Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Exercise – Colour relationships

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Brief:

This exercise is in two parts. The first is to produce one photograph for each combination of primary and secondary colours, adjusting the distance, focal length or framing when you shoot so that you compose the picture to the proportions given, as closely as possible.

For the second part, produce three or four images which feature colour combinations that appeal to you. They can be combinations of two colours or more.

Equipment:

Canon EOS 650D with EF 18-200mm f/3.5 lens; Leica X1 24mm; Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 18-55mm f/2.8 lens

Results:

Part 1:

Red-green, 1:1

This pair of cottage doors in Whitby jumped out as being a great example of red-green balance, albeit with the black border round the red door. The colours are equally strong and I think it does demonstrate how well-balanced an equal mix of red and green can be.

Red-green

Red-green

Orange-blue, 1:2

I believe the ratio here is approximately 1 orange to 2 blue, slightly interrupted by the green of the tiles, but I think it gives enough orange and blue to demonstrate the point. To me, the brightness of the orange does indeed mean that you need less of it than the less bright blue of the sky.

Orange-blue

Orange-blue

Yellow-violet, 1:3

I found this combination the hardest to find naturally so resorted to making my wife accessorise a new violet jacket with an old yellow t-shirt. I think the ratio is about 1:3 but find it quite hard to judge by eye. In this particular composition the yellow cuts through the middle of the violet and widens, almost like a necktie until it flows into the bottom left corner. To be absolutely honest I’m not sure if I agree that this combination is harmonious – possibly as it is too bright a shade of violet?

Yellow-violet

Yellow-violet

Part 2:

Red-green-yellow/orange

This fiery red facade of an apartment building in the old town in Nice really caught my eye, with the accents of green and the yellow/orange trim lines. The abundance of deep red makes this eye-catching rather than balanced, but that’s what attracted me to the image.

Red-green-yellow

Red-green-yellow

Orange-violet-yellow

Above a restaurant in south west London is this row of three very brightly painted townhouses. As they are of approximately equal size (orange slightly wider) and the two outside ones are brighter than the middle one, the colours are not in what you would call perfect harmony, but as per the last photo, it’s this fact that makes the image stand out so much.

 Orange-violet-yellow

Orange-violet-yellow

Red-blue

While it may be considered cheating slightly to photograph a painting, the truth is that I saw and bought this painting between starting the exercise and finishing it; I was evidently in the ‘colour blocking zone’ and it really appealed to me. The strong red depicts a beach but in a hue not normally associated with a beach, and similarly the sea is shown as a deep green, giving this a more impressionistic, other-worldy air. Only the sky keeps a naturalistic colour. The overall effect is almost, but not quite, abstract. As in the mediterranean building above, it’s the strong, full-blooded red that catches my eye here.

Red-blue

Red-blue

Multi-coloured

I found this set of nested mixing bowls/spoons in our kitchen very interesting from a colour combination point of view, as it seems the designer put some thought into the arrangement of the colours, following an approximate path around the colour wheel. This rainbow effect is rendered slightly less jarring than it otherwise could have been by this effect of gradation rather than having wholly clashing adjacent colours. That said, it is still quite jarring visually. It draws the eye in to the centre.

Multi-coloured

Multi-coloured

What I’ve learned:

These colour exercises are taking me much longer than I expected; I’m finding it much harder to find examples of colours, and especially combinations of colours, in daily life than I found the equivalent exercise with design elements. That said, I’m satisfied with the outcome of this exercise and the learning points. I broadly agree with the expected findings in the combinations / ratios in part one of the exercise, maybe slightly less so in the yellow/violet combo. The ‘freestyle’ examples that I chose are more examples of deliberately not following the principles of colour balance, to make the pictures more visually interesting, if less truly harmonious.

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