Before we get into how you can get better with seeing and using color let us discuss why talking about color is important:
Far gone are the days of black and white only. Almost everything we visually consume is in color. If it is not it is an artistic choice but we are no longer limited by technology to only display monochromatic to consumers and thus can communicate many more messages to these consumers.
This is highly important in the field of advertising as colors help to contribute to the appeal and make more sales. The appeal and emotion portrait in images are also important in the fine arts. So, we need to know, understand the theory behind it and we need to practically use this knowledge to create more value for our customers.
The 80/20 Rule of Retouching:
As an experienced retoucher, I know that the most time-consuming tasks only contribute about 20% to the effect of the final image and yet can take up to 80% of your time spent on an image.
In reverse this means, there are tasks which only take up little of your time and contribute hugely to improving an image.
Color is one of these retouching tasks!
With just a few, well-done adjustments you can drastically alter your image (hopefully for the better). I say this to put emphasis on how important it is to be good not only with skin clean up, dodging and burning, hair retouching, but with color theory and its application.
Promises Of The Internet
When you browse the internet for solutions you are getting sold everything around color. Tons of Quick Solutions, how to get results in no time, easy cinematic color grading, learn the art of color, mastering advanced color grading (a course for 15 bucks), color grading made easy, tons of actions for fine art, fashion, professional color grading styles,…
In short: you really have to look hard to find structured information that is not based just on how to manipulate color with a certain program or the typical “this is how I do things, hope it works for you too”.
It Is A Process
None of these courses I found provide you with the information you need to make your own reasonable decisions. That is why I decided to make this episode and give you a few tips on what you can look up, try and practice with. And over time, your color vision and knowledge will increase.
Please, note that it takes time and practice. While you might think you cannot change the way you see color as of it being a purely physical factor, please, let me tell you wrong in this. My color vision once was quite bad too!
I remember, when I was getting into retouching. I browsed a lot of forums and also looked up competitions in there. I could not understand how they could favor some images over others.
I even remember one forum member mentioning that he or she could clearly see how far ahead in terms of technique and quality someone else was in that thread, while I was wondering “what the heck was different” in these two’s images.
Over time this changed for me. It surely is different for every person as we all have different abilities to begin with but when you make improvements you all the sudden will see things you never noticed before!
Color vision can be trained!
Learn About Your Strengths And Weaknesses
A good way to determine how your color vision currently is is to use the X-Rite color test.
The test is really simple. You are to bring a few color swatches in order. In the test, they target specific hue ranges, and if you lack the ability to see or better differentiate within a certain hue range they will let you know after the test, including a visual representation.
Here are my current results. One try, no cheating. But remember, this was not always the case for me. When I first took that test, it was far from being correct. I have done the test a couple of times over the years and slowly it has gotten to the point where I now solve this with 100% correct or mix up just two swatches.
How To Get Better Color Understanding?
So, I now spent quite some time explaining why color is important, I do this because to me it is equally important for you to understand why you should invest time into learning this properly and not just overlook it as something that hardly plays a role or relies on quick fixes or solutions for your color work.
But now let’s get into what my tips are for you to up your color game:
Also, please note, this is not to give you all the information possible on the topic of color. That would hardly be possible in one episode or article. The tips are meant to help you estimate your strengths and weaknesses and to work on them efficiently.
1. Play Color Puzzle Games
I found myself enjoying a game on my phone. It is called “I Love Hue“.
similarly to the X/Rite Color test, you are asked to reorder some colors tiles. The great thing about the game is that difficulty increases. You start with easy to differentiate colors, but also have a bunch of fixed colors in place which helps with your “orientation” in the hue space.
The game helps you with
- strengthening your color perception and
- learn harmonies, chroma, and hue differences.
2. Learn Color Relations and Color Harmonies
You can use tools like Adobe color or paleton to learn about harmonies and also create a color palette to import into photoshop. You can then use these color swatches as a visual reference or to directly sample the color from. This can be very helpful to work consistently with the pre-selected colors.
Read more on how to use Adobe Color and color assets in Photoshop.
To give you a quick and easy visual reference I will add a link to a nice blog post on combining colors and the color harmonies we generally know and differentiate: Read on color harmonies.
3. Learn From The Best
As with many things, looking at what experienced people do or what is currently trending helps you to understand what your clients want and need. To help you with that, we are currently working on a blog post, showcasing the 3 most impactful color themes used throughout the fashion and advertising industry. The article is going to be linked and published here when it goes live.
4.Learn About Color Psychology
When we talk about colors and psychology we can have a look at how it is used in marketing. This sector is also the most studied sector in color psychology as it directly links to how much money a company can make, both, directly and indirectly.
Recording to academic studies, color is helping us to associate hues with certain brands. Make a connection over saturation and value of a color to draw conclusions over brand personality traits. The studies also demonstrate how colors influence our purchasing intent but also influence brand likability, brand perception, recognition and so on.
In terms of the fashion industry, there are also studies on customer preferences for color combinations.
There are a few more ways to categorize colors:
- active vs passive colors
- warm vs cold colors
5. Do not Rely On Automation
As I already mentioned before, when you search for color grading you will be offered tons of quick solutions. From tutorials only demonstrating how to move a few sliders to color grading packs, promising you to deliver the most professional results.
In reality, there is no way around getting your hands dirty and learning the fundamentals of the topic you are interested in. In other words, relying on shortcuts takes away from your learning experience and might ultimately build up road-blocks on your way to mastering color.
My recommendation here is to clearly stay away from any automation in the process of working on color. At least for as long as you feel like you exactly want to get out of an image and then use presets or luts to help you get to your goal faster.
Now get out, learn and practice!