How to create Color Harmonies

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In 2018 I only made one blog post for Caught in Pixels. I did write a handful for though. But 2018 was in many ways a strange year. Far too many things happened in my life and very little time was available for writing blog posts.

It is an ambition of mine, is that 2019 will be different. My goal is to write more blog posts for

The first topic I thought I would cover is Color Harmony. It is something, that I have spent some time investigating and understanding over the past couple of years and have become increasingly fascinated by it. It is something that you can use intentionally and it can make quite dramatic changes to the perception of a photo.

Color theory and color harmony were formalized by painters way back long before the invention of any camera let alone cameras that could take colored photos. Nevertheless, it is still highly relevant and also to photographers.

When you have begun to understand color harmonies, you will see them anywhere you look. You will find them in commercial photos, old and new paintings, movies – literally everywhere.

When you photograph cityscapes and landscapes like I mostly do, you can sometimes find natural color harmonies and photograph them, but more often than not you can’t control the colors of the environment.

You can make some choices on what to include and what not include, but the general mix of colors you can’t change at the time of photographing. Sometimes, you can change the time which you photograph, like nighttime, daytime, blue hour, golden hour, autumn, summer, spring, and winter, but even that is not always possible and you get what you get.

Very often you end up with photos that are not in perfect color harmony and you will have to create that in the post-process. That is what this blog post is about.

Colors and moods

Colors can change the mood of an image. Colors like yellow, orange and red are considered warm because they give a warm feeling. Blue and cyan, on the other hand, are cold colors. You can intentionally use warm or cold colors to make your image convey the mood you want it to.

A good and simple way to change the mood is to simply to shift the white balance either towards the warmer or colder temperatures. This can often also push the image towards a color harmony, as you will see later.

What is a color harmony?

Color Harmonies are colors that look good together. There are many different systems to create a color harmony. Adobe has one that is free and very easy to use. The online version of it is available at, but you can also download it to Photoshop as a plugin. Basically, it is the same tool.

The Adobe color wheel shows how the Red, Green and Blue (RGB) colors can be mixed to any color. On the opposite side of the wheel you can see the complementary color. The complementary colors to the primary colors are:

Blue has Orange as complementary color.

Red has Green as complementary color.

Yellow has Purple as complementary color.

The purpose of this article is not to explain Color Theory in details, but rather to show how change the colors of a photo to have a color harmony. If you want to get a deeper explanation of Color Theory and Color Harmonies, I find Blender Guru’s video very explanatory.

In Adobe’s color tool you can put together 5 colors based on a Color Harmony Model and those colors will be a good match. If you pick Triad as shown below you get three hues with an equally distance on the color wheel. You can then drag the colors around the wheel and get different sets of colors. The two additional colors you get (to make it five), are shades of two of the colors, in the example it is red and blue respectively.

On the left you have a number of color harmony types.

By fiddling around you can find various color harmonies that you like and try to use them in your photos. It also holds a huge library of Color Harmonies, which you can if you like. Personally I don’t use them.

Color harmony is a bit like a chord in music. You can make some that are more harmonious than others, but somehow, they always fit together.

A compound Color Harmony.
Analogeous Color Harmony.

What you find out after having used color harmonies consciously for a little while, is that as soon as you get a color harmony, something incredibly amazing happens to your photo. It’s like it reaches another level and gets pleasing and calm. It is not without a reason it is called Color Harmony.

In some cases, it can be the difference between ‘just a photo’ and a pretty cool photo. Another er weird thing is that the colors do not even have to match reality … not at all!

Have a look at this photo from in a forest in Denmark. This mist will never look that color, yet, because the color of the mist is in harmony with the leaves and it works out just great.

How to Create a Color Harmony?

The trick is to twist the colors into a color harmony. This can be done in many different ways and it is called color grading.

I will show you a couple of easy ways available in Lightroom to color grade your images. This is the before and the after:

My goal with this image was to get a dark and warm ‘feel-good’ forest image. I did some simple basic image editing before I began working with the colors.

Basic Image editing used + a vignette.

White Balance

Normally you would probably not see White Balance as a color grading technique, but it does change the colors of a photo.

The colors straight of the camera are on the cold side, but by shifting the White Balance towards the warmer segment it gets closer to what I want.

I suggest that you begin by adjusting the White Balance, because it makes it a lot easier later on.

The White Balance has been warmed slightly, to push the colors more into the Yellow and Orange color range, in which I want the image to end up in.

