Yesterday, I wrote about converting a color photograph to black and white to make the subject stand out. Color attracts our attention, and bright saturated colors in the foreground or background can attract our attention away from the subject. Converting the photograph to black and white can being the focus back to the subject.
In other situations, the subject itself is the pop of color, like the bright red of an umbrella on a gray rainy day, or the contrast between the reddish orange rust on the metal pipes and the green plants growing between them, in these photographs I took on my rooftop.
The original photo feels very cluttered: the yellows of the pipes and the walls behind them reduce the potency of both the reds and the greens. In the black and white conversion, the texture of the black mold on the wall overpowers the composition, and the rusty valves and the delicate leaves are both lost in the shadows.
In the final edit, I increased the saturation and luminosity of red, orange and green. I also moved the hue of orange towards red, as red and green are on the opposite sides of the light color wheel. I then desaturated all other colors to zero. It mainly impacted the yellows: the wall and the pipes become monochromatic, and the leaves become pure green. I think the final edit strengthens the geometrical lines of the pipes and the pops of contrasting red and green that attracted me to the composition to begin with. Which one do you prefer?
I’m discovering that photography is essentially a reductive medium. We start with the whole wide world, then choose to frame a small sliver of it in our viewfinder. Sometimes, we focus on a part of the frame with a shallow depth of field and blur the foreground and background into bokeh. Sometimes, we saturate or sharpen a part of the image in editing to make it more prominent, and desaturate or darken other parts to make them less prominent. Every photo, thus, is series of reductions, deliberate or accidental. Learning photography is learning to become more deliberate in these reductions.