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Color is everywhere and forms the backdrop of our lives. Color is a unique type of language that can embody emotional, conceptual and even political content. This incredible fact is something that we often overlook but it plays a major role in our psychology and the choices we make in life.
There is heated and ongoing debate as to the root causes of the powerful associations that we all have with the different colors that we see around us. One of the most likely theories is that the strong relationship that human beings have with color originates in our distant evolutionary past.
Consider a situation, many thousands of years ago, when our ancestors were hunter gatherers. When our ancestors were out in the forest looking for food it was important to learn what was safe to eat and what was dangerous. Plants use color to advertise their properties. Many poisonous plants and snakes, for example, have bright colors. As a result, if you were to see a snake that had bright red and yellow stripes you would instinctively know that it was probably venomous!
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These associations are very real in our psychological makeup and are still used to this day. Think about the signs that you see around you each day. Signs that warn you of danger are often colored yellow and black while signs that forbid you to do something are often red. These colors represent danger and consequently catch our attention better than a beige sign saying the same things would do!
Color Influences Your Moods, Emotions and Reactions to a Photo.
Photographers are especially cognizant of the colors around them but everybody, whether they are artistic or not, probably has a favourite color and certainly has preferences.
What is Color Theory?
One of the earliest proponents of color theory was the famous artist Leonardo da Vinci but color theory has continued to develop over the centuries and is now an important part of photography theory.
Color theory is the study of color and the ways in which they can be used together in order to achieve different effects. Color theory is widely used in art, marketing and design. Artists, photographers and designers use colors to elicit different feelings and reactions in their audiences.
Color theory is a set of rules which can be referred to by designers and photographers to create strong visual work that stands out from the crowd and communicates a chosen message to the viewer.
Color Theory – The 3 Categories of Color.
In color theory, colors are divided into three groupings: primary, secondary and tertiary.
- Primary Colors (Red, Yellow and Blue): These are known as the primary colors because by mixing them together you can create every other color in the color wheel.
- Secondary Colors (Orange, Green and Purple): Colors that are mixed from primary colors are called secondary colors.
- Tertiary Colors (Yellow-Orange, Red-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Red-Violet and Blue Violet): Tertiary colors are colors that are mixed from primary and secondary colors.
The Color Wheel.
The Color wheel is a vital tool for color theorists and is also used by designers, photographers and artists to help them decide what colors to use in their compositions.
When designing a color scheme for a piece you will usually want to create a harmonious overall feeling. You can do this using almost any color scheme however the colors should be working together to produce the effect that you desire.
There are several main ways that you can create a color scheme and palate to use in composing your work.
- Monochromatic Color Scheme – The simplest color scheme that you can use is monochromatic. To achieve this you choose only one color and then use different shades of it in your composition.
- Analogous Color Scheme – To create an analogous color scheme in your design you can take three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. For example you could choose yellow, yellow-orange and orange to build a sunny and fun feeling design. You can also use shades of these colors within the color scheme by using white and black to create more variation and contrast.
- Complementary – This is a very popular method of creating powerful color schemes that really stand out and attract the eye of the viewer. In this case you use colors that are opposite to one another on the color wheel, for example blue and orange or yellow and purple.
- Compound Harmony – To achieve this you can use colors that are opposite on the color wheel but also add analogous colors to the composition. This means that if you selected blue and orange as complementary colors you can use the colors on each side of them to create more tonal contrast within the image.
- Triadic Composition – To use this technique you need to use three colors that are equally far apart on the color wheel. So Yellow, Blue and Red, or Orange, Green and Purple would be examples of a triadic composition.
- Tetradic Composition – This is a great option in branding and marketing and involves selecting two sets of complementary colors and using them together. It’s usually a good idea to use one of the colors as the dominant one in the image to avoid confusing compositions. Examples of a tetradic composition could include Blue, Violet, Orange and Yellow; or Green, Red, Yellow and Purple.
These tried and tested compositional tools provide a helpful starting point when you are designing an image or composing a photo. These concepts can be used in your photo studio, out in the field or in marketing materials.
What is Color Branding?
