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Colour Basics and Use of Contrast

Page history last edited by Craig 14 years, 6 months ago

Colour Basics


Understanding colours and their relationships is very important in photography. Some people have a natural eye for seeing colours and can't explain why, but it directly relates to their intuitive understanding of colour and their relationships with each other.


One could take many classes looking at the theory of colour dynamics and relationships, but for the sake of getting down to business and taking better pictures lets look at two simple aspects of colour understanding and then you can learn how to use this for taking better photos:


A) The colour wheel - primary colours are: red, blue and yellow. Every other colour is made up from these colours. The colours you see opposite each other on the wheel are considered "complimentary" colours and this is important to note, as this is where a photographer can use colour contrast to her/his advantage in terms of producing a "WOW" type of photo.



B) Colour Tint/Shading - By adding black and white to colours, you create shading. Having an image using one main colour and having the secondary colours a different tint/shade can produce the "WOW" effect as well - This type of contrast withing the same colour scheme, but different shading is called TONAL CONTRAST.



Those are some very, very basic ideas surrounding the colours you see around you. Now lets look at some examples, so you can appreciate the use of colour and tonal contrast before you take you next shots this week.




Many photographers know how to use contrast to benefit their photos. Contrast makes photos eye catching and can even make the most basic looking photos look great. There are two types of contrast:


Tonal contrast

Many excel at shooting photos with good tonal contrast. A good example of tonal contrast are silhouettes. The foreground is completely dark while the background is properly exposed. This works well because there is a sharp difference between the dark and light areas.


Color contrast

Color contrast is used less frequently because many people do not think about it. Capturing a photograph with good color contrast is more difficult than tonal contrast, but it is still quite easy if you consider your complimentary (opposite colours).




What Can Good Colour Contrast Do?


Good color contrast is a good solution when tonal contrast is hard to achieve. Even a tiny area with the opposite hue can make a large difference. Analyze the two photos below. The image on the left looks quite boring, but once we add back the colors of the red flowers, the image looks a lot more interesting.



In the image below, the color contrast is good because the colors are almost opposite of each other. The image is loud and grabs attention.



The image below has low color contrast but it still looks great because it has good tonal contrast. Also, low color contrast is not always bad. Low color contrast makes the photo quieter and well for the scenery photo below.




You can make your photos more striking by increasing the color contrast. Below is an example that compares the color contrast. With less color contrast, the image will look dull and quiet. High color contrast makes photos look striking.





The color saturation affects the intensity of the effect. The more vibrant the colors, the more color contrast.





Color contrast also works better with fewer and larger color masses. In the image below, the checkboard pattern has weaker contrast because similar colors are separated and there is an even number of colors (50% orange, 50% cyan). The image on the right has stronger contrast because there are only two areas and more of one color than the other (75% orange, 25% cyan).



When you introduce other colors into the photo, the color contrast will decrease. Even though yellow and purple are main colors in the left image below, the introduction of other colors (beige, red, and blue), makes the photo less dynamic. The image on the right is an example of good color contrast. There are few colors and more difference in mass between the two complementary colors.



Other Examples of Strong Colour Contrast





Well there is a lot of information for you to soak up here, but always go back to your colour wheel and remember to always be thinking of your composition before you take your shots to maximize the potential to get great contrasting images that stand out! Now get out there, practice and experiment!






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