Half-week homework: Yellow

Is there a more complicated color than yellow? I may be biased (big fan of the color), but I would argue that there is not. Few other purely chromatic symbols run a gamut so wide: from cowardice to godliness, from fatal illness to pure happiness.


Look at the photo above: the subject itself is extremely familiar, but the presentation—shrouded in an enormous yellow glow—makes it an altogether different sight from “the usual.”

That means that you’ve got a lot of latitude in this week’s photo challenge! Completing the long-wavelength, warm section of the rainbow, your mission is to find a way to communicate your photo’s story using the color yellow. (Check out red and orange for more illustration of the concept guiding our rainbow series of challenges.) Considering the range of emotions and societal connotations attached, I expect this one to produce a delightful variety of results.

Read on for examples and ruminations to get in the right mind-set, then make sure you come back and share your results! Upload your photos to our Facebook page or to Instagram tagged #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework so you can show off your chops and join our community of artists.

Like flower friends in a garden!

Raised on Power Rangers and gendered school supplies, for a long time yellow was little more than a “girl color” to me. Aspects of art in certain video games (e.g. A Link To The Past) began to teasingly lay the groundwork for additional associations, but I think the tipping point was a certain album pivotal in the expansion of my musical taste.

Art can rarely be contained in a single narrow channel, and my appreciation was no less for the accompanying visual presentation of Russell Mills’ singular assemblages than for the music itself. His art represented a unified experience of pain and healing, using decidedly yellowish tones from rich, mustardy brown to a pale lemon.

Photo inspired by Russell Mills in some subconscious way, probably.

As I consumed it obsessively, in the way only a teenager can, a curious thing happened to my perception of color. Beyond the obvious sunshine, gold, and daisies in yellows, I now also sensed withering and decay; in addition to beachy summer rays my eyes were opened to the palette of dying autumn leaves and connected the two in a way I hadn’t before. As a lover of the spooky, I had always favored black; now I discovered a penchant for yellow, and for many of the same reasons.

Being also lover of the complex, this subversion and enrichment of a color I had previously considered so simple and uninspiring was delightful. The same tonal wash could be used equally effectively to make any given mall into a vision of the California dream or to give any random book the gravitas of a delicate, warm whisper from the long-gone age of giants. Fantastic!

It can also give quite an otherworldly look when found in unexpected situations.

It was important in my life, to the extent that color-triggered neural networks can be “important,” but hardly a unique revelation in history. Consider the following additional associations:

  • Gold, and thereby greed
  • Gold, and thereby glory
  • Contentment
  • Decay
  • Blonde hair
  • Cowardice
  • Exaltation (think of Chinese emperors and the Pope)
  • Exultation (frolicking in the sunshine!)
  • Caution
  • Breakfast eggs & baby chicks
Even Buddha, depending on where you are in the world.

Have I made my point yet? Just for fun, here’s one more example: a comparison of quotes from the same author. I want you to visualize the scenes as vividly as you can and compare the difference in effects.

The sky was still dark. A dull, yellow light brooded over the houses and the river; and the sky seemed to be descending.

James Joyce, The Dead (1914)

Quick warm sunlight came running from Berkeley road, swiftly, in slim sandals, along the brightening footpath. Runs, she runs to meet me, a girl with gold hair on the wind.

James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)

When you photograph a yellow light, consider whether you want it to give the effect of a bleak descent into night-time or an invocation of the morning and the promise of the day. If you’re really good, you can walk the line and allow your viewers to find both. If you want neither, be sure you’re controlling your lighting!

Thanks for reading. Put on some Coldplay or the Beatles and shoot some yellow! And, of course, don’t forget to come back and share your results.

Enjoyed this colorful challenge? Click on the links below for the rest of the rainbow!
Red • Orange • Yellow • Green • Blue • Indigo • Violet

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