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Color and Photography

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

All colors can be created by mixing three primary colors.

The Additive Color system mixes RED, GREEN and BLUE light in varying proportions to match any color.  Television sets and computer monitors use additive color.   And your camera does too.

Notice how a GREEN and RED light make Yellow, while a RED and BLUE light make up Magenta (purplish color) and a GREEN and BLUE light together make Cyan.

Equal quantities of the three colors (RED, GREEN and BLUE)  appear White (if they are bright enough, otherwise they will lean towards neutral gray.)

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The Subtractive Color system uses CYAN (bluish green), MAGENTA (purplish pink), and YELLOW to match any color.   This is how paint works.   Each color absorbs (or subtracts) one of the additive primaries.

If you put CYAN paint on paper it removes Red from the White Light that shines on it and allows GREEN and BLUE to be reflected.

The CYAN paint absorbs the RED light that hits it and only reflects back to your eyes GREEN and BLUE.  Your eyes then Mix the GREEN and BLUE light reflected from the pigment and you perceive the color CYAN.

This is important because when you photograph anything, you want to be aware  that you see the world like your camera sees the world.

For example when shooting outside Midday light is more BLUE (cooler).  Early morning and late afternoon light is more RED (warmer).

When shooting inside with artificial lights.  Light from an ordinary bulb has a temperature of about 2800 K, proportinately less BLUE and more YELLOW and RED than daylight at 5000K.

We went over White Balancing in a previous post.

Your camera has the option to White Balance for the dominant light source.  Be that daylight or sunset or indoors: fluorescent or incandescent/tungsten light bulbs.

One reason to see like your camera as far as Light and Color is so that you start looking at your surroundings and determine what is the best time of day to photograph those places for whatever effect you desire.

The other reason you want to know how your camera see’s light is to capture skin tones correctly.  You can get away with not White Balancing your camera when you are photographing places, landscapes, objects, you can say, “I like that yellow hue I got by not White Balancing for the Tungsten light in my living room”  But if there was a person and you made them look orange because of it and it was not done for effect, then its just bad photography.

Keep in mind that one way to spot an amateur photographer, is one who doesn’t know how to properly white balance a scene.

Photography is not just about documenting a place or taking a portrait of a person, but also what mood or effect you are trying to achieve with your photograph.

Before we get to deep into thinking of how light affects your camera, we’ll go over basic color theory.

To the right is a simple color wheel.  From this simple color wheel we can find many easy to use color schemes.  These color schemes are tried and true and when used in your photographs will enhance them.

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Complimentary Color Scheme:  This is as basic as it gets, colors that compliment each other, colors on opposite sides of the color wheel.  BLUE and ORANGE, RED and GREEN, YELLOW and PURPLE.  Think of any NFL or High School Football Team logo and you will find Complimentary Color Schemes at work.  These colors go together well and when used in combination with a good composition can only enhance a photograph.

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The Triad Color Scheme is made up of colors equally positioned on the color wheel.  Triad color schemes gives you the opportunity to work with multiple colors and have them all work together harmoniously.

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The Analogous Color Scheme is made up of colors located adjacent to each other on a color wheel.

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Using the above color schemes wont guarantee a great photograph, but it will give you a photograph whose colors work well together.

Definition of Terms

Hue=Color, Hue is any pure color in the color wheel.  In terms of lights its equivalent to all the colors in the light spectrum, “all the Hues of the Rainbow”

Each idividual color on the color wheel, in the ligth spectrum, is a hue.

Saturation: Is the intensity of a color.  Colors/Hues can be saturated or desaturated.  This saturation is the intensity of that specific color.  That intensity is measured against Neutral Gray 50% Gray.  If you desaturate a photograph you have turned the photograph into a Gray-scale image.

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Categories: Color and Photography