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Chroma: A Photographer's Guide to Lighting with Color

Chroma: A Photographer's Guide to Lighting with Color

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Chroma: A Photographer's Guide to Lighting with Color

425 pages
1 heure
May 1, 2018


Learning to work with light is an important milestone in every photographer’s career, and the ability to craft light to fit your vision for an image is a skill that cannot be overrated. Most often, that crafting of light is spoken of in terms of the quality and quantity of light. But there is an important, third component of light that heavily influences the final look of the image: the color of light. In Chroma: A Photographer’s Guide to Lighting with Color, photographer Nick Fancher helps you elevate your game when it comes to introducing the bold, creative, and intentional use of color into your work.

Whether you’re using a high-powered strobe or a small hotshoe flash, Chroma is for you. Nick begins with a discussion of color theory, gels, and white balance, then examines how to determine which colors complement your subject matter (whether that’s people or products). He moves on to cover topics such as:

  • Balancing, mixing, and overpowering ambient light with artificial light
  • Layering colors for unique color combinations
  • Mixing hard and soft light to achieve extremely rich color
  • Lighting detail and texture
  • Modifier options, such as ring flash, snoots, barn doors, softboxes, and filters
  • Gobos to control the light
  • Post-processing for vibrant, powerful colors
  • How (and why) to light with color, even when the end goal is a black and white image

Illustrated throughout with innovative and expressive imagery, Chroma also includes behind-the-scenes photos, lighting diagrams, and Lightroom settings so you can follow along from the initial concept through to the final edit.

May 1, 2018

À propos de l'auteur

Nick Fancher is a Columbus, Ohio–based portrait and commerce photographer. He graduated from The Ohio State University with a BFA in fine art photography in 2005. His clients have included JackThreads, ESPN Magazine, The Ohio State University, CVS, and Getty. He adores good coffee, music, and the film work of Charlie Kaufman. He can be found online at nickfancher.com, @nickfancher (Twitter and Instagram), and nickfancherphoto (Facebook).

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Chroma - Nick Fancher



While I suppose nearly every book on photo technique teaches color photography (save for maybe a book about Ansel Adams’ Zone System), this book will delve into the many possibilities afforded to you once you begin implementing color into your lighting. I’ve long been inspired and motivated by bold uses of vibrant colors by photographers such as Nadav Kander and Miles Aldridge. Kander’s subtle use of color in the shadow portions of his portraits are just as powerful and exciting to me as Aldridge’s calculated, yet playful, color schemes in his fashion editorials.

After searching the market to find photography technique books that teach color use in photography, I discovered that there doesn’t seem to be one solely devoted to the topic. Though there are certainly books that touch on using colored gels in photography, I was set on creating a one-stop shop for photographers on color theory and color exploration. I wanted to go as deep into color use as I could imagine, covering the whole gamut. I’ve used colored gels in my lighting for years, but for this book I really wanted to immerse myself in color and go outside my normal comfort zone to see what I could learn in the process.

This book begins with color theory and some of the science behind color, and then moves quickly into creative uses of color, which is where we’ll spend the majority of our time. I’ll go over a variety of techniques, including mixing different light sources, using shutter drag, discussing light modifier options, using projectors in creative ways, and making in-camera multiple exposure. Hell, I even go over how to implement color into your black-and-white photography to gain more control over your images. It’ll be a good time, I promise.

Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing?

–Pablo Picasso

All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.

–Marc Chagall



Color theory was one of my favorite courses in college. I was fascinated to learn that there are theories behind creating compositional balance in art works. Much of how I use color in my images comes from the principles I first learned in that course. The funny thing is, the course wasn’t even required for my major—it was a theory course designed for painting majors.

While entire books (and college courses) have been dedicated to the study and application of color theories, this book focuses on what I have found through my experience as a photographer to be the most fundamental, interesting, and most applicable concepts within this broad topic. The bulk of color theory has to do with the mixing of pigments, which doesn’t concern photographers. Instead of reinventing the (color) wheel, I am going to narrow in on the aspects of color theory that pertain directly to photographers.


The human eye, although vastly more powerful than any camera lens, is still quite limited in its ability to perceive color. The range of colors our eyes can see is referred to as the visible spectrum. The visible specturm begins with white light, which is broken down into a mixture of red, green, and blue color wavelengths.