Color Adjustments using HSL

There are so many different ways to tune your color harmony, one of the best and simplest yet also most effective ways is use the Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity (HSL) panel in Lightroom.

The HSL panel, not surprisingly from the name, allows you to change the hue and saturation (and luminosity) of individual colors and this way you can nudge them into a color harmony.

In the example below I have used exactly the same basic image editing on both images (highlights, shadows and contrast), except for White Balance and HSL settings.

After having adjusted the White Balance you go to the HSL / Color panel in Lightroom and begin to push the Hue sliders to the left and right accordingly to what you want to achieve. Below I have pushed the colors towards Orange and Yellow.

These two photos have exactly the same editing, except for the White Balance and the HSL (Hue, Saturation and Luminosity) settings. Notice that there is a much better color harmony in the photo on the right.

Then you adjust the saturation to balance the saturation or take out a color of the equation. I remove some of the Blue because I found it too dominant.

The image on the left is not bad, but the one on the right has a better balance – a better harmony. It not only because it is warmer it also has a subtle, yet important, color balance.

These are the HSL settings I used:

In the Hue section you can see that I have pushed Yellows towards Orange and Green towards Yellow. This warms up, and makes it more Orange-ish. The Aqua I have pushed towards Blue, the complimentary color of Orange. And then I have biased the saturation to something pleasing.

The White Balance is a part of the equation above, but I can take it out of the equation by making the same warmer White Balance settings on both images. Now you see the difference the HSL settings do.

The photo on the left now has the same White blance. It still doesn’t have the same harmony in the colors, as the right one has.

Essentially there is no right and wrong, but if you want to achieve a perfect color harmony, you can get a lot out of the HSL panel, by tuning the individual colors.

Some images will need more bending than what the HSL will allow, and then you will have to turn to other methods, like local changes using brushes and gradients or even taking the image into Photoshop.

Split toning to add color harmony

You may have heard of split toning. It is a more creative way to work with your colors and it can be very dramatic, but it is a tool you should use with care.

Split Toning is a process where you add one color to the highlights and add another color to the shadows. If you do it in a subtle way, it will hardly be noticeable, but it can make a difference. If you do it more aggressively it will make a strong impact on your image, for better or worse.

You can create Split Toning in many different was. In Lightroom, it is very easy from the Split Toning panel.

In the first example, I have first turned it into black and white photo and then I have colored it using the Split Toning. I have added an yellow/orange color to the highlights and a bluish color to the shadows.

Black and white photo split toned with Yellow in the highlights and Blue in the shadows.

And these are the settings.

Add yellow-ish to the highlights and blue to the shadows. I used a black and white photo to make the color grading very easy to see.

The colors you add, might not be natural even if they are very pleasing to the eye. This is a creative decision for you to make.

Here is another example. Same principle – first black and white, and then split toning it.

Split toning using Yellow for highlights and Purple for shadows.

While split toning is an incredibly powerful tool and can be used to create fantastic creative colored photos it is not always enough to create color harmony.

My personal preference is to use Split Toning later in the process to see if it can add just that spice, that makes the difference.

I have a strong belief about image editing: you cannot do everything in one big step. The is no silver bullet, no one-button image processing. It is the many small steps, that may be tiny, that adds up to the big change.

In the example below, the same split toning is added to the colored version of the photo. It changes the photo into a warmer photo.

On the left without split toning and on the right the same split toning as above, just on the colored version of the photo.

And if you look at Color Harmony, it is the one showed earlier.


How to photograph something classic

Leaving Eltz Castle by a Car

Eltz Castle in Germany.

How do you shoot a unique photo of something that one million others have shot before you? It’s tricky and it requires preparation and patience, and in the end, the result may “just” be your version of a classic shot.

For a long time I have wanted to take a photo of Eltz Castle in Germany and finally, I got the chance when I came back by car from my exhibition in Paris.

I really wanted to have one that I had not seen before, but it has been shot to death and therefore no easy task. There is quite a steep walk down from the parking lot and the first time you see the castle is from a viewpoint you pass as you walk down.

As preparation, I had watched other photographer’s photos of the castle and studied the paths around the castle at OpenStreetMap has a lot more details than Google Maps when it comes to paths and hiking routes. In short, I had some kind of idea how to area was arranged and the viewpoint was high on my list of potential shooting locations for my hopefully unique shot.

