Category Archives: 15 Building a library of colours

Exercise: Primary and secondary colours

The brief:

Find scenes or parts of scenes that are each dominated by a single one of the primary and secondary colours. With each colour that you find, vary the exposure slightly if your camera allows. To do this, make one exposure as the meter reading indicates, a second exposure half a stop brighter, and a third exposure half a stop darker. One of the three will more closely match the colours in the circle above, and for this exercise, select whichever is the closest match.

For ease of reference, I have included Johannes Itten’s twelve-part colour circle below.

Johannes Itten's twelve-park color circle

Johannes Itten’s twelve-part colour circle showing primary colours (yellow/red/blue) and the secondary colours (orange/green/violet) and tertiary colours (yellow-orange/red-orange/red-violet/blue-violet/blue-green/yellow-green)

Taken on a very sunny day, in the middle of the day (I know – not the best time – but I just have to shoot whenever I can) my control image was taken at f8 and the histogram is nicely balanced towards the centre. At one half stop lower (Fig 02) the highlights are almost clipping and the brightness level has increased, washing the image out. At f10 (fig 03) the image is considerably darker, the brightness level having gone down. I think Fig 01 is probably the closest match to the red in the colour wheel. Red is a primary colour.

My control image was taken at f8 (fig 04) again and I believe this photo to match closest to the yellow (another primary colour)  in the colour wheel. At f6.3 (fig 05) some details is lost in the petals of the sunflower, although the highlights are not clipping yet. My personal favourite is the one taken at f10 (fig 06) as the brightness level has been turned down a notch and the details in the petals are nicely visible. This is probably how the sunflower would look had I taken the shot earlier in the morning.

Back in an alley in an industrial area, I took my control image of the garbage container at f11 (fig 07), then opened up one-third to f10 (fig 08) for the next image and finally stopped down to f13 (fig 09).  I think the image in fig 08 is the closest representation to the actual garbage container. However, the brightness of the blue (primary colour) in fig 09 probably makes it a closer match to the blue of the colour wheel.

This hydrangea is about the closest I’ve been able to find to violet (secondary colour). Violet is not an easy colour to find here where I live in Canada – I have no clue why. Again my control image was taken at f8. At 6.3 the flower looks quite washed out, The photo taken at f10 is more representative of the violet in the colour wheel above.

At the tool rental yard I spotted some orange (secondary colour) items clustered together – an orange sign, hazard light and a forklift. I focused on the sign, but decided to include a bit of the orange forklift in the frame as the forklift and the hazard light are probably closer to the orange in the colour wheel generally speaking, while the sign is more of an red/orange colour. Once again my control image was shot at f8. The image shot at f10 is lacking highlights and is too saturated. The image taken at aperture f6.3 more closely matches the orange in the colour wheel above.

Vancouver is a city that consists of green and blue colours. Green (secondary colour) abounds everywhere. Surrounded by rain forests and maple trees and other vegetation, one is spoilt for choice of which green to photograph. However, matching the green in the colour wheel is not an easy task. I think these photographs of the zucchini plant in my garden come pretty close. I think the closest match would be fig 17, although it is a bit bright for my taste. Personally I prefer the control image in fig 16 where the saturation and brightness are nicely balanced. The green in fig 18 is too saturated.

Reference List

Freeman, Michael (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and design for Better Digital Photos. Lewes, England: The Ilex Press.

Itten, Johannes, 1970. The Elements of Color. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.