Color interactions fall under two categories: colored pigments and colored light. The mixing of colored pigment falls under the subtractive color model, seen in Figure 1.1. In this model, magenta, yellow, and cyan overlap to create red, green, and blue, which in turn overlap to create black. This is the model that printers refer to. The additive model (Figure 1.2) shows what happens when colored light interacts. Red, green, and blue overlap to create cyan, magenta, and yellow, which combine to make white, or colorless light. This, being a book about colored light, is where we will spend much of our time.

Though there are some similarities between the two models (blue and yellow make green), there are some major differences. For example, in the additive color model, green and red light mix to make yellow light (Figure 1.3); in the subtractive color model, green and red paint create a brown color when mixed.

When our eyes are perceiving the color of an object, such as the color of a flower, a car, or even the blue sky, what we are actually seeing are unabsorbed color wavelengths. For example, when we’re looking at something that we perceive as red, such as an apple, the apple skin looks red because the green and blue wavelengths of white light are being absorbed, leaving only the red wavelengths to reflect back to our eyes.

Figure 1.1 The CMY (cyan, magenta, yellow) color model, also known as the subtractive color model, is commonly used by visual artists. It demonstrates what happens when you overlap colored pigment.

Figure 1.2 The RGB (red, green, blue), or additive color model, demonstrates what happens when colored light of different wavelengths overlaps.

Figure 1.3 While red and green pigment combine to make a muddy brown color, when you overlap red and green light, you get yellow light.

That said, when our eyes perceive a colored surface, both the additive and subtractive properties will be in effect. For example, consider the white vase in Figure 1.4. The images on the left were shot on a white background, while the images on the right were shot in front of a red backdrop. The red light on the white backdrop and the red light on the red backdrop yield similar results. Now look at the green scenarios. Green light shining on the red background makes the the background appear black because red surfaces absorb green wavelengths.

Figure 1.4 Red and green light overlap to create yellow light, but when green light hits a red surface, the surface appears black.

The bottom row of images shows what happens when red and green light overlap: we get yellow light against the white surface, but the red background still appears red. Once again, the green light is absorbed, per the subtractive law, leaving only red light to illuminate the background. These laws will come into play when you’re determining how to create desirable color interactions in your images—or eliminate undesirable ones.


The CMY color model is a more up-to-date theory of color than the older model, known as the RYB color wheel. However, the RYB color wheel is still commonly used by painters and interior decorators (Figure 1.5). It’s a fantastic resource for understanding relationships between colors.

Before we begin, know that the rules of color theory describe how color is rendered, not how it should be rendered. How you end up lighting an image depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with the shot. For instance, when lighting a person, I think that green light looks fantastic on dark skin, but can look sickly on fair skin. You will find your preferences the more you shoot.


The term monochromatic is often used to describe black-and-white images. However, it can also refer to the use of a single color, or various shades of a single color, in an image, such as the use of orange in Figure 1.6. Monochromatic color studies make for fun photography experiments. Look up Pantone Photography on the internet to see endless examples of monochromatic color schemes.

Figure 1.5 The RYB (red, yellow, blue) color wheel is an outdated model of color interaction, though still commonly used by visual artists.

Figure 1.6 Monochromatic doesn’t mean black and white; it can refer to an image comprised of a single color.


Complementary colors sit opposite each other on a color wheel. To identify a color’s complement, first determine which color model you’re using. In the RYB model, for example, the complement of red is green (Figure 1.7). In the RGB model (Figure 1.8), red’s complement is cyan. Because these colors are the farthest from each other on the color wheel (meaning you can’t have a more contrasting pairing), when the colors are placed side by side the result is eye-grabbing (Figure 1.9). Look what happens when you make a grid out of the complementary pairing of red and green (Figure 1.10). The image appears to vibrate!

Figure 1.7 Complementary colors on the RYB color wheel (subtractive colors).

Figure 1.8 Complementary colors in the RGB color model (additive colors).

Figure 1.9 Orange and blue are complementary to each other, and can be used proportionally to achieve balance in an image.

Figure 1.10 When complementary colors red and green are next to each other in a grid, they appear to vibrate.


Analogous colors are the three colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel, such as orange, red-orange, and yellow-orange (Figure 1.11). For all intents and purposes, in photographic use, analogous colors are pretty much the same as monochromatic color examples, since analogous colors are basically just three

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