10 camera techniques to master in 2014: how to control the saturation of colours
In this next section we look at colour photography and how you can use your camera to get accurate colours in your scenes, and then fine tune them on the computer.
Digital cameras offer today’s photographer incredible flexibility. No more carrying two or more SLR bodies loaded with different film stocks, or a bag of colour correction filters to counterbalance unwanted colour shifts in different lighting conditions.
You can now add colour, take it away, make it subtle, make it vivid, make it colder, make it warmer – all in a matter of seconds using a single camera.
What’s more, digital photography adds an extra dimension. It’s now possible to alter colours after you’ve taken the photograph, and with far more subtlety, speed and control than in the past.
The colour of natural light
The auto white balance control on a digital camera is designed to adjust automatically to different light colours, or temperatures, to produce a result as near-neutral as possible. This isn’t always what you want.
Landscape photographers, for example, will be more interested in preserving the natural colour of the light precisely, since it’s often this which gives a landscape shot its character.
Any discussion of colour and digital imaging will soon bring with it some technicalities unfamiliar to film photographers.
One of these is the idea of ‘colour spaces’, which define the colours a camera (or a scanner, printer or computer monitor) can produce.
Makers attempt to standardise these colour spaces so that the different digital imaging devices you use can produce consistent colour.
Most digital cameras and desktop printers use what’s called the ‘sRGB’ colour space. This reproduces a wide enough range of colours for most purposes, and has the advantage of being standard across a wide range of peripherals.
Individual cameras, printers and scanners may also have ‘colour profiles’ which define how that particular device handles colour.
You only need to know about colour profiles if you intend using your software’s colour management system.
Colour temperature can be quantified scientifically using a temperature scale marked in degrees Kelvin. Lighting can vary in ‘colour temperature’ between 2000 degrees Kelvin (warm) and 9500 degrees Kelvin (cold).
This derives from the fact that the light emitted by heated objects produces a spectrum which changes as the temperature increases.
Low-temperature lighting is progressively warmer (more red/yellow), while high-temperature lighting grows progressively colder (more blue).
This is what the white balance control on a digital camera is designed to compensate for. You can either leave it set to ‘automatic’ and hope for the best, or choose a manual preset to match the conditions.
Some high-end digital cameras quote white balance values in degrees Kelvin, but most use named presets corresponding to specific conditions, like Daylight, Tungsten and Shade.
Adjust the Hue/Saturation
At dawn, or during twilight after the sun has gone down, the light is characteristically ‘cold’ and blue, which can produce wonderfully atmospheric low-light shots.
In early morning or late afternoon, the low sun produces a warm glow that’s both attractive and evocative. If you want to preserve the colour of natural light, it’s important that your digital camera doesn’t attempt to ‘correct’ it.
Most landscape shots are best taken using the Daylight setting, since this forces the camera to use a fixed, standardised colour balance.
Similar to sharpening, saturation needs to be used with care if you want to avoid your images looking garish and over-cooked.
In many scenes you’ll find that some colours are much more saturated than others, especially reds and greens, so rather than simply adjusting the saturation of the whole image, you can also target individual colours using the Hue/Saturation control.
Increasing the overall saturation of an image using the Hue/Saturation control can often lead to some of the colours becoming over-saturated, such as the greens in this image.
Using the drop-down menu in the Hue/Saturation window allows you to decrease the saturation of individual colours, which would otherwise lose detail, while boosting the saturation of other colours.
Camera Techniques for 2014: 01 Take control of focus
Camera Techniques for 2014: 02 Get white balance accurate every time
Camera Techniques for 2014: 03 How to focus on moving subjects
Camera Techniques for 2014: 04 How to use exposure compensation
Camera Techniques for 2014: 05 Ways to cope with high-contrast lighting
Camera Techniques for 2014: 06 How to position your subject in the frame
Camera Techniques for 2014: 07 Learn basic TTL flash techniques
Camera Techniques for 2014: 08 Sharpen photos like a pro
Camera Techniques for 2014: 09 How to control the saturation of colours
Camera techniques for 2014: 10 Add depth by using different apertures
Color Theory: the best color combinations for photography (and why they work)
Studio Lighting: 4 seriously simple lighting techniques to try at home
Sunset photography: the only tutorial you need
What is a color wheel: how to find the perfect match for your photos