Project: Colour relationships – Ex 4: Colour into black and white tones.

Project: Colour Relationships

Exercise 4 : Colours into tones in black and white

I have done some black and white images since getting my dslr a year ago but have mainly concentrated on colour. I’ve become more interested in black and white though recently particularly since I’ve started with another attempt to learn to draw.  This has had a parallel effect of making me more aware of lines, curves, and shadows and creating tones with just a pencil.

The example given in the Handbook (p. 97) beautifully illustrates the effect of using different coloured filters on a black and white conversion.  I decided to use some brightly coloured pieces of lego to do the exercise.  I placed the pieces on grey card , which I also used for the back.

1. Original

2. Neutral

g                        y        b               r

3. Yellow

g                      y       b                  r

4. Red

g                        y       b              r

Yellow and red filters have a fairly similar effect.  It was a surprise to see how pale the red lego becomes.

5. Blue

g                     y     b                    r

The blue filter turns blue to a grey-white ( having a similar effect to that of the yellow and red filters on red).  Red becomes at its darkest with a blue filter

6. Green

g                        y        b               r

The green filter turns yellow to a grayish white.  Apart from that, the other colours are pretty much the same as in neutral, although blue turns to a slightly darker grey..

Having just done the exercise I’m finding it quite hard to keep the permutations in my head and I’ve devised a table in the hope that this might help me to absorb them.

———-  Colours ———–

 Green   Yellow  Blue  Red
Yellow black white  black-black grey-white
Red dark-black  white black grey-white
Blue dark grey  grey-black grey-white black
Green grey  grayish-white dark-grey mid-grey

The changes in tone are very obvious.  Presumably  you have to use layering, using the different filters to emphasize certain objects while suppressing others.  At the moment that seems a complicated procedure to me but I’m going to keep it in mind as I attempt more black and white conversions. One thing I have done though is to experiment more simply with the various filters in Photoshop and also in Nik software.

I took this photograph the other day.  I like the tree roots and the way the tree on the left appears to be hugging the one on the right.  There is also a blue rope which local children use to swing themselves around with.  I thought the rope might be a useful colour accent to use for the next Assignment but it isn’t large/striking enough.  I’ve just been given a present of a book on Ansel Adams though and have been wondering what black and white processing could be used to simulate his techniques. I’ve also become interested in de-saturation effects and bleach bypass. When I spoke with Jose Navarro at the recent Study Day, he explained that bleach bypass can be achieved through colour de-saturation and increasing contrast.  In Photoshop I  increased the contrast in Levels by 2 and then went into the Nik Color Efex and used the bleach bypass  filter, also increasing the tonal contrast there.

It doesn’t show as well in the smaller size but there is a more rugged effect here.

I then went to the black and white conversion filter, where I increased the yellow filter by 158% because this seemed to give the type of brightness I was looking for.  I worked at the brightness contrast, shadows and highlights until I achieved an effect I liked and then saved this as a pre-set.

I have to be honest and say I don’t really think I’ve approached Ansel Adams yet.  Mind you he had the Yosemites and I don’t!  Also I’ve been reminded that there are rocks etc there which bring in certain grey tones and more sculpturing which we don’t have in our local Common.  The colours on the Common are predominantly  green, brown and sand colour, so there is a hint of red.  At least I’ve made a start and this particular exercise has helped me to think about changes I can make.

I also had another try with a photograph I took in Seaford earlier in the year.

I didn’t use bleach bypass because I didn’t think it would be effective here as  it is already a pale/misty scene. Again, I played around with the black and white conversion filter in Color Efex.

Doing this whole exercise has certainly spurred me on to work more with black and white.

July 2011

“Figures and Fictions” Contemporary South African Photography Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum 2011

Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography

OCA Study Group Visit to the Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum

I visited on 2nd July and I’m going to quote here from the Exhibition leaflet:-

Figures & Fictions presents the work of 17 South African photographers, all of whom live and work in the country and whose images were made between 2000 and 2010.  Each photographer is represented by one or more projects that are linked with South Africa’s political and photographic past and the ethics and poetics of picturing people.”  As such they also represent the changes in South African photography over the years from documenting the effects of Apartheid

I’m not going to describe each photograph or even a photograph from each photographer.  Instead I will focus upon photographs/ photographers that particularly interested me and why.

Pieter and Maryana Vermeulen with Timana Phosiw – Pieter Hugo

This is the first photograph which greets you as you enter the Exhibition gallery.  The photographer is Pieter Hugo and this image is part of a set Messina/Musina which raises questions regarding race and the nature of family (  His website includes transcript of an interview where he talks about the portraits he took of firstly couples then families. He makes an interesting point about the dynamics which took place between adults and children when he ‘gave them a bit of space with minor art direction’. He also talks about the way in which he is subverting the unreality of commissioned portraits by applying the notion of commissioned portraits (ie a perfect family) and showing it in a different way.

