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Green Party

Light filtering through green leavesTechnically, we may not have reached the beginning of spring yet but it's clearly not far off around here. Buds are sprouting on tree branches and green is popping up all over. It's time to celebrate that.

In the English language, green derives from an old Anglo-Saxon word with the same root as words such as "grow" and "grass." That makes sense given the propensity for green colors in nature. Via Latin we also have "verdant" which fits with the nature theme already established. Indeed, green is everywhere in nature, a fact most evident as winter start to give way to spring and things start to come alive with new growth.

It's no wonder then that green shows up so often in nature photos. With this in mind, I'd like to talk about using the color "green" as a photographic theme. You can look at it as an exercise aimed at improving your composition, or perhaps an artificially contrived device if you will — it doesn't really matter. But by consciously removing the element of color variation from your photography, you are freed up to concentrate on more basic design elements such as line and form, texture and pattern.

The rolling green hills of the PalouseAnd now is the time to do it. After a few months of winter, it's time to start seeing green. The new growth of spring can also spur new growth in your creativity. Apart from the possibility of creating compelling green images, a renewed emphasis on composition can help to improve your photography year round. Practice may not be able to make perfect, but it can definitely lead to better.

To me, this type of thing provides a way to focus on how something looks rather than always paying so much attention to what something is. Try it and see. When everything in your viewfinder looks more or less the same color, we are forced to see other aspects more clearly. And that can be a good thing. Once you learn to compose green images in a more fundamentally geometric way, you will find yourself more able to look at things this way year round, regardless of color.

Palouse crops in all their green grandeurGreen is the perfect color to use for such an exercise too. It lies in the middle of the visible spectrum, ranging from around 495 nanometers up to 570 nanometers. Blue sits below that at shorter wavelengths, and red above that at longer ones. In our eyes, we have two basic types of organs to enable vision: rods and cones. Rods provide information on brightness while cones give us the ability to sense color. Separate collections of cones are sensitive to red, green and blue wavelengths. Rods are increasingly sensitive to light towards the middle of the spectrum — in other words, within the region of green wavelengths. When you put all this together, it ends up meaning that our eyes and brains make use of green light more than any other part of the spectrum in their joint mission of seeing the world around us.

Camera makers know this of course. The image sensors that let us record images are also more sensitive to green light than they are to red or blue. The design of the standard Bayer Mosaic arrangement of red, green and blue photosites across the surface of a sensor was no doubt created as it was in order to match the sensitivity of human vision. Quantitatively, green contributes more than fifty percent of the light that goes into making up luminosity. If we look at the percentages for each of the primary colors, green makes up a full 59%, leaving just 30% for red, and a mere 11% for blue. Our eyes are more than five times as sensitive to green as they are to blue.

We are entering the season of green. Spring doesn't officially start this year until March 20, with Easter following a week later. But that don't mean you have to wait until then to join the party. Take out your camera and start having some fun with green.

Date posted: February 28, 2016


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Related articles:
Technical Skills versus Composition
Composition: Thinking Graphically
Composition: A Look at Color
Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity!

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