Color Theory – Colors Before Photography

What is color? Why is it there? What’s its purpose besides adding character to the world around you? These are questions humanity has asked itself since well… probably the beginning of time. Do we have an answer?

Sure, we may have theories but we do not have anything concrete to arrive at any given conclusion on the existence of color. It just: is. Whilst man tries to define a purpose for colors others have come across their own purpose when it comes down to the many colors of the world: Photography. Without color, most photos would be lacking A LOT. Even IF it’s only a black and white color, technically speaking, Black and white ARE colors so the absence of the absence is well… absent.

Although we do not know of the origin of colors we have used it to fulfill our own means, whether it’s a photograph or a painting hanging on the wall. For hundreds if not thousands of years man has researched the properties of colors coming down to the conclusion that color is simply a gateway to fine-art, this includes the act of capturing a photograph with a camera. How do colors work in Photography? Let’s find out.

If you’re gonna take a few snaps with a camera where color is the subject matter you can’t just go around taking a bunch of random pictures and expect the color to be perfect (Though it is possible, but rare). You need to understand how the color theory works before you start snapping.

In comparison to the color schemes of the old days you digital age kids got it lucky. You have so many choices when it comes down to color compositions it’s not even funny, Photoshop, Adobe programs, Apple Aperture, etcetera, etcetera, all at your beck and call when editing your picture’s color properties.

Of course you kids can’t assume that these programs will get you a master piece every time, not even close. Color may appear to be a small aspect of a photo but that’s not true at all, colors are what set the photo in motion, make you see things you’ve never seen before, opens up a new perspective in life that most “claim” they understand. When you look at the color of your piece, you must understand there is much more to be done before you can move on with your post work.

Color Styles

Hue, Saturation and Brightness are the most crucial factors of any given color scheme within Photoshop and replications like it. You just need to pay attention to “How” these forms should be implemented when working on correcting the color of a photo.

1. Hue:

Translation: Color. Or in other words the most basic of colors we have come to know, red, yellow, blue, green and orange. These are what we’d call a hue.

Primary Hues:

A Primary hue would be a kind of hue that is melded from already existing colors combined to create one color. But you’d need to have two sets of primary colors firstly. Painters would generally use colors with reflected light, the most obvious colors: red, yellow and blue. Of course if you are an avid member of the digital era you may have already come across some a different set of primary colors whilst using your PC, besides the overly abundant red, green and blue are secondary choices. These are the kind of colors you attain with transmitted light be it from your computer screen or your Digital camera.

Secondary Hues:

Although Primary colors are the most abundant of colors used they cannot function properly without the access of complementary colors or to just simply put it: secondary colors. Green is the partner of red, violet matches yellow, orange and blue were met for each other. With these colors together you will give the viewer of your photo a feeling of enlightenment in term of how the piece is perceived. You will have the makings of great harmony and tension with these colors complementing one another (In a metaphysical senseJ).

2. Saturation:

Also known as “Chroma,” determines how a hue should appear to the naked eye without causing stress. If you are to fully saturate any color it becomes ONLY that color in its purest form with a lack of lightened results. The same can be said for using less saturation but then your product would come out looking icky. In reality you cannot mix certain colors together and expect an amazing saturation to come of it. There are only a few in their purest form that would work in a completed photo. But for those few that DO work you can use certain photographs like a garden, a plant or flower and blend that with a muddy greenery look and weeps some pretty nifty benefits.

3. Brightness:

This determines how the hues will end up looking in the end, light vs. dark. There is an expressive range of hues to be garnered when looking for that balance between light and dark you can go anywhere from full-on to in-between to something even less redundant. The brightness of a color can really only be determined based on the color itself, so if you have a yellow don’t go in excepting to make it darker because it would then become a completely different color all together. One of the exceptions would be blue because no matter what hue of brightness you contract it to, it is always blue whether it’s light or dark, blue it remains. Green garners a rather large range of light-dark aspect quality as well but not as vibrantly as blue. Controlling the brightness aspects rather it is of lower or higher quality will determine the vivid nature of your photograph, so you need to decide how your picture will work.

4. Advancing and receding colors:

Red and yellow give you a sense of awe, like they’re coming right at ya; this gives them the feeling of advancement. Blue and green appear farther away and look as though they’d leave behind less of an impact, thus they appear more receding. If you are to have a color closer to the viewer, red would be the ideal choice as it adds more inner depth and prowess to your photo. Yellow would not work as ideally as red as it relies heavily on it’s background, yellow works better with black background then it does with a white.

5. Combining Colors:

Combing colors is really based upon you and you alone. What kind of aspect are you wishing to achieve? There are guidelines to how you should play this but there are no set-rules on how you should combine any given color to gain the effect YOU want. However, just because you CAN combine any color you want with another doesn’t mean you SHOULD. If you want your product to look pleasing to a viewer it’s best to “combine with care” The best way to do this is to compare any given color and combine it with its opposite, like this: Primary vs. Complementary. Play around with that until the desired effected is processed.

Of course when combing colors together keep the color intensity in mind: Yellow=9, Orange=8, Red=6, Green=6, Blue= 4, Violet=3. If you were to say, combine a Yellow with a red, since yellow is about 50 percent more instance then Red the dominant colors will be given to the red, thus it will be more apparent then the intense yellow, this is good for viewers so they don’t have to look at something that could make them want to cover their eyes as yellow tends to accomplish with ease.

In the end…

Understanding and maintaining the effects of color is essential to making a complete and satisfactory photograph. Familiarize yourself with all the tools at your disposal and USE THEM. If you’re in it for something more then just a simple family photograph don’t snap a picture and expect to make tons of cash off it if the color scheme isn’t appropriate for a buyer. With every shot you take the same processes should be implemented, color restoration is a very critical part of getting that photo to where it needs to be. Of course just because it’s a necessity doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, play around with your color scheme and see what you can discover. Maybe you’ll make something that’ll be remembered for years to come. You never know.