So far as this particular portrait is concerned you can look at it in different ways – grandparents with child or foster parents for example.  However, Pieter Hugo tells us that this is the little boy of their landlord and they are taking care of him because the father was shot during a heist and is in hospital.

Of course, this portrait is also subverting another, older stereotype – that of a black nanny taking care of a white child and there is such a photograph in another Exhibition of photographs taken by David Goldblatt during the Apartheid years.

The Hyena and other men – Pieter Hugo

The Exhibition also shows an image from this series.  At first I didn’t like it.  It reminded me of young men with pit bull type terriers in this Country and the aura of violence and aggression.  Were these men keeping the hyenas as pets?  If so, they seemed  a strange companion. The photographs stayed in my head though and also the desaturated colours.  I read more about it on his website where he gives a fascinating account of  his meetings over time with the travelling sellers of traditional medicines, from Nigeria, who tame hyenas for street performances.  He sees this relationship as a metaphor for the  ‘fraught relationships we have with ourselves, with animals and with nature’. (

Real Beauty – Jodi Bieber

These are from a series which relates to the increasing influence in South Africa of Western ideals of female body shape. Bieber asked for female volunteers and photographed them in their own homes in poses of their choice. (

There is obviously more context in the second portrait.  Here is the older lady; with an insouciant air: in her kitchen, with cigarette in hand.  I almost expected her to have a cocktail in the other.

I had a mini discussion about these images and we agreed that those poses are the kind that we might make in the privacy of our own homes when we’re examining our figures and how we look.  In that sense, to me, some of us are sharing the same concerns between two cultures. I’ve seen these types of image before, particularly in the Dove advertising campaign but also in various women’s magazines and I think it’s good for photographers (particularly women photographers) to be subverting media representations of ‘the perfect woman and how she should look’.

Against this, I contrast another photographer taken by Bieber which is not in this Exhibition.  This is of a beautiful Afghan young woman whose face  was brutally mutilated by her Taliban husband and in-laws for seeking protection from their brutal treatment. The powerful image appeared on the cover of Times Magazine. A fund was set up – The Bibi Aishan fund  (  for Bibi’s care and she received reconstructive surgery.

There’s such a contrast here and I first thought that “Real Beauty’ seemed a rather banal series.  However, most women are affected by society’s expectations of ‘the perfect woman’.  We go as well from the stark contrast between aspirations towards beauty and those who wish to destroy it.

Young Afrikaner – a Self Portrait – Roelof Petrus Van Wyk

A collection of images of Van Wyk’s peer group.  It was odd but to me – they looked pale and insipid at first sight and I didn’t find them interesting.  In fact, thinking about the images now they reminded me of the children in John Wyndham’s book – The Midwych Cuckoos possessed by aliens and looking like clones. The leaflet information refers to Van Wyk’s generation  (young members of the Afrikaner community) and their concern with questioning the historic roles of their parents and redefining their identity as ‘Africans’

The collection draws upon the anthropological conventions once used for cataloguing ‘racial types’ by subjecting them to photographic display and measurement, with, this time, the Afrtikaners being seen as ‘other’.  I am therefore assuming that Van Wyk chose only those young people who conform to this ‘type’.

Obviously this is a negative as it were of similar photographs of black ‘racial’ types and the black backgrounds also contribute to making them look very ‘white’.  I’ve been asking myself why these young people wish to define themselves by how similar they are rather than how different they are from each other but, having looked again at Roelof Van Wyk’s website (, I can see physical differences in face shape and hair colour for example.

Tradesmen – David Goldblatt

Born in 1930 (and so the oldest photographer in the Exhibition) has photographed his native Country since the late 1940s.  He continues to work in the documentary tradition.  His earlier photographs were in black and white and I looked later at a display of his work from the Apartheid years.

Tradesmen is one of the projects shown in the Figures & Fictions Exhibition. Artisans were photographed at their workplaces next to hand-painted roadside signs advertising their services. I was particularly attracted towards one of Ericson Ngomane who is a painter. I haven’t been able to find an image of it but the colour looked mellow and almost duotone.  I discussed this with one of our tutors, Jose Navarro and he said he thought it was achieved through bleach bypass – a process which desaturates colour and then increases contrast.

Street Party – Mikhael Subotzky

Subotzky’s recent work captures the structures and rituals of surveillance and this photograph is from a series, Security whose subject is the guards employed by the middle and upper classes for protection.  I had recently been involved in a street party to celebrate the Royal Wedding and it was initially the contrast with my own experience which drew me to this image.

