Trees in Colour

An oak tree in early autumn. The vibrant palette gives the tree a bold presence,  heightened by limiting the dominant tones to red and blue, which increase the perceived contrast somewhat. Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1, Olympus 14-42 mm kit zoom.
An oak tree in early autumn. The vibrant palette gives the tree a bold presence, heightened by limiting the dominant colours to red and blue, which increase the perceived contrast. Reds and blues also form relatively simple shapes in the photo, which adds to the boldness of the tree. Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1, Olympus 14-42mm kit zoom.

Dear readers, I must start with a confession: two weeks ago, I lied. I wrote, quite explicitly, that I would post five, maybe even six colour photos of trees this week. Regrettably, I must inform you that I’m actually posting seven. My humblest apologies for having misled you, and for delivering more than I promised to deliver. I just hope you can forgive me. (I also hope you realise this is strictly a tongue-in-cheek paragraph).

A pastel blue-grey sky and black silhouettes dominate this shot, creating a subdued atmosphere (it was rather a cold and eerie shoot).
A pastel blue-grey sky and black silhouettes dominate this shot, creating a subdued atmosphere (it was rather a cold and eerie shoot). The fading glow of the receding sun is effectively suppressed by the gloomy sky (both in terms of colour dominance and physical placement). At lower left, the brace of vehicles hints at the contents of the foreground, but the general paucity of detail encourages some imagination as to what this location is. Unless you realise it’s Jubilee Park in Dunedin. Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Olympus 60mm Macro.

Colour is a peculiar being: bold, forthright and assertive; or nuanced, subtle and gentle. These elements dictate the palette (vibrant or pastel), and may be augmented by controlling the breadth of colours on the palette. I’ve trawled through a smattering of photos from the past 12 months, and selected photos which I feel present most of these elements in their various guises.

The wispy clouds, silhouetted trees and warm tint imply that this is a sepia toned photo. However, the daubs of dusky blue trumpeting from the top right down to the left middle, suggest this may be quasi-sepia (which it is). Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Olympus 60mm Macro.
The wispy clouds, silhouetted trees and warm tint imply that this is a sepia toned photo. However, the daubs of dusky blue trumpeting from the top right down to the left middle, suggest this may be quasi-sepia (which it is). Lighter clouds, in my experience, diffuse light more broadly than denser clouds (which absorb most of it), leading to the wider propagation of dominant tones and a more pastel palette.  Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Olympus 60mm Macro.

Subtlety of colours can provoke pondering in the viewer’s mind. Limiting the range of colours, using silhouetting and muted vibrancy, can lead to a quasi-sepia or quasi-black-and-white effect, without completely removing colour from the photo. There’s a classic example of this in an old Leica magazine from the 1970’s, which depicted a lake at sunset on a heavily overcast day. Overall, the impression was one of black and white, but the sliver of silver dancing across the rippling water forced you to wonder if it was actually a colour photo.

Limited tones in action, again. The shape of the silhouetted foreground foliage accentuates this by leading the eye to the prominent feature (the green foliage). Olympus PEn Mini E-PM1, Olympus 15mm body cap lens.
Limited colours in action, again. The shape of the silhouetted foreground foliage accentuates this by leading the eye to the prominent feature (the green foliage). Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1, Olympus 15mm body cap lens.

Shaping colour, where different colours are split into simple shapes that meld together into the photo, is especially effective with vibrant tones. This heightens the bold effect of vibrant colours, by packaging them in strong, visually distinctive outlines. Where the colours have reasonably high contrast between one another (such as blue and yellow), shaping can really give a visual boost, and forms the backbone of most patterns. The best example that comes to mind is a checkerboard, where you have the extremely contrasty black and white alternating between adjacent squares.

The colours have been shaped in the photo both vertically and horizontally. Along the ground are rectangles alternating between light (green) and dark (grey or brown). Some context is added by the dark-light-dark-light pattern of tones heading into the distance. Vertically, we have light tree trunks, interspersed by swathes of green. Also, the sky forms a light triangle juxtaposed against the dark triangle of the landscape. Combined, these cause the trees to stand out from the background, and each other, whilst the tapering sky leads the eyes along the path into the distance. Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 with Olympus 15mm body cap lens.
The colours have been shaped in the photo both vertically and horizontally. Along the ground are rectangles alternating between light (green) and dark (grey or brown) tones. Some context is added by the dark-light-dark-light pattern heading into the distance. Vertically, we have light tree trunks, interspersed by swathes of green. Also, the sky forms a bright triangle juxtaposed against the dark triangle of the landscape. Combined, these cause the trees to stand out from the background, and each other, whilst the tapering sky leads the eyes along the path into the distance. Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1 with Olympus 15mm body cap lens.

Silhouettes are very effective in colour, and the backbone of countless sunrise and sunset photos. Silhouetted shapes can be utilised to direct attention to a feature more promptly, reinforce the dominance of a feature, or to ascribe dominance to a feature that would normally fade (through pastel tones or an overall lack of contrasty lighting). These are just a few of the common ways I use them, but there are undoubtedly more. Shaping colour ties in with silhouetting, as the silhouette is a dark tone shape, acting against whatever corresponding shape (or shapes) it has caused in the rest of the colours.

The lens flare adds extra tones in a visually interesting shape which stands along from the background.
The lens flare adds extra colours in a visually interesting cluster of shapes which stand alone from the background. This gives a slightly broader colour palette, though still dominated by a vibrant blue sky, against the slumping greens of the tree line. Olympus OM-D with Olympus 12-50mm kit zoom.

So, that was the six promised photos of trees in colour, interspersed with a few musings (I need to stop putting those in “photo” posts!) on the topic of using colour in photos (which are not necessarily of trees). Now, to leave you with the promise breaking photo…

This photo has the
This photo has what I consider to be the most hybridised palette I’ve presented in this post: pastel green to vibrant green; with the rusty browns, frosty lichens and buttoned-down browns of the pine tree. Sandy pools of light on the path intersperse this, alongside the pale timber of the edging, and sullen greys of the shaded areas. It’s also possible to call this a human interest photo, as there is a human in it, who is potentially interesting. Olympus PEN Mini E-PM1, Olympus 15mm body cap lens.