It’s time to explore more color! This week in The Color Wheel, Part 2, we’re looking at some of the more dynamic color schemes you can create using the color wheel. When you place colors that are not directly adjacent on the color wheel together in a composition, you get a fantastic burst of contrast and energy.
To review the concept of the color wheel* and the adjacent color harmonies, visit The Color Wheel, Part 1.
Let’s dive right in to these new combinations!
When you combine colors that are directly opposite on the color wheel, you have a complementary color scheme. This includes the primary-secondary complementaries (Blue with Orange, Red with Green or Yellow with Violet) as well as the tertiary complementaries (i.e., Green-Yellow with Red-Violet). This color scheme has a lot of visual contrast, and can serve to pull your eye directly to a point in a photo by a pop of complementary color.
The lead in photo of the post, the purple and yellow painted wall I found in Hood River, Oregon last weekend, is an example of a complementary color scheme. Where does your eye go first? Mine goes to the yellow among the purple, then moves through the image to take in the other line and form. The image below, captured in colorful Burano, is another example. The complementary blue is what draws your eye, out of the expanse of orange.
The chromatic contrast from the opposites on the color wheel is one of the easiest ways to give your images a “pop” with color.
You can create a color harmony with three colors equally spaced along the color wheel. This is called a triadic color scheme. The most typical would be the primary colors, Red-Yellow-Blue. Often seen is also Green-Orange-Violet (especially around Halloween, in the US). There are two tertiary color triads as well. These equally spaced colors on the wheel can create a wonderful balance.
Again in Burano, this primary triadic color scheme was found. The primary colors play nicely together, the image has both energy and balance.
Another primary triadic image is found in these boats in the marina of Rio Maggiore, Cinque Terre. The jumble of nautical equipment is harmonized by the primary color scheme.
When you use two of the three colors from a triad, you have a triadic variation. Think Red-Blue from the primary triad, or Green-Orange from the secondary triad. This color scheme is very common and I found many examples in my images.
A particular favorite of mine is Orange-Green. Just take a look at my blog colors! I love the dynamic contrast these two colors have with each other. I gain a lot of energy from this combination.
When you combine four colors from the color wheel, either equally spaced as a square or unequally spaced as a rectangle, you have a tetrad harmony. A square tetrad incorporates two complementary pairs. Surprisingly, these color combinations are balanced and create a lot of depth in an image.
When reviewing color schemes to prepare for this post, I did not think I would have examples for this complex harmony. As I looked closer though, I found they are in my images to great effect. Consider this recent favorite from the Corvallis Farmer’s market. It’s a rectangular tetradic combination: Red, Violet, Green and Yellow (well, yellow-orange). No wonder it works so well! What seemed like a random jumble of color was actually a color harmony.
Proportion of Color
As you get into more complex color schemes with 3 or more colors, it is important to discuss proportion of color. Typically, a pleasing color combination will have unequal amounts of each color. When working with three colors, there is the “gallon-quart-ounce” rule. In non-US language, think of it as 60-30-10. You want a “gallon” (60%) of your image to be the main color, “quart” (30%) to be the supporting color and “ounce” (10%) to be an accent color.
This colorful boat (again, from Burano) is a great example. Mainly blue, with red as a supporting color and just a pop of yellow. I couldn’t have set up a better example if I had tried!
Take a look at the examples in this post with the idea of proportion in mind. Do you see the different proportions in each, and how proportion and color scheme work together with the composition of the image? Considering color along with other factors in your compositions can be a powerful tool for creating interesting images.
This week we’ve covered some of the more dynamic color schemes you can set up with the color wheel:
- Complementary – Two colors, opposite on the color wheel.
- Triadic – Three colors, equally spaced apart on the color wheel. Using only two of these three colors is a triadic variation.
- Tetrad – Four colors, either equally spaced on the color wheel (square) or unequally but consistently spaced (rectangle).
- Proportion – Unequal proportions of color are more pleasing to the eye. Think “gallon-quart-ounce” or 60-30-10 for the relative proportions of color in more complex color schemes.