To colour or not to colour?

In the last few months I have noticed a flood of strongly de-saturated imagery on the Internet as if colour had suddenly fallen out of fashion. I have even heard an opinion that using strong colour is not professional.

Part of the reason could be the rising popularity of HDR-like, oversaturated imagery, which indeed looks awful and in my view has very little to do with photography. The other reason could be the plethora of presets, which in the most part try to emulate film – very often with mixed results.

Coming back to the topic of colour in photography, I always make my decision whether or not to use colour based on the following line of thought:

  • Does colour add anything to my image?
  • Does it distract the viewer from the message I am trying to convey?
  • Is it visually pleasing?
  • Would B&W be better suited for this situation?

Very often when shooting I look for strong colours: red or yellow walls, graffiti, rusty metal construction, etc. Since most of the time I shoot in the early morning and late evening and look for post-storm light, many of my images look strongly saturated. To understand my point, find an old, rusted bridge or yellow/orange wall in your area and take a look at it on a dull rainy day. Then do the same at sunrise or sunset (ideally with plenty of clouds) – it will most likely turn unnaturally yellow/orange. This is exactly what I am looking for.

My point is that as long as your photo subject offers something colourful and pleasing to the eye, warm light will enhance the colour even more. Don’t be afraid – it’s OK!

On the other hand, avoid the pitfall of taking a photograph of colourful subjects in dull light and then trying to “pop” the colour using the saturation slider in the software – it is not going to work and it will look awful.

In sum, colour plays an important role in photography but it must carry enough weight to be there, to enhance the image and not distract from your main message. Keep in mind that some images may even lose their power when presented in colour.

On the other hand, well-composed and thought-out imagery with naturally (by using the right lighting conditions) enhanced colours could make a very powerful and positive impact on the viewer – pure visual pleasure.

The imagery below shows my point. All the places look average on a normal day. However, when coupled with warm, diffused light they turn magically colourful and interesting. See for yourself.

All images are shot with the Fuji X-Pro1, X-E1 and a variety of Fujinon XF lenses.

© osztaba_burnaby_20120426_DSCF2024-Edit

© osztaba_squamish_20120526_DSCF3064-Edit-2

© osztaba_port_moody_20120718_DSCF4458-Edit


©osztaba_vancouver_13-03-03_DSCF1479 1

©osztaba_vancouver_13-03-03_DSCF1461 1

© osztaba_pitt_20121125_DSCF7944-Edit

© osztaba_pitt_20121025_DSCF7422-Edit

©osztaba_vancouver_13-03-03_DSCF1470 1

©osztaba_vancouver_13-03-03_DSCF1492 1




… and the last image is from our latest road trip. Stay tuned for more imagery.


© Olaf Sztaba Photography, All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “To colour or not to colour?

  1. Hi

    An excellent and timely post. I feel it’s important to keep in mind what we feel, and what we want to achieve. It’s too easy to be swayed by the latest fad or technique. If it meets your needs, use it; if it doesn’t don’t.

    I enjoy your posts. They are about real-life photography. Goof photographs too!

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