The Power Of Just One Color


One of the things I miss most from my days working at a daily newspaper is the constant flood of assignments. I use to complain about it when i was in it, but the being batted around from assignment to assignment like a pinball brought me to new and interesting people and places and always challenged me to make a strong image. Occasionally I would encounter a situation that would capture my attention and sometimes personal projects were spawned.

But now that I’m a full time freelancer, I can schedule and spend time on my own passion-projects, self-assignments or just wander the streets with my Nikons, which is great, the dream…but be careful what you wish for. I find that sometimes the total freedom I have as a photographer can make it sometimes difficult to focus and find that one theme or project that I get excited about.

Sometimes the barriers put up by specific photographic situations or assignments force me to dig deep to come up with creative and innovative ways to capture a scene. When I’m not working on a specific personal project or assignment, I know from experience that giving myself an assignment gives me a goal and often points me into a different photographic direction to find images I otherwise might have missed. Serendipity is a wonderful thing, but when you know what you’re looking for there’s a better chance of finding it.

This post is inspired by one of my students this year at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai. If you’ve never been to GPP, you really should—it’s a unique and immersive photographic and educational experience that can really move your work forward; but I’ll save all that for another post.

In one of my street workshops, Saadia Mahmud was feeling a bit uninspired.

“As we huddled in a group before the shooting session began, Steve re-iterated a few things he had said earlier that day and for some strange reason resonated with me.‘Sometimes in order to get powerful images, you need to be selfish. Shoot by yourself. Stay in one location and work the scene there’. Ok. These are things are I know. But I don’t always follow it. And then he threw a curve ball.

“For every image you shoot, I want 20 more of that same scene but from a different perspective – even for street portraits”.

Say what?! Even for street portraits? I have never done that. Usually I take a couple and move on. Twenty images for each street portrait was a bit excessive I thought. So I stand in the corner in part of the souk and the for the first few minutes, just struggled with myself. What to shoot? How will I go ask someone for a portrait and take 20 images?

At this point, I am thinking I can work a scene at least. Stay in one place for an extended period of time and see what happens. I am shooting randomly, not really excited and then I see a glimpse of color. The color orange. And something clicks in my head. And I start following that color.” I shoot for myself. I shoot selfishly. I stay in one place for a long time. I mean a long time. 45  minutes in one location. Trust me that’s a long time for me. Usually I move around after 10-15 minutes. I just didn’t move”.

Saadia ended up making a remarkable set of pictures based on one color. You can see the images and read about her inspiration here. 


Good color photography amplifies the content, black and white cuts right to the content. This is why beautiful light is arguably more important with color.  Color can often be distracting which is why I desaturate more often then add saturation in  my color work.

Your eye is drawn to the light areas of the scene, particularly in black and white, but different colors have different “visual weights” pulling your eye toward them to varying degrees within the frame.

Maybe a specific color doesn’t dominate the image in terms of area in my chosen examples, but the visual weight of the color does. It takes the viewers eye straight to it.

Hamburg, Germany Lenshoot for 85mm 1.8 lens by Steve Simon
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