Color branding is a technique where companies, designers and photographers use carefully chosen color schemes to represent the ideals, ethos, values and purpose of a company or brand.
Every famous company uses well crafted color branding to represent it and make it easy to identify for consumers. One of the most iconic brands of the 20th Century, Coca-Cola, uses a monochromatic red color scheme. This is the basic brand color for the company and combined with the unique textual font it makes Coca-Cola one of the most recognizable brands on the planet. By sticking to the same color palette the company manages to create a stronger presence in the competitive world of advertising.
However, you don’t have to be a multinational corporation to take color branding seriously! Whether you are running a small to medium size business, are a freelancing self employed creative or working to design a brand identity for a client, the color scheme that you use will be one of the most important decisions that you make in the design process.
Why Do You Need to Select the Right Color Branding?
Different colors have different meanings and elicit fairly universal feelings in the eyes of your audience. When you are selecting a color scheme to represent a brand then you need to keep the conscious and subconscious meanings of the colors in mind as you make your choice.
Colors and their Subconscious Meanings in Design.
- White – Signifies good health, cleanliness, simplicity and innocence. It is often used in health settings because it is neutral and positive.
- Gray – Signifies classic style, maturity and calm. Often used in luxury ranges and financial services.
- Black – Signifies luxury, mystery, sophisticated style and superior services. Black is often used to evoke a feeling of modern luxury.
- Red – Signifies excitement, anger, passion, danger and is one of the most vibrant colors that immediately attracts the attention of your viewer’s gaze.
- Yellow – Signifies happiness, optimism, youth and fun. It is often associated with vitality, good health and sunshine.
- Orange – Signifies friendliness and playfulness. It’s a color that is full of energy and is bright and happy.
- Green – Signifies sustainability, growth, the natural world and prosperity. It is often used in environmental causes.
- Blue (light shades) – Signifies trust, tranquility and calm. It is often associated with the ocean, water and freshness.
- Blue (dark shades) – Signifies professionalism, maturity, security, formal settings and trustworthiness. It is often used in hospitality and financial services.
- Purple – Signifies tradition, royalty and luxury. It is often used in luxury brand products such as chocolate or wine.
- Pink – Signifies youth, innocence and feminine qualities. It is often used to represent modern trends and feminine luxury.
- Brown – Signifies the earth, soil, security and traditional values. It is often used in agriculture and organic food brands.
Color Theory in Photography.
The composition of colors is an essential aspect of marketing and successful branding however in photography it plays just as an important role. When you are composing a photo the colors that make up the image will have a major impact on the audience. This applies in all genres of photography and is something that you need to get the hang of in order to deliver your message in a consistent way.
Color can be used to represent a feeling or mood in your photo but it can also be used to lead your viewer’s eye through the picture. A dark colored scene with a single red umbrella in the background will lead the eye of your viewer through the darkness to the area of bright color. Consider the power of this technique when it was used to incredibly emotive effects by the legendary film director Steven Spielberg in his film ‘Schindler’s List’. The entire film is shot in black and white with the exception of one girl who is wearing a red dress. She stands out in the shots and is used as a motif through the film to draw the audience into the scenery.
Why Use Color Theory in Your Photography?
- Creates powerfully emotive photos that speak to the subconscious mind of your viewers.
- Allows you to lead the gaze of your audience through the picture.
- Color schemes can be used to develop your own ‘brand’ which makes your photos more recognizable. You could specialize in black and white photography, monochromatic or complementary color schemes in minimalist work or vividly bright portraits.
- Further develop your compositional skills which can be used throughout your work.
- Using the right color scheme can help to enhance the meaning of a photo or series of photos.
- The correct color scheme can help to build better object recognition and make the subject of your work stand out.
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As a Photographer You can make Great Use of Color Theory.
In photography you can use color theory to your advantage. To make the most of the valuable knowledge in color theory you will need to experiment and keep trying new things. It’s a good idea to take inspiration from other photographers, artists and designers and to keep your eye out for anything which really stands out to you! Colors have powerful emotional, symbolic and subconscious meanings which can be used to give your photography greater depth and impact.
Do you pay attention to color theory as a photographer?
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