The Rise of The Yellow

The history of photography is filled with transitory style choices. I don’t mean clothing choices but aesthetic decisions concerning the image itself. So often these are led by technological developments. Who remembers the vivid reds and blues of 1980s cross processing? Or the hideous fakery of digital high dynamic range? Or the desaturated portraits of the past decade? Transitory choices based on aesthetics that soon pass into history placing them into a box marked ‘Dated’.

I have always tried to avoid this in my own work and spoken/written continually of the need to avoid falling into the warm embrace of a filter or plug in that makes your work instantly relevant for a month or two. Fashion is to be avoided, language is to be evolved.

The reason I speak out about this is that I have been involved with professional photography for over forty years now and over that time I have seen fashions come and go but I have also seen photographers who have stayed true to personal vision survive. The fashion hunters have had a tendency to drop out of the game the moment their work is no longer ‘of the moment’.

The great fashion and portrait photographer Paolo Roversi once told me that it is better to stay on the river bank watching the stream that get stalled up in its current. I agree and see what he means. If you look at his work you will also.

With the growth of computational photography and the rapid evolution of AI. The aesthetic has become a dominant factor in many peoples understanding of the medium. Or perhaps I should say misunderstanding. Making something look like something else has now become a goal for many. This is of course a mistake.

Filters and plug-ins are available to all. Adopting them as a central aspect of your work just puts you immediately into the soup. The same as everyone else. It doesn’t make you different or relevant it puts you in danger the moment an original thinker comes along and changes the direction of the contemporary popular aesthetic. Once that happens all of your work needs to respond, the moment you sign up to this way of working.

I have recently seen a rise in the dominance of the colour yellow in images. Not photographing yellow but utilising filters and post-production that raises the yellow profile. This is a dangerous game to play. Why? because yellow is a difficult colour to control when CMYK printing. The process most client will use. It has a tendency to flatten an image, forcing an increase in black (Key) to provide contrast and red (Magenta) to ensure the increase in black does not make an image look ‘dirty’. In short it is extremely hard to print. It may look great on your back lit screen but you will only be disappointed when it is printed and so will your clients.

My advice? Beware of following the crowd. Stay true to what you believe and make work that steps out of the stream. Be like Paolo, get yourself a deckchair and just watch it flow by.

Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.

Scott’s next book Condé Nast Have Left The Building: Six Decades of Vogue House will be published by Orphans Publishing in the Spring of 2024.

© Grant Scott 2023


  1. Most of the people taking photographs today never printed their works and many of them never saw their oversaturated and over processed images on the big monitors, but on the small screen of their phone, allowing them to post on their social media.
    Thinking CMYK is really too much ;-)))

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