Chasing Colour

In The Craft, The Life Creative by David14 Comments

Two weeks ago, I talked to you about my four Un-Stuck Filters, four techniques I use when I’m shooting to put a little more life into my images and give me a good place from which to begin.

But what if you’re just not seeing anything?

We’ve all had those days. That’s when I give myself an assignment. Something fun and simple. And because I so often focus on great moments and stories, my choice is often colour and reflections.

Forget the epic stuff. Forget the pressure to perform. Just focus on something that delights you.

These are the kinds of things I go looking for. Strong graphic qualities. Shape. Colour. Harmony. I shot all of these a couple years ago in Italy while I was feeling uninspired and not making my “real photographs.” Funny what sometimes happens when you stop trying so damn hard.

The beautiful thing is you can photograph colour anywhere.

Got a macro lens? Get outside and look for colour in the smallest flowering plants. Stuck in the house? Do the same with whatever you’ve got but defocus the lens and shoot so nothing is recognizable. You can use multiple exposures, you can use motion blur, or keep it more literal, but just shoot colour. Look for different combinations and don’t worry about what the thing you’re photographing is.

Your subject is colour itself. Don’t overthink it. Feel your way through.

We can often be very literal, and so we see some mundane thing and think to ourselves, “It’s just a laundry basket,” even though the light and shadows and colours might be fascinating and worth photographing.

Seeing as a photographer is not easy because you don’t just need to see the way the eye sees, but the way the camera sees.

You have to be able to see a scene at 28mm but also at 300mm. You have to be able to see elements pushed together (long lens) or pulled apart (wide lens), never mind the possibilities with motion and blur and other kinds of abstractions.

But when you say to yourself, “I’m just going to look for colour,” you’re more likely to see it. Look for shapes, lines, shadows, reflections, textures.

There are a lot of heavy emails landing in my inbox these days; I suspect it could be the same for you. I just wanted to send a little delight your way—a reminder to have fun with this. No, you can’t travel right now, but you can discover whole new worlds with a macro lens and some flowers. I once spent a week photographing whisky on ice in a glass, and it was amazing what I saw and photographed. In fact, just writing that makes me want to give that another try. I take my craft seriously, but that’s no reason to take myself too seriously.

I wonder if chasing some colour isn’t exactly what some of us need right now—just for the joy of it.

For the Love of the Photograph,

PS – Still reading? Can I ask you a favour? Almost 2 months ago I launched my new book, The Heart of the Photograph. If you’ve read that book and got something out of it, would you mind leaving me a review on Amazon or wherever you purchased it? These help so much and if you’re like me you don’t review things unless someone begs you or the book was just really terrible and you need to vent. I’m hoping a personal request and telling you how much it would mean to me, and help future would-be readers, will nudge you towards leaving a short, honest, and enthusiastic review. I’d be so grateful.

I know even getting a copy of this book has been a challenge for many of you. It really has come out at the worst time. I’ve still got a small handful of copies here at my home if you’d like one signed and sent to you. Just click here.


  1. I really like the idea of a simple assignment. I feel like I might struggle with looking just for color and not seeing the objects that are present. I think of myself as being very literal and not abstract. Although I did enjoy shooting with my maco lens, at wide open aperture, close ups of items around my house at an off angle so only a small slice of the item was in focus. It was interesting to see how images turned out when only a slice was in focus like that. Sometimes I think I would need someone to give me the assignment it wouldn’t occur to me on my own. I’ll have to revisit this post.

  2. Well, you probably realize that I am a “colorist” so I totally love these images. Love them all, but my absolute favorite is the 5th image in the sequence. Images 2 & 3 are killer, as well!

  3. Thanks for the suggestion. It reminded me of when I took courses in Miksang photography. We had separate sessions concentrating on color or texture or line. What’s fun is that when you start looking for color, you keep noticing the other things you’re NOT looking for! I’ll try it out tomorrow. Also love the whiskey on ice — I’d forgotten how much fun ice cubes can be.

  4. Excellent post. While I shoot a lot of things with my phone, I haven’t picked up my camera in months. I love assignments/challenges like this. And looking for colour is a joyful assignment, so I will be tackling this one. Thank you.

    I adore your colour photos. They’re vibrant and exciting!

  5. Thanks David the examples were really graphically enjoyable. Was struggling with the whole concept 4-6 weeks ago on what to do given the reality of life with Covid. My foolish conclusion was to make lemonade and the old joke goes.

    As we are all sheltered in place here in Illinois I decided that i’d strap my 105mm micro on my D850 and i would limit subjects in focus no further than 12″ away. Assignments that are a bit different than my norms feel good once you actually get into them. I think we all procrastinate about venturing off down a dark alley (actually i like dark alleys so maybe thats not the best example for me). Since the rest of the world is spinning I might as well be turned around also. Funny thing is through this process i found some interesting lighting results for compositions that are new to me. Getting tight and not seeing whole objects but instead transparent backlit leaves or overlapping shadows is an fun experiment that I am thinking of how I can adapt it to street photography. At the end of the day just get your butt out and shoot with some purpose in mind.

    1. Author

      Yes, I love it! It’s all about discovery. You’re right about things being so upside down right now. Looking at the world from a different perspective and finding joy in the small things is a gift. Stay well, Charles!

  6. I too love your writing! Thanks for you personal anecdotes and encouragement. I am currently doing exactly what you recommended and it is surprising to see what I have overlooked. I also like your suggestion to play with controls and maybe discover that the blurred shot is actually fantastic.

  7. Should I ask what you did with the whiskey after each shoot? Hoping you didn’t waste it, even if watered down.

    1. Author

      I think you know me well enough that you already know the answer to this, Steve. Whisky is not to be wasted! 🙂

  8. 1000% total agreement. As a street photographer who craves people to capture I am somewhat bereft right now. Coming up with micro-projects that will feed my soul is my goal at the moment. This weekend i walked about downtown looking for shapes as well as light and dark. Also macro shots of urban decay. FED MY SOUL! As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Love your writing.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Deborah. Great quote, too. The way we see determines what we see. Enjoy your photo walks!

  9. My favourite exercise, which I use not only while photographing, is to sit or stand in one spot for a timed ten minutes and look about. No getting up , one spot only. And I am not allowed to dwell on one thing or become distracted by thoughts. Really it is meditation. As a crypto Buddhist (my own definition, can not be bothered with organized religion and labels) this is my own form of practice. However the important thing is by the end of the ten minutes I am flooded with ideas for images. But more importantly I am open to the world and in the zone

    1. Author

      That’s a great exercise, Trevor. I do it often when I travel, just sitting and being present, looking, absorbing, with no agenda or need to make anything, though it’s amazing how often this does result in photographs I’d never see if I’d been in constant motion.

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