Color can be thought of as just another one of the essential elements. However, it has a much greater significance in digital imaging than form, pattern, texture, shape, and tone. A digital camera’s sensor always sees the scene in full color—because each of its pixels registers either red, green, or blue light. Although you can choose for this information to be discarded before being recorded, it is almost always better to shoot in color, even if you want a black-and-white picture. You then convert to monochrome at the manipulation stage. Unlike with film, a digital color “negative” can be used to create both quality
color and black-and-white prints—giving you the flexibility to decide how to treat the image long after the picture has been taken.
Color is also an important element because it can draw such a strong emotional and psychological response. Different hues are associated with different moods—so you can create a feeling of excitement and energy with some colors, but an air of tranquillity with others. It’s not just the individual shades of color that count—it is the way that they are grouped within the viewfinder. Some combine in a riotous way, and others sit together harmoniously. As with other elements, lighting has a significant impact on the way that color appears within an image. Some forms of lighting will give a boost to the coloration but others will tone everything down so that even clashing combinations of hue become subdued.
There is still some value in the old advice that you should stand with the sun behind you as you take your pictures, because this form of lighting will nearly always give you the strongest hues. Bad weather and overcast conditions will do the reverse—turning even vibrant colors into pastel shades. Backlighting, at its most extreme, can drain every last drop of color from a subject—although not necessarily from the scene as a whole.
Unlike in the days of film, the colors that are recorded digitally are not set in stone. Digital manipulation provides powerful tools for changing the color balance of a picture, and to increase or decrease the saturation.
These corrections do not need to be global. With a little effort, it is possible to change the color, saturation, and shade of just one particular area of the picture. This provides you with the tools to ensure that discordant and distracting colors are tweaked until they blend in.
More frequently, you might use digital manipulation tools to increase the presence of a certain color. You might want to boost the blue of a sky to what you had hoped it would be, rather than as you found it on the day you went out with your camera, for example.