All shots I looked at when I Googled Eltz Castle without exception was shot at daytime, at various times of the year. I realized I could shoot a night time shot and that alone would make it a special photo and that was my plan.

I arrived well in advance of when I planned to shoot my “photo”. That is always a good thing to arrive in good enough time, to allow you to search the area for compositions as well as be prepared for the light.

I examined the different places to shoot the castle and shot various compositions. After having taken the classic pictures in … classic light (ie daylight), I decided to use the viewpoint. There are probably 10,000 photographers who have got a nice picture home from there, but I prepared myself to wait for the light.

When I had waited for 30 minutes I realized that I had forgotten my jacket in the car. Mental note for later: Always bring warm enough clothes. As the light dimmed the cold came too and the wind felt really cold and I still had a couple of hours ahead of me.

As I waited the clouds began to clear somewhat, from a total clouded sky to something with holes. That was good. A very nice little moon appeared, but of course outside the frame and the composition would suffer too much if I tried including it, so I ignored it.

After hours, the staff began cleaning up and driving back up using the shuttle bus.

Finally, they lit the light on the castle and just as I thought that I had shot the last shot, a car came up from behind the castle and while it picked up the last group of people, I set the camera to a 20 second exposure and I got my picture of Eltz Castle, which I have not seen before.

Sony A7RII, 24-70 f/4

EXIF: ISO 50, f / 8, 24mm and 20 seconds.


Visiting Liverpool

The Entrance to Button Street in Liverpool

The entrance to the area where The Cavern is located.

Liverpool has a strong history in many ways. It has football, shipyard industry and the music to mention a few. The Beatles came out of Liverpool and in particular, one club is known for having the Beatles playing there, and that is the Cavern.

In particular, The Beatles have put a lot of footprints in the Button Street and Mathew Street area, where The Cavern is located. The Cavern as it was back when The Beatles played there, does not exist anymore, due to construction work. But a new Cavern has been built in some of the original areas. Whether that is kind of fake or good enough I think is a subjective matter.

To me, The Cavern was a bit over the top touristic wise, but the rooms were pretty cool and gave an impression of how it might have looked back then.

We went on a Beatles tour too, with our own cab with a knowledgeable guy from Fab4Tours. There is a huge amount of mythology and The Beatles stories. Some are just good stories but have got nothing to do with the real world. Sorting out what is real and what is not, is hard work or impossible work. Fab4Tours have tried to find into the core what supposedly is the truth.

But seeing Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields and how they relate to the songs is quite fantastic.

This photo I shot at the entrance to the party area. It is a 3 shot HDR I shot on my new FujiFilm X100F. Did I mention, that I love that camera?


Fujifilm X100F is a great camera but…

Morning View of Åre Skisport Resort

Åre early in the morning seen from my hotel room.

It was a Fuji X100 that in 2012 was one-half of the cause to start my photo disease. That is the sickness in which one is driven to take the next bold photo.

A lot has happened since 2017. I have moved to first DSLRs and later I included mirrorless cameras. But even the mirrorless cameras are not pocketable, the X100 was.  , but I was very pleased when there was finally a

The X100 had two major limitations, which meant that I didn’t use it terribly much. First of all, the sensor was 12 megapixels, which was only just enough. And not enough for cropping. Second, it only did -1, 0 and +1 in bracketing, which is rarely enough to shoot the HDR scenes that I shoot.

But when the X100F got out, I was happy. Finally – 24 megapixel and -2, 0 and +2 autoexposure bracketing, and still the amazing image quality. I bought it instantly and I love it very much. The smallest camera I have, fast and amazing image quality. I have used that diligently since then.

I shot the image on top, with my X100F from my hotel room in Åre, Sweden. It is a panoramic picture consisting of 3 pictures. I actually had much bigger ambitions with this image than I managed. I would have made a ‘compressed time’ picture, in which I merged pictures together, to show time from when it was completely dark until it was bright.

But, the fantastic little X100F came in short. Funny, because it can easily take time lapse pictures for hours. Even bracketed. The camera also has Manual focus, which works great by the way. First I tried using autofocus, but fair enough, it was nearly pitch dark. The camera could not focus. Instead, I switched to manual focus. But it made a funny mechanical sound after each photo. After having lied in my bed, I eventually got up and checked. All of the images where slightly out of focus.

Then I looked out of the window and thought ‘this is pretty damn nice – I will just shoot a panorama’ – and the result is at the top.

