Creating vs Recording Photography Series – Part 2:
Color may be the most emotionally impactful tool visual artists have at their disposal. Fine artists spend years studying color. Industries invest millions of dollars to research color trends. Graphic designers use color as a visual queue to identify brands. As photographers, we too should pay homage to the power of color.
“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.” – Oscar Wilde
At a young age, we first learn our primary colors, red, blue and yellow, followed soon after with associations for those colors. For example, red can mean “stop” or it can mean “love.” Yellow may say “caution,” or it may say “sunshine.” Blue is the sky, or at least it was in all our grade school drawings. Then came secondary colors, those made from the mixing of primary colors, orange, green and violet. And then, things became very interesting when we were given a bigger box of crayons that included tertiary colors!
Georgia O’Keeffe is quoted as saying, “I found I could say things with color that I couldn’t say in any other way – things that I had no words for.” Photographers, is this not what we do – communicate without words? Studying and using color accordingly can upgrade your images.
Where to begin? Put color to work by learning the relationship between colors, their visual weights, and their impact on our minds. Here are some basics to begin your journey into the larger study of color.
The first task is to understand the color wheel. There are tons of images of color wheels online. Search “color wheel” to find one you like and begin to get comfortable with how it works. Print it out and keep it in your camera bag.
Complementary colors – Pairs of colors that fall opposite each other on the color wheel that when placed together complement and intensify the other, such as orange and blue, red and green, yellow and violet.
Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this?” – Pablo Picasso
Analogous colors – A group of three colors next to each other on the color wheel, such as red, orange, and yellow. Analogous colors are more mellow than complementary colors and have less intensity.
Monochromatic colors – Variations of the same color using shades and tints. Often we think only of black and white images as monochromatic, containing shades of both “colors,” but any color may be used monochromatically. Think of Ireland’s 40 shades of green as monochromatic.
Visual weight of color – Dark colors are perceived as heavier than lighter colors. Depending on your composition and the real estate given each, dark colors may tend to recede, while lighter colors are often seen in the mind’s eye as coming forward. Warm colors, such as red, come forward, while cool colors, such as green, fall to the background. You can consciously use the visual weight of colors to create dimension in your images.
Coming up in our next issue…. How Colors Make Us Feel
Adobe™ has a very cool color wheel tool online called Adobe Color CC™. It enables selection of color types and custom adjustments to experiment with color combinations. Use it for visual practice of how colors work together. https://color.adobe.com/
https://color.adobe.com/Understanding Color in Photography, by Bryan Peterson and Susana Heide Schellenberg. Available here.
The Watercolor Bible, by Joe Garcia. Available here.