Yesterday was all about light and the way that contrasts or changes in that light can have a pretty dramatic impact on your work when you present it to others.  Of equal importance to photography though is the element of color. If you don’t take color shades and variances into consideration, then you have lost an element of control in your photography.

When we think of color, many of us are familiar with the three primaries. Red, Green, and Blue as these are letters of one of the most common color spaces (Adobe RGB).  Surely though, even though we may not consciously think about it, there are more than three colors out there.  Even the traditional axiom of a ROYGBIV rainbow only indicates 7 colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet), and there are way more than that within the color spectrum.  So, let’s take a look at the entire spectrum of color:

The Color Spectrum
The Color Spectrum

Since colors represent particular wavelengths of light, you can see how light and color tie into one another very quickly.  Just because you define something as “red”, doesn’t give a complete description of that color, because there can be so many nuances, shades, hues, or wavelengths of red.  So, in understanding that color is something we can control for, it’s first helpful to know that you are still controlling for luminance, light, or contrast while also controlling for color, because the shades you let come through in your photos will also be somewhat controlled by the amount of contrast, luminance, or light.

Another way in which color can control how people view and perceive your images is to understand the idea behind complementary colors.  Some colors work well together, while others don’t.  For instance, take a look at the photo below:

Yellow Flowers
Yellow Flowers

So, in looking at this photo – which do you think the contrasting colors are?  A typical kneejerk reaction would be to say the yellow and the black are the two contrasting colors.  Black though, really from a visual perspective means a total lack of color (black = nothing, white = everything…remember grade school?).  So, really the contrasting colors would probably be the yellow and what?  The greens of the stems or the browns of the center?  A case could be made for either, but I am going to go with the browns here.  If you look back at the color spectrum, you can see that yellow and brown are relatively close together (as are yellow and green) – they are actually right next to one another – so they complement each other nicely.  It’s also no accident that these colors are in use with the black background too.  Because the colors are of the brighter variety, they look better with a darker background.  There’s two elements of color at play here then, complementary colors (colors that work well together due to proximity on the color spectrum) and color luminance (light versus dark colors).  If you want a lighter color to stand out, then place it in a scene where the rest of the background is either much darker (or vice versa).  To show how this works, look at the same image when I replace the background with white rather than black:

Bad color control
Bad color control

See how brighter colors look with a brighter background?  Now granted, the mask job was  rather quick and messy, but you can see how the colors and their background can have a huge impact on the quality of your work.  While this speaks more to the luminance and contrast factor from yesterday, it can also help in understanding how to position colors in your work so subjects can get the attention they deserve.  Pretty cool, eh?

So, which are your favorite complementary colors?  Do you like the yellows and greens?  Or the red and blues?  Or violets and purples?  Don’t forget color shades too – as light never really leaves the picture (both figuratively and literally speaking)!  Which scenes do you like?  Answering these questions in not only the works of others, but also in your own work can help develop your sense of style and define what makes your work unique, so embrace your originality!  Sound off in the comments with your take on controlling color in your images!

2 thoughts on “Five Elements of Control: #2 Color

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