Colour Theory

For assignment 2 I want to develop both technically and theoretically. Theoretically in that I want to capture images which have a natural appearance but have more depth within the frame and by depth I mean more to discover upon closer examination. Technically in that I am looking to improve and grow the cope of potential images through the ability to create the image I have in my head more accurately and in keeping with the desire to add depth and maintain naturalness, to do that in a why which is seemingly unplanned yet may have required dedicated effort to achieve that look.

Much in the way that I have found myself very attracted to the works of Jeff Wall a photographer who’s meticulous creations appear to be completely in the moment.

One point I have made a conscious effort to look into is the use of colour in film, I read a lot about cinema as that has been a major influence in my taste and having frequently been informed that my own work has a cinematic feel it seems prudent to lean into that going forward as a strength.

Colour theory is very much the ideas and rules around the use of colour to convey emotion, context and even narrative either through lighting, visual aesthetics or post processing. The idea being that humans have inherent interpretations of colour as signifiers of different states. An early example we learn is that red or yellow can both signify danger. We also learn through life by absorbing literature, marketing and film that utilise these theory and in a way self confirm the theory by emphasising it. By this I mean the use of blues in medical advertisements to show cleanness and calm, the use greens to reflect the colours in nature to give us the feeling of naturalness and yellows which we take from the sun to show warmth. It is in the extremes of these we find more extreme reactions such as jealousy, sickliness, cold and fear. A complex mixture of what we physically associate with and what we have been taught culturally. I would be very interested to know how different these associations could be across different cultures.

Another part of colour theory is how the colours interact either in a single frame or across a boarder story. the interactions can signify conflicts, collaborations and agreements and given a longer story the way the colour pallets change can reflect the change of setting, subject and character progression. As well as drawing attention to certain parts of the frame such as significant objects or people.

Colour is described general in three terms;




It is the adjustment of these qualities that give us the differences between colours and the ability to create endless combinations of tones. Albeit that the creation of various colours is a complex and debated subject for the purposes of this piece I am focusing on the use of specific colours to attribute different types of ‘feel’ to an image.

To achieve this one may choose to light an environment a certain way. Traditionally the use of flash photography limited the photographer to the colour temperature of the flash, typically around 5500k which is a measurement on the light temperature scale commonly associated with sunlight at noon, a workable temperature with little effect on the natural colours captured allowing for post processing to compensate for any localised variance or to allow for the artistic choice to shift the image to a more pleasing colour tone. With the advent of digital photography it is much easier to manipulate the temperature of individual part so the image to achieve the ‘look’ the photographer desires but this is still limited to the initial set up of the lighting. Another approach is the use of gels on lights to correct the temperature in the moment, for example using a flash at sunset would create a distracting difference between the natural light and the subject light but with a colour correction gel one can tint the flash to match. These gels also allow for the use of any range of colours to introduce non-naturally occurring light sources into the image whilst still allowing the flexibility and freedom to place lighting where needed without having to rely on post processing.


Having established ways to change colour temperature and introduce non-natural lighting the question I have is what colours and why? For this colour charts are widely available with commonly accepted partners, contrasts and meanings displayed in useful ways for reference. I found four common ways to group colours for use in a scheme;

Monochromatic – Single hue with changes to saturation and/or brightness

Complementary – Colours opposite each other on a colour wheel but paired

Analogous – 2,3 or 4 colours next to each other on a colour wheel used together

Triadic – Three colours separated equally across the wheel


When reviewing each of these schemes apart from their underlying intention to communicate through colour, the scheme also lends itself to different visual themes. Monochromatic can seem unreal and dreamlike, flooding an image with a single tone seems unnatural. Analogous can seem natural in that is shows more tones but also used to replicate certain film stocks and therefore time periods as well as being able to give weight to a monochromatic scheme by introducing additional colours. Complementary can take the same feel of the monochromatic but emphasise certain points and in other ways come seem more natural dependant on the hues and saturations selected. Complementary seems more dramatic and punchy when using strong saturation. Where as triadic is very pop-art, a sort of mundane surrealism.

Finally the choice of colour to influence feelings is supported by dozens of references on the internet but I chose this simple one as a starting point.


Image Source

fig.1 – Using Color Temperature Chart to Compare Light Type for Camera Settings (s.d.) At: (Accessed 11/06/2020).

Fig.2 & 3 – How to Use Color in Film: 50+ Examples of Movie Color Palettes (2019) At: (Accessed 11/06/2020)


Color theory (2020) In: Wikipedia. At: 11/06/2020).Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color At: (Accessed 11/06/2020).How color helps a movie tell its story (2017) At: (Accessed 11/06/2020).How to Use Color in Film: 50+ Examples of Movie Color Palettes (2019) At: (Accessed 11/06/2020).Using Color Temperature Chart to Compare Light Type for Camera Settings (s.d.) At: (Accessed 11/06/2020).

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