We had a sunny day with lots of colour, activity, movement and enjoyment. The street party here looked static, hemmed-in. I explored it closely and spent time trying to work out how the effect was gained. The colours are almost de-saturated with heavy red, oranges and greens. There are quite a few people but they look almost huddled together around the table.  The guard is some distance away and looks half-asleep.  There is a barbecue which, in the perspective almost looks like a barrier. The gates and railings could just as well be keeping the people in as keeping others out. From the way the light falls it looks as though the sun is setting and, if I was being fanciful I might almost say it looks like a metaphor for the sun setting on a society which used to rely upon the subjection of one people for the benefit of another.

Chasing Shadows – Santu Mofokeng

This series represents a set of caves used as both a Christian prayer site and a place of traditional healing.  The leaflet states that, “He has long been engaged with the poetic and symbolic potential of black and white photography. To me they had an old testament feel and a lovely use of shadow and light to create a sense of mystery and spirituality.


Colour; muted tones,; shadow and light; images exploring links between the past and present South Africa and also some universal preoccupations.  There was so much to see and discuss at this Exhibition and I’m pleased I had the opportunity for the visit.

July 2011


Project : Colour Relationships – Exercise 3

Project: Colour Relationships

Exercise 3 : Colour Relationships

a) Combinations of primary and secondary colours

Taking into account the harmonic relationships suggested by J. W  Von Goethe, with the brightness values of yellow 9, orange 8, red and green 6, blue 4 and violet 3.

Red and green should be 1:1.  The red phone box appears quite dominant in the scene, but I’ve taken into account the green of the tress and grass as well as  the litter bin.

Orange and blue should be 1:2.  Sainsbury’s shopping trolleys are orange and blue something that had escaped my attention before.  I cropped this image to attempt the correct ratio.  I’m still not sure I’ve captured it, although the blue handles are larger in the foreground which does  bring the blue more to the forefront.

Macro shot of a viola which I was sure was violet.  To me, a flower, being from nature should contain natural harmonic colour relationships. The ratio, according to Goethe, should be 1:3. It’s almost there but not quite.

b) Colour combinations which appeal to me

This shop window  shouted out to me as I went past it a few weeks ago.  It was the orange which drew me.  It doesn’t fit the ratio of course, despite the several shades of blue which can be seen, so there is a marked imbalance.  It’s just a splash of hot colour .  The lettering at the top of it looks near to violet so primary and secondary colours are all there.

Blue and orange hues again and I think the ratios are there.  I like the more muted tones. The rust is more towards the yellow spectrum and the blue has some green with white I think.

I went into one of our local charity shops this morning and immediately noticed the wonderful orange boots.  I admired them and their owner agreed and said she thought they went really well with her tights.  What a combination – certainly eye-catching.

There is more green than red here, although the  red of the poppies is bright. wooden fence has reddish tones as well and provides balance.

I like clear, bright colours on the whole although, since starting the Course, I’ve come to appreciate more muted/de-saturated colours as well.

July 2011

Project: Building a library of colours

Project – Building a library of colours

Exercise  2: Primary and Secondary Colours

Scenes or parts of a scene which are each dominated by a single one of the primary and secondary colours.

As a result of this exercise, I found that I was going round quite entranced by colours and being much more aware of them.  The green of grass, shrubs, flowers attracted me the most.  I always enjoy walking on our local Common and being amongst flowers but I found myself more sensitised to all the different variations in the colour green. I  recently visited an allotment, and two different types of gardens which were included in a local ‘garden safari’.  When I came to process the images I found that, in some senses I had captured too much green because it was harder to see the variations. I mentioned this recently to Jose Navarro on a Study Day and he told me that green is the hardest colour for photographers to capture because it absorbs so much ultra violet light.

When visiting The Cult of Beauty Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum recently I was struck by the vivid red and oranges captured by some of the painters such as “Faustine’, Maxwell Armfield and “Midsummer”, Albert Moore. I also became much more aware of modern gaudiness, particularly in colurs used on shop fronts and how some colours and combinations almost hurt my eyes. I’ll write more about this when I come onto Colour Relationships.

The Photography Course Supplement gives a comment from Johannes Itten that colours, ‘have a mystical capacity for spiritual expression without being tied to objects’ (p.3). Vittorio Storaro, the Italian Cinematogropher,  is inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s theory around the psychological effects of colours.  In an interview  in the film, ‘Visions of Light’ Storaro explains that  he first worked with all sorts of light, working with opposites.  He then describes how he used colour in the film, ‘The Last Emperor’.  Red is the beginning when Emperor Pu Yi  is cutting his wrists – red, the colour of blood when we are born. The colour orange is used to denote the warm colours of family. Yellow is used as the colour of identity when the little Emperor flings aside the drapes and his subjects are kneeling before him.  Storaro says he first uses green in the film when the tutor comes on his green bicycle and brings knowledge. The green of knowledge has been a ‘forbidden’ colour for the Emperor until now. I thought ‘The Last Emperor’ was a wonderfully made film but hadn’t realised until now how my emotional responses might have been manipulated in that fashion.

