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color theory and colour harmonies


  • perceived color is conditioned by:
    • the actual colour of the object
    • the nature of the ambient illumination
    • the color properties of other objects nearby
    • other characteristics of the perceiving eye and brain including color blindness / color vision deficiency
  • how we perceive colors affects our emotive response to an image as well as perception of depth and also can be used to provoke other thoughts and memories through symbolism
  • an important concept is the weight of the color which is controlled by proportion of that color in an image and its luminosity
  • creating a colour harmony:
    • choose a key color with the right degree of saturation and lightness to set the emotive feel
    • distribute secondary and accent colors
      • create tension or harmony by controlling the proportion, saturation and brightness
      • color contrast or muted tonalities
  • but how do you achieve this in photography?
    • subject styling
      • if you are fortunate enough to have a stylist or if you must take this role on yourself, considerations need to be given to colors chosen for clothing, props, makeup and the background and how they interact with the subject's skin and eye color
    • subject lighting
      • use of different colored light sources can create your color scheme
    • post-processing color grading and toning
      • consider the use of LUTs
      • consider adding in split toning to color the highlights differently to the shadows

The color wheel

Color schemes within an image

monochromatic color schemes

  • uses only one hue with variations derived from:
    • tinting - adding white to a hue reduces saturation without reducing brightness
    • shading - adding black to a hue reduces brightness without reducing saturation
    • toning - adding gray to a hue reduces saturation and brightness

complementary color schemes

  • uses two hues which are opposite each other on the color wheel and produce the greatest color contrast

analogous color schemes

  • uses adjacent hues on the color wheel and produce the lowest color contrast and a calming perception

triadic color schemes

  • uses three hues which make a symmetric triangle on the color wheel

tetradic color schemes

  • uses two complimentary pairs forming a rectangle on the color wheel

square color schemes

  • uses four hues which form a square on the color wheel

split complementary color scheme

  • uses 3 hues with two of them being the adjacent hues to the complimentary hue of the first hue

The color wheel and the emotive response

Robert Plutchik's wheel of emotions courtesy of Wikipedia



More color wheels of emotions

photo/color_theory.txt · Last modified: 2019/07/09 16:49 by gary1