Color Theory

In photography, colour and light work together. Light is the single basic ingredient required to create photographs. color could be intimidating but it can help solidify your work and stand you out from the crowd. Understanding colour can be of great benefit to an artist.

Color is a product of reflection. It is created through either a transparent medium or absorbed and reflected off a surface. Colors are the light wavelengths that the human eye receives and processes from a reflected source. When we see a color, we see the light of a particular section of the spectrum reflected. 

What is Color theory?

Color theory is the use of appealing color schemes in visual interfaces used to interact with your audience. In the Visual arts, it is the body of practical guidance for color mixing and the visual effects of a specific color combination.

Component of Colors

Color components refer to the characteristics of color that can be changed or manipulated to create different effects.

These components include hue, saturation, and brightness.

  • Hue refers to the gradation or variety of a color itself
  • Saturation refers to how much of that hue is present in the color, ranging from a dull or muted color to a bold and vibrant one.
  • Brightness, also known as value, refers to the lightness or darkness of a color.

By manipulating these color components, you can create a myriad of different effects in your photography. For example, desaturating a color can create a more subdued, vintage effect, while increasing the saturation can create a vibrant and energetic feel. Similarly, manipulating the brightness of a color can create dramatic shadows and highlights, or a soft and dreamy effect.

By playing around with these variables and experimenting with different color combinations, you can create photographs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also communicate emotion and tell a story.

The Color Wheel

The color wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. While studying white light reflecting off prisms, Newton noticed that the light reflected a spectrum of colors. He mapped these colors into the first color wheel and the original ROYGBIV color scheme. A color wheel is just a convenient way of visualising the relationships between colors. 

  • Primary colors: Red, Yellow and Blue

(If you mix these colors, you get secondary colors)

  • Secondary Colors: Orange, Green, and Violet

(Combining the secondary colors, you would get Tertiary color)

  • Tertiary colors: Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, or Red-Violet

Photographers use the RGB system, in which case red, green, and blue are primary colors. Mixing these colors will create secondary colors: yellow, cyan and magenta. The RGB system also has six tertiary colors: orange, chartreuse green, spring green, azure, violet, rose. Photographers can use the color wheel and color schemes to strengthen their compositions.

Primary Color

Red, yellow, and blue are the three primary colors. These are the only colors that can’t be made by adding or mixing other colors together – they are “pure” colors. All other hues are created by combining these primary colors. Primary colors are used to grab the viewer’s eye. Without shading or tinting, these colors are very bright and vivid to the human eye.

Secondary Color

Green, orange, and purple are the three secondary colors. These colors are created by combining exactly half of two primary colors to make a new, second color:

Red + Blue = Purple

Red + Yellow = Orange

Blue + Yellow = Green

Each secondary color is directly opposite a primary color on the wheel. That relationship — opposite on the wheel — is called “complementary.” Human eyes notice the contrast between complementary colors more than other combinations. 

Tertiary Color

Tertiary colors, also known as intermediate colors, are made by mixing either a 25/75 or 75/25 combination of primary and secondary colors. Sometimes they’re named after the two colors that created them. Sometimes they’re called by their own name. There are six tertiary colors:

Blue (primary) + Purple (secondary) = Blue-Purple or Violet

Red (primary) + Purple (secondary) = Red-Purple or Magenta

Red (primary) + Orange (secondary) = Red-Orange or Vermilion

Yellow (primary) + Orange (secondary) = Yellow-Orange or Amber

Yellow (primary) + Green (secondary) = Yellow-Green or Chartreuse

Blue (primary) + Green (secondary) = Blue-Green or Teal