I’m wondering as well how much Storaro might have been basing his typology on the Taoist theory of The Five Elements, which led to its associated colour cyle and the use of five main colours, black, white, red, green and yellow. According to one website ( yellow was associated with royalty; the yellow earth and the yellow river which runs through China. The colour red represented happiness and joy and only the Emperor’s family could have homes with red walls and yellow roof tiles.

Colour Wheel

The Colours

Any quotes I give below are from the Photography Course supplement unless I state otherwise. I’m also comparing the colours with the knowledge that colour in photography is achieved in a different way from that in paint and also that colours take on a different aspect when placed next to other colours – something that will come in later exercises.

There has also been an interesting debate on the OCA student forums concerning whether or not women perceive colours ‘better’ than men. This was a question I asked myself when preparing for this part of the Course (see previous post). There was a link to a colour perception test on  A perfect score is 0.  I scored 8 which isn’t too bad really and my weakness is around the blue/green spectrum.  My husband tried it and he scored 12, with his weakness being around the blue/red spectrum. We do disagree on whether colours are blue and green and it looks as if his perception is better on that than mine.  I hate to think he might be right on this occasion!


“Expressively, yellow is vigorous and sharp, the opposite of placid and restful”

a)    metered exposure

b) minus .5 exposure

c) plus .5 exposure

To my eyes the plus.5 exposure more closely matches the colour yellow in the wheel. I have to take into account though that there is some green in the foreground and background which will also affect how the colour is seen.


“Orange is the mixture of red and yellow. red  radiates energy, yellow radiates light. Orange is a colour very much associated with radiation.”

The Common was carpeted with freshly fallen pine cones the other day and, for the first time, I saw how orange it was underneath the needles. The colour rapidly changes to brown though after only a few days.

a)    Metered exposure

b)   Minus .5 exposure

c)    Plus.5 exposure

I think the exposure as metered is probably the nearest although I’m disappointed that I haven’t captured enough of the orangeness I could see. Probably this bricked-in arch is the nearest orange to the colour wheel I’m using.  I checked the saturation and it is more on the red than the yellow spectrum.


‘Red advances towards the viewer. It has considerable kinetic energy” .

The red on the scanned-in wheel is really more towards brown I think so the red strawberries don’t really match. The red poppy below may be a better match because it is more toward the crimson red that I can see on the wheel in the Handbook. Of course it is against the small green leaves which, again, affects perception of the colour.


“Violet is a mixture of blue and red. It has rich and sumptuous associations.”  I know this is just a working van, not in natural colours, and it doesn’t exactly look sumptuous but, when I saw it at the local garden centre, I immediately thought, “That must be violet!”. To me, though, the violet on the colour wheel looks more like the colour I would term purple.

a) metered exposure

b)   minus one exposure

c) plus one exposure

It was a bright day and I think that the minus exposure brings out the colour more vividly. I think, thought, that the van is closer to red than it is to blue (the two colours which combine to produce violet).

The following isn’t one of my best images by a long way but I’ve played around with it in an attempt to match violet.


“Expressively blue is, above all, cool…..It suggests a withdrawn, reflective mood”(p.6)

To me, the blue on the colour wheel is a deep blue and I get an intense rather than cool feeling from it.

a) metered exposure

b) minus .5 exposure

c) plus .5 exposure

There isn’t a great deal of difference between the metered and the minus .5 exposure but I think that, on balance the minus .5 exposure is nearest to the blue on the wheel.  The green grass and pale dogs might also be affecting perception so I’ve cropped just the sky to see how that looks.

the blue on the wheel is what I would have called ‘royal blue’.  I’ve looekd at images I already have and cropped the towel from this one

I played around with it in photoshop in attempt to make the colour deeper (you can see that the blue hue now appears in the walls) It’s nearer but still not that deep, soft blue which appears on the wheel.  I thought that the domes of the churches in Santorini, Greece, might be nearer but they aren’t.


“Green is the colour of growth”.

a) as metered

b) minus one

c) plus one

It looks as if the plus1 exposure is the nearest  I think that, probably, plus.5 might have been nearer though.

One thing I discovered about photographing greenery is that , whereas I can see all the different shades of green with my eye there can be a tendency in the actual photograph for them to blur together and become somewhat amorphous. Maybe green does need to be placed next to another colour for it’s richness to be truly appreciated.


I haven’t found it easy to specifically match the colours on the wheel provided but, even, so the exercise has made me much more aware of colours in general. Changing the exposure affects the intensity of colour and perception of colour alters according to their relationship to other colours. Light/time of day also affect colour.


Glassman, A, 1992, “Visions of Light. The Art of Cinematography” , American Film Institute

‘Basic Colour Theory’, OCA Photography Course Supplement