Some of my friends here on DeviantArt know that I have a "thing" about palettes and I thought that in the absence of any new photographs from me I should write a piece about these important and often overlooked aspects of images in art and photography.
The idea of a palette of colours has been around for many hundreds of years, the word palette coming from the board upon which artists would arrange and mix differently coloured pigments while making their paintings. Nowadays, we use the term to mean any set of colours that, for some reason or other, are grouped together.
(The use has been extended to other senses as well as visual - a palette of tastes and so on.) Artists were known for their particular palettes, for example Rubens www.nationalgallery.org.uk/art…
normally used a rich palette where the pigments were highly saturated, whereas El Greco en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Greco
often used a limited palette of greys and blues, and Goya www.nationalgallery.org.uk/art…
famously used a palette rich in dark and black tones. Nevertheless, all such artists were depicting more or less recognisable images from real, religious or mythic life and their palettes did not normally stray too far from natural palettes that the eye of the viewer could recognise. However, such considerations no longer applied when the great revolutions in artistic expression occurred at the end of the nineteenth century. Abstract, impressionist, expressionist, colourist art and others swept the old ideas to one side and palettes became "liberated" from their naturalistic roots. Just take a look at works by Kandinsky ==> www.wassilykandinsky.net/
or Van Gogh ==> www.vangoghgallery.com/
to see how colour palettes changed. Cezanne ==> www.wikiart.org/en/paul-cezann…
and Matisse ==> www.henri-matisse.net/
are perhaps the two artists who studied colour palettes in greatest depth and whose influence on colour theory cannot be underestimated.
If we look at some of my recent favourites we can develop some ideas about palettes. First, here is a photograph made by my friend Maria, Maria-Schreuders
, of an outdoor late autumnal scene that has trees, bushes, bare earth, wooden seat and blue sky. Most of us who live in the temperate climate zones of the world would recognise the scene, if not the exact place, in large part by its particular variety of colours - its palette - colours - browns, greens, greys, ochres, and that blue of the sky. That set
of colours constitutes the palette, in this case a natural palette
, of the image. If there were a purple sky, yellow earth, blue trees with pink leaves, then we would think the image odd because the palette would not match the scene. The second image, from Norbert NB-Photo
, follows the idea of a natural palette, but this time in th bush of Southern Africa. Although dominated by the two iconic subjects, the overall palette - set of colours - is typical of the bush in that part of the world - the palette is setting the scene, helping us accept the reality and to concentrate on the main subjects.
An almost complete contrast in palettes is seen in the third image below, made by my friend Goodwin, WagmoreBarkless
. It illustrates a completely unnatural palette of blues, greens, yellows, reds and blacks that, nevertheless, "hits the spot" as far as the image of a modern musical offering is concerned. The vibrancy as well as the hues of the palette adds to its effect. Thus, what palette is used in an image can dramatically effect our perception of and feeling towards the image. A similar effect is seen in the fourth image, from my good friend M, 33M
This image is a painting and M has used a vibrant and colourful palette that reflects and exaggerates natural colours: leaves are green and yellow but saturation is pushed up, the huge tree trunk is russet red and varous hues of blue and green, the child stands out because of the bright colours of the clothes, but such colours are part of the overall palette. Now, I don't know exactly how M created this, but almost certainly she would have had either a real watercolour palette before her - a dozen or 20 colours from which she could select and blend, or an electronic equivalent to be found in painting or editing software.
So, in photography we can accept and perhaps augment natural palettes, in real or digital painting we can pick the colours from real or electronic palettes and work with them as painters have traditionally done. The idea and importance of palettes is expanded in computer generated art, particularly those images based on fractals. We needn't go into the details of how these mathematical structures are generated, except to note one point: fractals have no
intrinsic colours. In order to make the spectacularly coloured images, two examples of which are shown below, the software that creates the basic structures also needs to allow the artist to add a palette of colour. Software such as Ultra Fractal, www.ultrafractal.com/showcase.…
, includes sophisticated palette creation and editing tools (also several default palettes) such that the final image reflects not only the user's skill in designing the structure, but also the user's prowess in creating a suitable palette. In the first of the two examples, this one created by Coco, kayandjay100
, she has chosen a restricted palette based around the colour we call burgundy, varying the shades and tints, but keeping the basic hue more or less the same. In contrast, Thelma's image has a rainbow palette of blues through greens and on to reds. Thelma thelma
often uses such a palette and her work is in large part characterised by this.
Several years ago, I came across this image created by a very talented colour mathematician by name of Bruce Lindbloom. His web address is www.brucelindbloom.com/
and if you go there you can download this image as a zip file, which upon decompression affords a TIFF image. It appears to be an open access image free to all.
The image show exactly 16,777,216 colours, each represented by a single pixel in this 4096x4096 pixel array. That 16 million plus number of colours is the total number that you can possibly have in what is known as the RGB system of colour representation where R is red, G is green and B is blue, each of those parameters being allowed values from 0 to 255.
This image really ought to be a poster child for digital colour and it looks quite spectacular if you zoom in to any portion, especially if you have a professional grade monitor capable of very good colour reproduction.
As this is a digital image in a well known image format you can, of course, load it into any reasonable image editing software and play about with it.
What has Bruce Lindbloom's image got to do with palettes? Well, you as a photographer, designer, digital groupie or whatever can use the 16 million plus image along with a photo editor to create any number of palettes and apply them to any image you like. The palettes created this way are unlike photographic palettes where the palette is intrinsic to the image and unlike palettes such as in a watercolour painting where you as the artist must pick and choose from a smallish group of colours and undertake blending of such as you go. You could select single colours from the Lindbloom image, but that would be tedious. Instead, you can pick a single or multiple ranges of colours according to criteria allowed by your editing software. Having done so, you can then map that palette onto the original image. Best if we work with an example: Here is the original image of a leaf. That image has its own palette, based mainly on greens. Now, contrast that with the subsequent image. This has a palette based on a selection of red, yellow, green and blue hues from the Lindbloom image, a selection made using The Gimp software selection tools and picking appropriate tranches of colour from the Lindbloom image. Those colours become the palette and that palette is then mapped back onto the original image. I am not going into the details of this, but I'm very happy to discuss such with anyone who wishes to know and try this out.
Let me show you some more:
In this image I have tried to get a wide range of red, green, and blue hues. I quite like the filigree effect in the background colours.
The following three palettes share one thing in common: they are all equiluminant palettes, that is the luminosity (brightness or lightness) of each pixel is the same. If you desaturate an image with an equiluminant palette you get a blank grey canvas! I'm thinking of calling such palettes Okavanga palettes as I seem to be the one who has discovered and use them!
The overall point here is that with modern software and editing tools we can use one image, in this case the Lindbloom image, to select a unique palette and map it onto any image we like. The possibilities are endless!
This Journal has run on a bit longer than my usual efforts, but the concept of image palettes and an understanding of what they mean in terms of defining and enhancing an image, I believe to be an overlooked and underappreciated area of studying photographs and other art work. On the other hand, an artist's palette has long been appreciated in traditional art and is recognised as an important part of an artist's style. That aspect of palettes in art can now been seen to apply to digital work. Finally, using a "master" palette such as the Lindbloom image, we can select with the aid of editing software larger sets of colours, i.e. palettes, and map them back onto images, thus extending the use of palettes in new directions.
David aka Okavanga