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Sensory Overload

Speaking of theory, it is also important to keep in mind that sometimes color can be too much to take in adequately. We’ve all walked into a boutique or store that was an attack on the senses: the scent of a thousand types of potpourri wafted through the air, the store was so crowded with products that you barely had a way to get through to the counter, and the décor was so over the top that your eyes were crossing. After leaving, you might have felt you had just been to a carnival (FIGURE 4.16).


FIGURE 4.16 An upholstery store in Seville, Spain, is a visual feast of color—almost to the point of confusion.

ISO 400, 1/30 sec., f/5.6, 24mm lens

Stacking color upon different color in a frame can often be an image’s downfall, especially when those colors create either too much visual vibration or contrast too much (FIGURE 4.17). There’s no definitive amount of how much is too much. It is more of a feeling you get when shooting. More accurately, it is a feeling you get when looking. Often, great images are those with only a few, if only one, dominant subject matter, one dominant color, and one or two other colors that provide context and background.


FIGURE 4.17 Layers and stacks of complementary, heavily vibrating colors at a popular market in Madrid can create visual dissonance.

ISO 400, 1/50 sec., f/2.8, 50mm lens

This isn’t to say that many colors can’t go together well in a frame. When dealing with lots of colors, it might be more important to consider more strongly your composition. Colors can be harmonious, whether they are analogous or complementary, but they can also be visually chaotic. Chaos can be controlled, though (FIGURE 4.18). Think about tie-dye. Typical tie-dye contains most of the colors present on the color wheel, but it is methodical. It has a certain compositional pattern that makes it work. A lot of color is not something to shy away from, necessarily, but it helps to be fully aware of how it can be physically manipulated or composed to make an image stronger.


FIGURE 4.18 Tulips and other extremely colorful flowers are planted each spring at the university where I teach. Although such color combinations could be excessive in other contexts, the pattern and design here make for a wonderful show of seasonal color in a semi-arid ecosystem.

ISO 400, 1/100 sec., f/16, 17mm lens

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