity, hardness or softness, color) can also help express your personality.
  2. With a partner of your choosing, or on your own, shoot a photograph on location, using natural light. You photograph them, they photograph you. Choose a location that says something about you. Other elements you include in the image can give us a visual clue: time of day, props, and of course your expression, gesture or body language. How you shoot can be used to add meaning or emotion: focus, depth of field, freezing or blurring motion, use of light, lens choice and framing. Finally, how you edit and print the image will affect our reading of it (saturation, contrast, color vs. black and white, and so on). You may use your camera’s timer and a tripod to shoot this image by yourself if you choose.
  3. The third photograph should say something about you without you in it. This can be a real challenge! Is it a place? A thing? Something abstract that communicates a mood? Something special to you and your identity? Again, think about how the elements and design of your images communicate both information and emotion.
  4. Remember: the images can be serious or humorous. Either way, they should reflect something essential and important about who you are as a person.
Josef Sudek, “The Poet of Prague,” thinking about photography

Directions for your Blog Post (including the Writing):

  1. Select one or two images from 1,2 and 3 (above) — so one or two portraits taken in the studio, one or two on location, and one that says something about you without you in it.
  2. Do not make a slideshow gallery for this blog post. Instead, you need to post the images in a large size and add your writing about the images under each image (or each pair of images)
  3. Write about your identity, and how you expressed it through these images. One paragraph per image (or pair of images). Look back at the essential questions, at the top of this assignment. What are you showing about yourself in this image? Why did you make the decisions you did as a photographer for these images? What was the experience of making these images like for you? What did you learn about photography and yourself through this project?

Download the lecture / slideshow on Studio Lighting with examples here: 



Your Photo Field Trip Blog Post

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Post their best images, with writing, from our photo expedition from Porter to Harvard Squares in Cambridge. This is what needs to be in your post:


  • Make sure you finish editing your images (which includes correcting and enhancing) before publishing them
  • Export your collection as JPEGS. Choose 2500 pixels as your long image edge. Choose maximum quality. You will upload these images (rather than your originals). These images will show all of your edits.
  • Publish your collection — no fewer than 8 images, no more than 20.
  • You may publish as a slideshow, mosaic, or other arrangement…OR, you may weave the images into your writing (see bel0w), like an article.


  • Write three short paragraphs.
  • In paragraph one, describe your thinking before the trip. What you were looking for? What were you challenging yourself to capture?
  • In paragraph two, tell some specific stories from about your photography from the shoot. What was as you expected? What surprised you? Who or what did you see that drew your eye, and how did you photograph it?
  • In paragraph three, reflect on the field trip. What did you learn about photography?In general, what interests you about cities, design, architecture, people and culture? Do you enjoy being in the city? Did the trip change you as a photographer? How will this experience affect you in the future?

Digital Photo Field Trip to Cambridge!


A street candid by photographer Alex No Logo

We are planning a field trip for a full day, on Thursday, October 13th, to Cambridge to shoot photographs. This trip will give the students an opportunity to document urban subjects, like people and architecture. This will also help photography students understand the many great photographers they have studied this year, who spent their careers exploring big cities with cameras in their hands. We hope to get great new material to print by the end of the semester.

Some inspiration / context: 

Street Photo Slideshow with links

Some details…


We will get ourselves to Cambridge by train and walk through a variety of interesting locations, capturing images as we go. We will have lunch in Harvard Square and take the train home, returning by the end of the school day.


We will be taking the Commuter Rail from Concord to Porter Square. We will walk to the Lunder Art Museum at Lesley University School of Art and Design to see a retrospective of the work of photographer Irving Penn. We will then walk to Harvard Square, taking photos as we go. We will have lunch in Harvard Square. We will enter the “T” at Harvard Square, take the Red Line back to Porter Square, and the Commuter Rail back to Concord.