Time compressed photo

A night I picked up my Nikon D800 and put that up for time lapse photography. The good old real DSLR does not play any of the funky electronic games. This image below is 5 hours compressed into one image.

A Mountain Sunset in Sweden

Åre in Sweden in a time compressed photo.


Tour de France will start at Saint Mont Michel

I know! It has been a bit quiet lately on my blog. But don’t worry I am working on some goodies. I am working on my next book, which will cover composition. There are a lot of so-called ‘rules of composition’. As I have grown as a photographer, my understanding of ‘rules of composition’ has changed, and I think I have found a good way of understanding and approaching composition.

I am a late bloomer as a photographer, and I think about everything that I do. I have put in a lot of hard work to get to where I am today,  but it is not longer ago than I can still remember what frustrated me in the beginning. Just like my first book ‘10 Essential Tips for Fine Art Photographers‘ (the 50% discount code “Welcome50” is still active), my new book on composition will be the book that I wanted 4 years ago. It will not only cover some theory on composition but also suggest ready-to-cook compositions, making it possible to go out and shoot a great photo using the recipe.

I believe in that you have to build a foundation before going for more advanced stuff. An important part of that is to learn from what others do, not only from a theoretic point of view but also from a practical ready-to-cook point of view. At least that is my belief.

Anyway, I am working on the book, and will try post a bit on my blog too, but time is not unlimited.

About the photo

I shot this photo a couple of years back at Mont Saint Michel in France. It is one of the most fantastic places I have been to, and it is the photographers wet dream. Recently I learned Tour de France would begin from here this year. What an awesome scenery for a start for the world’s biggest cycling race on the planet.

It is an HDR from -3 to +3. I shot it very late in the evening when people were leaving, and this couple just stood there to get a last look at this magnificent building. The Dynamic range in the scene is incredibly high and difficult to control. The spotlights are so bright, and the shadows so dark, that it got quite difficult to blend them together to and get a good balance in lights and shadows.


Review of Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount

Sunset at Tadre Mill

Sunset at Tadre Mill in Denmark. One of the very first images I shot using my brand new Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount.

I have been waiting for this lens for what seems like AGES. Since I got my Sony A7R two years ago I have been looking for a good wide angle lens solution. I bought the Sony 10-18mm, and though some say you can use it for full frame, I do not agree. It is by far too soft in the corners, and the distortion is a mustache like distortion. And then I can use my Nikon lenses on my Sony cameras, using my Metabones adapter. But neither solution has been satisfactory.

The Metabones adapter has no electronic connection to the Sony camera, and does not transfer the EXIF information, and it does not trigger the focus peaking. Smaller things, and yet still annoying things. The reviews of the first automatic adaptor for Nikon to Sony FE mount, haven’t impressed me.

So Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount is the lens I have been waiting for, along with a native f/2.8 16-35mm.

At the time of writing, the lens is in pre-order most places. But if you like the review, and consider buying the lens, you can support me by using this link and buying it at BHphoto.

Overall remarks

The Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III for Sony FE mount is a prime full frame format lens. It also fits on APS-C cameras, like Sony A6000 and A6300, only it will be like a 22.5mm lens. Being prime means that it only has one focal length, in this case 15mm.

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Fascination of Panorama Photos

Roskilde Cathedral Square. A 169 megapixel image stitched from 28 downscaled images.

There is something about panorama photos or stitched photos that fascinate me. It’s a bit like a fisheye lens, that shows the world in a way you can’t see with the naked eye.

A panorama photo serves multiple purposes seen from my perspective. The obvious reason is to include more of a scene in one photo, in a panoramic way.

Another reason is to compensate, for a missing lens. If you haven’t got that really wide angle lens in the bag, shoot two less wide angled images, and stitch them when you get home.

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Hidden Drama in Rome

Colorful Shop

I found this Colorful Shop in Rome.

While we were in Rome we passed this little mini restaurant, street kitchen, kiosk, souvenir shop many times, and at night, it was full of lights.

Just behind this little street shop, there are stairs leading down the Tiber, which is the river winding its way slowly through Rome.

We went down there during the day, to shoot the Castel Sant’Angelo from below. We had the feeling, that it was probably not the safest place in Rome after dark. And yet, we had seen many night shots from down there.

We decided to take the Blue Hour up around the Vatican, and then work our way down here to Castel Sant’Angelo, and take the late blue hour or the first of the night. And then we would make a judgment of the situation. Would it be safe to go down to the Tiber or not.

