I’ll admit it. The inner geek/nerd in me loves color. My fascination with color began when I went down in one of those tourist submarines. We approached a depth where the color red could no longer reach and my red ball cap became grey. Since then I’ve been hooked on what color is and why we need it in art.
A scientific definition of color is the resulting wavelengths of light reflected from a solid surface and projected into the eye. A flower has as certain color due light either being reflected or absorbed by the pigments in the flower itself. A flower is yellow because it reflects the light wavelength of yellow while absorbing the other wavelengths of color in the visual spectrum.
Now that I feel like I am wearing a mad scientist lab coat, the true meaning behind color is its power over us as human beings. We are visual creatures. We respond certain ways to the stimuli provided by color. The right color warns us of danger, like a traffic sign, or tells us about a certain cultural notion or idea such as the color of a wedding dress or a shroud.
Color even influences our moods. This is not lost on the photographic artist. The artist will see color as a means to communicate a message. We use color to communicate feelings and ideas and even actions. A photojournalist might use color to emphasize a tragic event. A picture of a displaced family watching their house burn is sad. However, add the splash of color of the fire or the lights of the fire truck reflecting off their concerned faces and you have the makings of a tragic powerful event. The faces don’t change the emotions of the viewer as intensely as the color reflecting off of their faces does. It makes the viewer part of the experience.
A fine art photographer might make a photograph of a rosebush being pruned by an old gardener completely black and white except for one single red rose. Bam! The viewer’s eye is instantly transported to that rose. The rest of the picture becomes secondary in nature. The viewer may ask themselves, “Why the rose?” Why that rose? Only then do they notice it is the rose being pruned by the gardener. Now you have the added motifs of death, mortality of youth and so on. You have told a powerful story. All from the coloring of a single rose. The rosebush had no power of suggestion. The gardener didn’t either, only color of the rose did that.
Color is a vital element of art, particularly photographic fine art, color is an important step in communicating with your audience in new and dramatic ways.