Colour relationships


This exercise consists of two parts.  Part one requires a single photograph for each combination of primary and secondary colours, adjusting distance, focal length or framing so as to compose the pictures in the following proportions, or at least close to:

  • Red: Green           1:1
  • Orange: Blue         1:2
  • Yellow: Violet        1:3

Part two requires the production of three or four images which feature appealing colour combinations; these can be of two or more colours.  The objective is to demonstrate there is no single ‘correctness’ to complimentary colours.  However, any indication of imbalance in the combination should be studied and the effect noted in the learning log; the slight tension that comes from imbalance can often be more interesting than perfect equilibrium.


As this followed logically from the previous exercise my research was focussed on possible images.  It was evident from the outset that the first part was going to be difficult if I was to follow my wish to identify suitable scenes ‘as found’ in the landscape environment.  I also had to get it firmly in my mind that this exercise was about colour harmony and that balance/imbalance was not about, shall we say, the selection of white balance setting. However,  I did delve into the origins of the colour values assigned by J W Von Goethe out of interest as I had never heard of this before; on the one hand I found it to be a bit difficult to get my head around having an engineering background and therefore very much from the Newton side of life, but on the other there may be something in Goethe’s view given the influence that colour has on us from a psychological perspective.


Part 1

DC6_3890 - 1/45 sec, f5.6, ISO400, 56mm Red:Green - 1:1

DC6_3890 – 1/45 sec, f5.6, ISO400, 56mm
Red:Green – 1:1

It was difficult to gauge the proportions of this in camera so I chose to bisect the frame diagonally with the green bramble crossing the red stems of the Dogwood.  Compositionally this worked for me with the single thick stem of the bramble contrasting with the confusion of red stems behind.  Taking the shot in the early morning shortly after a heavy mist lifted gave a good depth of colour to both the green leaves and the red stems.

DC6_3847 - 1/90 sec, f6.7, ISO100, 70mm Orange:Blue - 1:2

DC6_3847 – 1/90 sec, f6.7, ISO100, 70mm
Orange:Blue – 1:2

Fortunate to have an RNLI station close by!  Whilst the proportion does not strictly fit the requirement I think the design of the sign illustrates well the use of proportions and complementary colours to produce a striking, eye-catching advert, especially attached to the green fence.  I guess I could have cropped the image to give a closer 1:2 but, to my mind that would have been fiddling the books for the sake of it.  I believe what I have captured here is a good illustration of the use of colour to attract attention and it has been designed following the ‘ideal proportions’.

DC6_3899 - 1/15 sec, f8.0, ISO 100, 105mm Yellow:Violet  - 1:3

DC6_3899 – 1/15 sec, f8.0, ISO 100, 105mm
Yellow:Violet – 1:3

Again, finding a subject that gave the proportions called for in the exercise proved a challenge.  I felt sure I could find something in nature to use for these colours as they are so prevalent in flora, just not at this time of year in the wild.  However, this proves that looking at things from a different angle is revealing.  Right or wrong I really like this image, to me it speaks volumes as to the use of colour by nature.  The proportions may not exactly fit the bill but nature must have had a reason for what we see here; it may not be divided up in the proportions that deliver an impact for us but it surely must be pleasing to some bugs out there.  Again, I guess I could have framed\cropped to deliver more closely the 1:3 but that would have lost the context which I consider important to illustrate this use of colour balance in nature.

Part 2

I decided to adopt a ‘Just Do It (JDI)’ approach to this part of the exercise; get out and about and see what takes the eye from a colour perspective, take the shot then address the “why?”.

DC6_3800 - 1/60 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 50mm

DC6_3800 – 1/60 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 50mm

Shortly after a bit of a storm I decided to go to the beach to see the impact. This, believe it or not, is ‘as found’!  I had no hesitation in breaking out the camera.  So why? Having sat in front of the image on the screen for some time I guess there are two main reasons.  First, this demonstrates the power of colour insomuch as we produces millions of throwaway articles many of which are highly coloured, presumably to appeal to us sensually, encourage us to purchase them, use for a while then throw away and buy some more.  This is reinforced by the fact that my eye was instantly drawn to the area.  From a colour perspective it is, to me, in harmony or balance probably because of the spectrum of the colours present and the random distribution, although I think there is tension induced by the fact that the coloured artefacts are against a backdrop of naturally occurring material, be it the colour or texture.  The other reason I took this shot is very simple, it is but a small indicator of what we are doing to this planet; take a look at the work of Garth Lenz.

DC6_3845 - 1/180 sec, f8, ISO100, 48mm

DC6_3845 – 1/180 sec, f8, ISO100, 48mm

Passing by this park I was struck immediately by the visual impact of the colours used in the children’s play area against the lush green of the field in which it stands, notwithstanding half of it was under water!  Here we have, in the main, three colours that sit one in each third of the colour wheel providing a strong contrast that is eye-catching rather than harmonious. I can’t help wonder what the designer had in mind regarding the impact that this colour scheme might have on the emotions of the kids using it, presumably energising.  I think the tension arises from the shape, form and colours of the structure sitting within the lush green of the grass.  The net effect is a very eye-catching structure appealing to the target audience.

DC6_3914 - 1/4 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 105mm

DC6_3914 – 1/4 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 105mm

I found the colours of this flower to be striking, it just screamed for a macro shot so that’s what I did.  I think there is also the fascination of why it is these colours, I have no idea as to whether this has been modified by breeding, but presumably it is attractive to some particular insects for the act of pollination.  From a pure colour perspective there are the complimentary orange and blues, the similar reds blending with blue fringes of the petals.  Whilst it does not fit perfectly with the definition of colour accent I would contend there is something about the orange highlights against the  blue, red and green background.


This was a challenging exercise both in terms of finding the scenes and, once found, composing the shots to deliver the required images.  There was good deal of learning and it has certainly opened my eyes to the use of colour and encouraged a more questioning view of the world and how colour is used both by nature and man to achieve desired outcomes.  It has added yet another variable to use in the equation of making that superb photograph and I am concerned that it may increase my procrastination rather than relieve it, at least in the near future, as I try to remember all the elements to consider when setting up for the shot and composing it through the viewfinder.  Judging the colour proportions is a particular challenge despite the part of the exercise that is aimed at demonstrating there is no single ‘correctness’; being relatively inexperienced it is difficult to ignore the conventions despite trying to develop ones own voice, so to speak, for example I still invariably opt for the rule of thirds.  Clearly, how you use colour and apply the ‘rules’ very much depends upon what you are trying to convey in the image, I imagine the commercial photographer and the photojournalist could differ significantly in their approach.


Douma, M. (2006) Goeth’s color theory. Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement, Washington, DC. Available from: [Accessed 22 January 2014]

Google. (2014) Images for Garth Lenz photographer.  Available from: [Accessed 22 January 2014]