By the time we got down to this kitchen on wheels, at was a bit darker than we had planned. A few people hung around in the area, and I started the descent of the stairs, looking carefully around.

I didn’t get more than 10 steps down, and the stairs were splashed in what looked exactly like fresh blood, and I turned around. Even if I wanted a photo from down there, I didn’t want it that bad.

Instead, I have been playing around with one of the daytime photos I shot. I don’t like daytime photos that much, and I don’t a lot of them. But what I have come to like, is to put textures on them.

Angels Fortress in Rome

Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome is fascinating. I wouldn’t go as far as claiming that the building is beautiful, but spectacular it is.

The textures take the daylight away, in particular in this one, where I have gone berserk. I have begun to use AuroraHDR. Another neat feature in AuroraHDR is, that it support Textures too. However, my poor old MacBook Air from 2011, didn’t like 5 layers of textures on top of a 36 megapixel HDR.

Fair enough, it adds up in the memory, and my Mac only has 4 Gb, which is far too little to be doing heavy image processing. 8 Gb would have been much better.

When you make textured images, it is important to use several layers of different textures. A single layer will be too dominant and too easy to see ‘what is’.

Textures are typically images of a wall, ground, iron, paper, anything flat, and by using several textures, you get a complex mix, not only of structure but also of colors. And if you can find something, that works nicely together

The trick is to find some textures, that work nicely together, both in colors, and structure. And depending on the image you use, the blending changes, and you find that you have to apply textures that work well with your photo.And if you can find something, that works nicely together

I never apply a texture evenly on an image. I always add a mask and paint in and out the bits I like and don’t like. My primary objects, like the Castel Sant’Angelo in this image, I give a less texture, to enhance it.

If you find my articles interesting and consider getting AuroraHDR, please use the link on my web page and support me that way. I only recommend software and tools that I use.

I am not ‘bought’ to say nice things with sugar on top. I say what I think and feel about products. I get nothing for writing these articles, but I do get a kickback if you use my link to buy AuroraHDR, as well as if you use my 15% discount coupon code “caughtinpixels” for buying Buy Photomatix Pro. Thanks.

If you like my work, why not follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. I post photos daily.

–Jacob Surland

The Weekend Post – AuroraHDR test drive

Little Cottage on the Harbor

The ‘Skerpi’ is a house made of sticks, and put on wheels. The gourmet restaurant ‘Koks’ from the Faroe Islands has this as a pop-restaurant in Copenhagen these days.

For the past week, I have been playing around with AuroraHDR by Trey Ratcliff and Macphun. It’s one of the latest products for creating HDR photos, and I have been pretty excited about getting to know it.

This article covers my first initial impression of AuroraHDR. My overall impression is positive. There are lot’s of good stuff, but there are also a couple of bad bits.

Let’s start with one of the bad bits. It’s Mac… Only… However, Macphun is working on a Windows version, but there is no official date for this yet. Maybe they will brand it under ‘Winphun’? Probably not!

Anyway, I am or was a Windows user, but I do have a MacBook Air 13″ from mid-2011, equipped with an i7 1.8 GHz and 4Gb ram. It was the most powerful MacBook air back then. And this Mac has been my test drive computer.

I think that has been a good exercise and I can give a couple of additional input because I used this older computer.

First run of AuroraHDR

I picked a series of bracketed photos from my latest photoshoot. I exported seven exposures from Lightroom as DNG (Adobe’s device independent RAW format) files, as I always do, and dragged them into AuroraHDR.

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The Kings Library in Koldinghus

Library in Kings Castle

The Kings Library in Koldinghus.

Sometimes history just is amazing, and one ‘old’ is turned into another ‘old’. Hans Christian Andersen (the author ‘The ugly Duckling” etc) was one of the first, to suggest to preserve the old Koldinghus Castle . In my perception preservation is something you do ‘now’, but of course ‘now’ is ever changing. Hans Christian Andersen suggested this around 1830.

In my World, Hans Christian Andersen is from ancient times, before cars, tv, iPhones and skyscrapers. He suggested preservation around the time when Sydney in Australia was founded. I saw excavations in Sydney uncovering the beginning of the 20th century!

The old castle had it’s time of pride, and one of the most famous kings in Denmark Christian IV spend a large part of his childhood here, that was in the 16th century. However, a terrible fire in 1808 burned half the castle almost to the ground. The castle wasn’t restored until the 1970s.

This magnificient library survived the terrible fire.

–Jacob Surland