Chaperones and Guidelines

Students will be accompanied by a chaperone in groups of five or six, but will be encouraged to spread out a bit to explore their environment and to take photos (photo taking in a herd doesn’t work well!). Students should bring a cell phone to stay in contact with their chaperone and their teacher.  

Adobe Lightroom Tutorials


  1. Importing your Images: Step by Step instructions
  2. Organizing your photos (Flags, Stars, Color tags): Organizing photos video
  3. Developing Basics: Developing basics video
  4. Quick Develop:


  1. White Balance:
  2. Selective Hue, Saturation and Luminence:
  3. Vibrance Vs. Saturation:
  4. Enhancing images with Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation: (link)
  5. Highlights, Shadows, White and Blacks: (link)
  6. Dodge and Burn with the Adjustment Tool: Dodge and Burn

Click here to watch more short videos from expert trainers:

Adobe Lightroom Tutorials online

The 48 Hour Photo Diary

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One of 365 photos (one per day for the year 2002) by Byron Wolfe’s book “Everyday”

For this assignment, students are being asked to record one digital image per hour while awake over the course of 48 hours–at home, at school, with friends, and everywhere in between. Students must carry their cameras (or cell phone) with them everywhere they go. They may take one image each hour, so they must be selective and thoughtful about what they shoot. The image can be spontaneous and intuitive: close or wide; an object, person or landscape; straightforward or symbolic. The collection of images can be as varied as the student’s day.

Goal: Students will finish with an authentic visual diary of their daily life.

Essential Questions: What can photography show us about our lives? How can photographic images not only document who, what, where and when we are, but express our state of mind, wishes and concerns? How does reexamining the world around us through a lens change how we see it? What is the value of keeping your camera on you at all times–what opportunities present themselves when the photographer is ready? How can photography be used to mark and feel time, which in this project is both momentary (the click of a shutter), and protracted (images collected over time?)

Final Objective: Create a digital book or slideshow using Adobe Lightroom software showing the students’ images, in order.

Writing for your Blog Post:

  • When you create your gallery on your blog, caption each photo with the time and a title.
  • Two paragraphs, 3-5 sentences each.
  • For your first paragraph, write about what your diary shows about your life. You can describe these two days in your life, and any highlights depicted in the photos. What does the photo diary show us about you and your life, the differences between parts of your day, and what the photos show us about your mood and point of view, as well as your activities.
  • For your second paragraph, write your response to this project. What was it like carrying a camera with you for 48 hours? To take a photo every hour? To document your ordinary day? Did you notice more? What was it like to look through your world through a lens? What was it like for those around you to have you with your camera at all times? Finally, did you learn anything from this project?
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Another photo from Byron Wolfe’s book “Everyday”

Writing your Bio

Munich by Abelardo Morell (form his series, “A Book of Books”)

You will create a WordPress blog to feature all of your best work from Digital Photography. A blog allows you to post images and write about them. Every assignment in Digital Photography will have some of your writing to go along with it.

Your Photographer’s Bio: Write a one paragraph description of yourself as a photographer. Whatever WordPress “Free Photography” template you choose, make sure your Bio is easily accessible from the start page, when you arrive at the blog (it might be the “About Me” section somewhere on the side or top of the page).

  1. Go back to the websites you looked at featuring color photographers, or the website of any photographer you admire. Read their bios.
  2. Write a 5-7 sentence paragraph describing yourself as a photographer. If you like, start with the sentence, “——— (your name) is a photography student at Concord Carlisle High School in Concord, MA.”
  3. Sentences 2 through 4 or 5 should describe who you are as a photographer. This could be, what you like taking photos of, what stories you like to tell with photography, what draws you to photography visually, what photography means to you personally or culturally, who has influenced your work (well-known photographers who you follow), and so on.
  4. Conclude with one sentence to tie it all together. This can be a nod to the future (what you will do next or continue doing as a photographer), your ambitions, how photography fits into your life going forward (in high school and perhaps beyond).