David Mendelsohn likes to use the whole box of crayons—that is, he's primarily known for images that offer bright splashes of saturated color, imaginative color juxtapositions and bold color that attracts and demands attention.

But he's also the master of the inventive use of one crayon to create what we call "monochrome color": essentially a photo in which one color dominates and derives variety from variations in tone or hue.

David might employ monochrome color to impart a mood or effect to the image; or he might use the technique out of necessity on a commercial shoot. As he says, "I get to the location and it's raining, or its overcast and dull, and I can't wait a day or two or more until it clears. I've got to jazz up boring light, right there, right then." And so he'll create a color scheme that'll solve the visual problem.

An interesting benefit of working with monochrome color is that it tends to increase a photographer's awareness of the importance of a compelling composition. Bright and contrasting colors in a scene can serve to direct a viewer's attention; monochrome color images often draw their graphic strength from the careful placement of elements within the frame.

While viewing David's images, it occurred to us that his approach to monochrome color might be adopted by any photographer in search of something new and different; or by anyone faced with a gray day that seems to offer little promise of effective images. With monochrome color you can establish moods and tell stories...or, even better, suggest them. All it takes is recognition of what David calls "the attraction of the limited palette," plus a bit of imagination and observation. In the photos here you'll see examples of several techniques David uses to create striking images or solve problems.    

"There's color everywhere," David says, "but sometimes it doesn't make itself immediately known. That's when you have to pull an ace out of your pocket."

Deal yourself in.

Color Control Tips

  • If you want to influence color using white balance—even setting a "custom" Kelvin temperature (a feature available on select Nikon D-SLRs)—you can preview the results by making the setting in Live View.

  • 5200° Kelvin is approximates a daylight balance. When shooting outdoors, set a color temperature in the 3000°-3050°K range and you'll get cool blue tones; go toward the high side, say, 7000°K, and your scene warms up.

  • If you set your camera's white balance to incandescent for outdoor shots and put an amber filter on your flash, you'll turn the backgrounds blue while anything lit by the flash will be perfectly balanced.