Color Theory


Color Theory is an important design element that is used across art mediums. Color theory is also used in everyday life. The color wheel is a helpful tool to guide one through color theory. Colors share relationships that artists use to make their art visually appealing. Photographers who shoot in color have much to consider. Photographers can set a mood with colors, create symbolism, or have the viewer feel a certain way.

Color Space 

Color can be a powerful design element if used effectively. As a photographer setting the mood is important; this can be done just by changing the light in the room. By changing the color, a photographer can energize an image or bring an earie mood to an image. By choosing the right color scheme, you can create an ambiance of sophistication, warmth, or serenity, or you can convey an image of playful youthfulness. Colors affect us both mentally and physically. A strong red color has been shown to raise the blood pressure, while a blue color has a calming effect. Being able to use colors consciously and harmoniously can help you create a spectacular image.


Understanding color is important yet understanding color space is even more important. The color space you use in your camera can have a direct effect on how your images are viewed. There are a few different color spaces that most cameras and monitors use. To understand how each, affect the end image, the photographer must understand how each color space works.

A color space is a specific organization of colors. In combination with physical device profiling, it allows for reproducible representations of color, in both analog and digital representations.

The first color space we will look at is the one that is mostly used by most monitors this color space is called the standard Red Green Blue or sRGB color space. This color space was invented by HP and Microseven in 1996 to use on monitors, printers, and the Web. This space gives a consistent result across most platforms which is why most cameras have this color space as an option. sRGB is the world's default color space.

The next color space that most cameras use is the Adobe RGB. The Adobe RGB (1998) color space is a color space developed by Adobe Systems, Inc. in 1998. It was designed to encompass most of the colors achievable on CMYK color printers, but by using RGB primary colors on a device such as a computer display.

Most color spaces are represented in a two-dimensional space even though in reality all color spaces are truly defined in a three-dimensional space. Color spaces are defined by Red, Blue and Green and each are given a point on a mathematical graph representative of X, Y, Z. X= Red Y=Blue and Z=Green with in this three-dimensional space every color can be made by combining any two points or three points.

This visual rendering of the color space in a three-dimensional space is impractical and is why color spaces are represented using two-dimensional slices from their full 3D shape. These are more useful for everyday purposes because they allow you to quickly see the entire boundary of a given cross-section in a color space. Most monitors cannot display the colors found in the Adobe RGB color space. Yet, many prints can print out the Adobe RGB color space.

So which color space is better?

Adobe RGB color space holds more information and is the preferred color space for professional photographers. sRGB can represent the same number of colors as Adobe RGB, but the range of colors that it represents are narrower. In the same way, Adobe RGB captures the same amount of colors as sRGB but offers a wider range of colors by spreading the colors out more. Some of the newer cameras have an even larger color space called ProPhoto RGB, which has a much broader spectrum than Adobe RGB some professional photographers will use. You want to use the biggest color space to give you the most information when editing and printing. You can always not use the information, yet if you need it and do not have it, you cannot make the print.

Color schemes

With colors, you can set a mood, attract attention, or make a statement. You can use color to energize or to cool down. By selecting the right color scheme, you can create an ambiance of elegance, warmth, or tranquility, or you can convey an image of playful youthfulness. Color can be your most powerful design element if you learn to use it effectively. Colors affect us in numerous ways, both mentally and physically. A strong red color has been shown to raise the blood pressure, while a blue color has a calming effect. Being able to use colors consciously and harmoniously can help you create spectacular results.

The Color Wheel

The color wheel or color circle is the basic tool for combining colors. The first circular color diagram was designed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666. The color wheel is designed so that virtually any colors you pick from it will look good together. Over the years, many variations of the basic design have been made, but the most common version is a wheel of 12 colors based on the RYB (or artistic) color model.


Traditionally, several color combinations are considered especially pleasing. These are called color harmonies or color chords and they consist of two or more colors with a fixed relation in the color wheel. Color Impact is designed to create a color wheel to match your base color dynamically. Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors In the RYB (or subtractive) color model, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. The three secondary colors (green, orange, and purple) are created by mixing two primary colors. Another six tertiary colors are created by mixing primary and secondary colors.

Warm and cool colors

The color circle can be divided into warm and cool colors. Warm colors are vivid and energetic and tend to advance in space. Cool colors give an impression of calm and create a soothing impression. White, black, and gray are considered to be neutral.

Tints, Shades, and Tones

These terms are often used incorrectly, although they describe fairly simple color concepts. If a color is made lighter by adding white, the result is called a tint. If black is added, the darker version is called a shade. And if gray is added, the result is a different tone

Add Black

Add White

Add Gray

Complementary color scheme

Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are considered to be complementary colors (example: red and green). The high contrast of complementary colors creates a vibrant look, especially when used at full saturation. This color scheme must be managed well so it is not jarring. Complementary color schemes are tricky to use in large doses, but work well when you want something to stand out. Complementary colors are really bad for text.

Analogous color scheme

Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match well and create serene and comfortable designs. Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and are harmonious and pleasing to the eye. Make sure you have enough contrast when choosing an analogous color scheme. Choose one color to dominate, a second to support. The third color is used (along with black, white, or gray) as an accent.

Triadic color scheme

A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Triadic color schemes tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues. To use a triadic harmony successfully, the colors should be carefully balanced - let one color dominate and use the two others for accent.

Split-Complementary color scheme

The split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement. This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme but has less tension. The split-complementary color scheme is often a good choice for beginners because it is difficult to mess up.

Rectangle (tetradic) color scheme

iThe rectangle or tetradic color scheme uses four colors arranged into two complementary pairs. This rich color scheme offers plenty of possibilities for variation. Tetradic color schemes work best if you let one color be dominant. You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.

Square color scheme

The square color scheme is similar to the rectangle, but with all four colors spaced evenly around the color circle. Square color schemes work best if you let one color be dominant. You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.