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Colour: the language of colour

July 2016 –

Colour is a very important consideration in photography but do you know why colours react with each other like they do?

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Swan Valley Perth Lesson

Consider a green leaf. Put it against a grey stone wall, an azure sky or a red rose and it will seem to change. Why? The answer is in the way that colours react with each other.

Colours can do one of three things; they can harmonise, they can contrast or they can clash (discordant). How they react with each other is, to a large extent, dependent upon their position on the spectrum.

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Cottesloe Beach Perth Travel Photography

A colour wheel is a simplified spectrum and one which places harmonising colours (for example, yellow and green) close to each other and contrasting colours (for example, blue and yellow) well apart. These six colours are then split into two groups – the primary colours (red, green and blue) and the complementary (or secondary) colours (magenta, cyan and yellow).

These complementary colours can be formed by mixing two primary colours thus magenta is a composite of red and blue, cyan is formed from green and blue, and yellow is formed from a compound of red and green.

Colour Wheel for Learning Photography




Both groups of colours will contrast with each other although, as you can see, there is a higher level of contrast among the primary colours.

Going back to the example of the green leaf, it would be seen:

Naturally – when pictured against a neutral background such as a grey stone wall.

Harmonising – when photographed against a backdrop of a blue sky.

Contrasting – when pictured alongside a red flower.

What is given here is generally true although you will find exceptions such as on an overcast day when traditionally contrasting colours appear to harmonise. This effect is caused by the strength and brilliance of the colours being reduced by the lower light level, something which diminishes their natural contrast.

Colour strength depends upon three factors – hue, saturation and brightness.

Hue is the basic colour – e.g. blue, red or green.

Saturation is the purity of the hue. Fully-saturated is the original colour but adding black will give a shade and adding white will produce a tint.

Brightness is a measure of the level of reflectivity of the colour thus on an overcast day when there is less natural light, the colours become desaturated and those which would not normally harmonise begin to. Ironically, on a day with very bright sunshine, glare will have a similar effect, reducing colour saturation and increasing harmony where contrast would otherwise have existed.

Colour in learning portrait and travel photography

If you would like to learn more about photography One Sky Photography has a variety of courses on using your camera at a variety of locations around Perth.

Travel Photography Portrait Workshop

I had a really good time yesterday, you made the course very enjoyable and easy. Even though I still feel a beginner with photography, I can see the potential in creativity, thanks to your easy approach to the technical side of the camera.

Celine Gaudin

Garry gave my husband & I a 3 hour lesson on how to use our new Nikon cameras. He is a great teacher and photographer. We learned so much as he explained everything so clearly. We no longer set our cameras to ‘Auto’. We really enjoyed the lesson. Thanks Garry!

Steph Debnam

Many thanks for this Garry,
I found yesterday very useful and interesting. A good 3 hours well spent.!! Once again many thanks for your help – it was good fun.

Peter Brash

I’m so thankful Carol organised the lesson with you for me. My photos and Carol’s are so much better. Carol loves having her photo taken now! We get so many comments on our photos now.

Ilse Roets

Garry did an excellent job of pitching the lesson just right based on the limited experience we both had.

Kathy Davis

Finally, I can get off auto mode with my DSLR and start taking some speccy pics! Three hours with Garry Wilcox has demystified the process for me and made me feel far more confident about experimenting with exposures and lighting etc. He certainly knows his stuff and communicates it most effectively and patiently.

Gary McGay

Thanks for your time on Sunday. The lesson was fantastic and I really learnt a lot. Carol posted a couple of the photos on facebook that we took of Eva and have had a lot of really positive responses. Thanks again for your time.

Paul Foley

I thoroughly enjoyed yesterdays lesson and felt I learnt a lot. It inspired me to take my camera out during the ‘ Golden hour’ yesterday and take some photos around Lake Claremont. The sunset was awesome!


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