The other day, I came across a blog post complaining about the ubiquity in modern cinema of the colours teal (a sort of cyan-heavy blue) and orange. As this was something that I have been subliminally aware of for a while without really being able to put my finger on it, I couldn’t resist reading further.
Of course, this contrast between warm and cool tones has long been a mainstay of colour photography as it heightens the sense of atmosphere while offering a pleasing contrast; indeed many great images rely on this idea. However, in today’s world it seems that anything that works well quickly gets overused and, as the linked article shows, soon becomes reduced to a risible cliché. So I was curious to see if the colour-combination’s prevalence in the cinema has wormed its way into the consciousness of landscape photographers.
It didn’t take much research to turn up more than a few examples. The ubiquitous coastal sunset formula is, of course, most suited to this approach. Rocks glow orange against a cyan-enhanced sea. I say ‘enhanced’ because a common feature is ‘blue surf’ – something I have yet to see in reality – and the sky is ablaze with orange light but seldom red. On one sharing site I saw a picture of a moated castle, walls glowing orange in the sunset light against, you guessed it, a very cyan sky.
And just recently, whilst browsing a popular British photography magazine, I happened on a picture of an often-photographed part of Scotland. The caption explained some of the Photoshop techniques employed – one of which was a saturation adjustment to give the scene ‘more of an autumn feel’. Well, it might have been the reproduction and therefore not the fault of the photographer, but what in reality would be brownish yellow autumn grass was rendered a bright shade of tangerine. And the sky consisted solely of shades of magenta and cyan. Teal and orange in a scene where more subtle colours would, in nature, predominate.
Why is this a problem? Well, just as in the cinema, if overused, this could become the only colour-combination seen. And that would be a terrible thing. Nature’s colours are delightful, varied, subtle and cover the full spectrum. I love greens and reds and yellows and magentas. Even teal and orange in moderation. And this is what I like to see in landscape images. Thankfully we aren’t there yet but where pervasive popular media leads, others follow.
Since it’s very easy to sneer at images in which a good concept is taken to extremes, here’s an example of how this colour combination can be used to brilliant effect. I make no apology for once again borrowing an image from David Ward’s portfolio of astonishing work: