Of all the forms of non-verbal communication, color is the most instantaneous method of conveying messages and meanings.
Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color
It's impossible to boil down color theory into a blog post. You could devote a career (as Leatrice Eiseman has done) to studying it, forecasting trends and teaching it to others.
The point of today's post is two-fold: 1) wrap-up my Photoshop for the Soul posts, and 2) do so in a way that reinforces the purpose of this little corner of the blogosphere: i.e. reveal a little about how design choices communicate.
I am big on the story-telling aspect of design, and color speaks to us in much broader ways than you might expect. For example, in creating the header graphic above, specific choices were made that strengthen the overall message I wanted to communicate. The first being to replace the natural eye color with the full color spectrum. Is that natural? No. Is that how an eye really looks? No. But it tells a story, right? The next decision was to eliminate all other color except what's in the iris. This minimizes distractions to the message and creates an even stronger visual impact.
Sometimes you want to represent things as they actually appear. Other times you want to exaggerate, or even deemphasize, things because of the story you want to tell.
At Photoshop for the Soul we spent most of the week in a program called Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) learning how to process images there instead of in Photoshop. I mentioned in my last non-shameless-plug post that I would explain why "doing it on a slider" was a powerful way to work with images (and that's how you work in ACR). It's because you have an enormous number of ways to experiment with images in a procedural, completely non-destructive way. What do I mean by that? I mean, you can push your images to fantastic extremes all the while maintaining the unaltered state of your original file. No pixels are actually moved in the program, and you can do with a series of sliders what would take many, many layers to accomplish within Photoshop.
There are limitations to be sure. You cannot create multi-layered files with different images, and the painting functionality lacks support for pressure-sensitive drawing tablets (that would top my wish-list). It's not Photoshop – and is not intended to be – but it is very powerful.
Without further ado, I'll post some of my photographic experiments from my week on Molokai where I have used color in specific ways to tell the story I was after. What was that story, exactly? Primarily it is a story of seeing the beauty of God's creation in fresh, new, unexpected ways. Sadly, I think we become so accustomed to how the natural world around us looks, that we can take for granted just how amazing it really is.
I'll give a few insights behind some of the choices made as we go along. . .
What I love with this image is that I merely increased that vibrance and saturation of what the camera actually recorded. I did not add color to this, I merely enhanced what was already there. Did it look like this to the naked eye? No, it was much more flat in tone. But this better represents the beauty I saw and sensed in my heart as I was there.
I thought the clouds were a big part of the story of this shot, so I chose to desaturate the entire image so there were no bright colors (in the sky or the foliage) competing with the clouds. The beauty of the inlet is not lost, but the clouds that it frames here have become a focal point.
Here's an example where I loved the shot – but the background (even though out of focus) distracted from the story of how beautifully the sunlight was illuminating the flower. Used a technique where I painted some extra saturation and brightness into the lit areas and painted darkness and shadow to obscure the background and direct the viewer's eye.
I rarely go for the painterly look with such all-out vigor, but the image of this beautifully adorned gravesite demanded a technique that accentuated the edges and highlighted the robust color palette. Love how this experiment turned out!
Next are some experiments with faux high dynamic range (HDR – a trendy, high contrast technique), channel inversions and solarizations (sounds all high-falutin' doesn't it?), split-toning and other likewise boundary-pushing experiments. Here's the challenge: ask yourself how the color choices contribute to the story the image is telling you.
Some of the color work I'm happiest with arose from with my playing around with infrared photography. In a medium where the world is already presented in a radically new, visually compelling way, I found some images really came vibrantly to life when colors already present were pushed, pulled and otherwise intimidated into bowing to my will (insert sinister laugh here).
As mentioned at the onset, the aim with these shots in particular is to challenge us to see beauty in the world around us. To see a tree, the sky, a small plant – and even a chicken as the works of art that they really are. We have built-in expectations regarding color, and when things aren't the color we expect them to be it forces us to take a closer look.
Hopefully this has served the second of my two purposes – to be a reminder that color is a very powerful communications tool. And as we learned in our Spider-Man comics: "With great power comes great responsibility." Color communicates on an emotional level, conveying ideas, feelings and moods – all without saying a word.
And that is powerful stuff indeed.