The Attraction of Opposites


This week we continue our color wheel studies with Kat’s “Exploring with a Camera” series.  In this lesson, we are looking at the more complex color schemes, which prove the theorem that opposites do indeed attract.

Last week, the search for monochromatic images was a simple task, as an overwhelming majority of my recent images fall into that category. This week, the hunt for other color harmonies proved slightly more challenging.

Complementary color schemes are made of up of direct opposites on the color wheel. Nature is the ultimate source of effective color combinations as evidenced by the complementary red-violet and yellow-green of the onions above. They look too good to eat, don’t you think? 

Because of my fondness for brick and windows, I did find several examples of the complementary scheme of orange and blue, like this broken glass image. A bright sunny day, the blue sky was reflected in the glass and the metal fire escape – a lovely counterpoint to the luscious orange brick and painted windows.

These vertical stripes represent a split-complementary scheme: one hue (blue) and the two colors on either side of its complement (orange) – in this case, red-orange and yellow-orange.  The colors in this image are pure and fully saturated, almost fluorescent, and stand in stark contrast to the deep black background.The colors almost seem to vibrate. It was the graphic nature of this image the appealed to me – the implied black triangles and the polygonal shapes – but the vibrant color scheme is tremendously appealing to me.

Emerald green and rusty orange are two of the three colors that make up the secondary hues of the color wheel. Orange and green are evenly spaced from each other along the color wheel; used together they create a harmonious and balanced relationship.

The beautiful script-like grill was the key attraction for me with this image. I’m not sure I even noticed the green frame until I began the editing process. But it provides a beautiful backdrop for the fancy ironwork and a lovely contrast to the textured, aged brick wall.

This image demonstrates that a primary color scheme of red, blue and yellow can be effective using desaturated hues. In this image, the eye is drawn to the red rectangle around the address number, then to the yellow grid pattern of the windows which sit on the cool blue expanse of the brick wall and glass panes.

The importance of the color scheme did not become apparent until post-processing. For me, this shot was about the textures, the patterns, the lines and the bold number graphic. Those are the elements that attracted my eye. It is only now, upon review, that I understand the color theory behind why this image works.

This movie theatre marquee, with its yellow, violet, orange and blue color combination is a double complementary scheme, made up of two complementary pairs.

This image also demonstrates another important concept in the successful use of color – the relative proportion of each color to the whole. Yellow dominates, followed by blue, orange and just a dash of violet.

I did not find many of these complex schemes in my photo archive. Perhaps it is the nature of living in the midwest, as opposed to South Beach or Italy, where riotous color combinations abound.

More likely, it is simply one of the identifying characteristics of my photographic eye.

This study has led me to better understand my own creative process and my relationship with color.  I discovered that I rarely shoot for color but almost always emphasize color after the fact. This preference seems obvious now but was a hidden factor until I took the time to analzye my photos with color theory in mind.

Understanding ourselves – isn’t that the reason we photograph in the first place? Thanks to Kat for the guidance and instruction.


Posted on October 7, 2011, in Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Fantastic post Brenda! I always love what you bring to the Exploring with a Camera themes. I was wondering what you would find in your archive, since monochromatic seemed to dominate for you. But you found quite a few examples. I find it interesting that many of them are desaturated, more subtle examples of color harmonies. As you say, it shows that they work regardless of how bright the color is. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your view!

    • Kat,
      It was more of a challenge to search for more complex schemes in my work. But a wonderful exercise to teach me more about myself and what color means to my creative process. As always, I am so appreciative of your quidance and teaching – to keep pushing us to discover more about why we do what we do. While knowing the why may not change the what, it is valuable to understand.

  2. Wonderful examples for the color study, Brenda! The first one just pops off the page — so different from your usual style. My favorite is the brick wall and green window, with that lovely grill. I’m learning so much from this study, and informative posts like yours….I’m still puzzled about why I couldn’t find one purple/yellow example in all my 1000s of photos.
    I was out on a photo walk yesterday and saw some great lines in a building and thought of you — I now have a “Brenda style” template in my head. 🙂

    • Gina,
      Yes, I had to travel back fairly far in my photo archive to come up with that one of the Farmer’s Market onions. But then I couldn’t resist that lovely color scheme – one not generally found in the architecture that I tend to favor these days.That window grillwork is really wonderful, isn’t it? Each window of that building had a different pattern – I was in heaven. And what a tremendous compliment – that you think of me when confronted with architectural lines. Your Sacremento shots were gorgeous – what amazing buildings. I would have loved to have joined you on your photo walk.

  3. Wait, onions? Whose blog is this? 😉
    Great response to the color study, Brenda, both the images and your thoughtful writing. (Those onions do look delicious!)

    • Lee,
      Yes, it is really me, onions and all! I just couldn’t resist including that shot because I love the colors. And what better time to use it than a color study? It is an interesting exercise to go back in time and re-discover how much my choice of subject and style has changed over the last two years.

  4. Brenda,
    I find that when I read your post about your experience and discovery of all things photographic that I learn just as much from you as I do from the course author. You have such a gift for explaining and examining the why’s and how’s of taking good images. Thank you for making the topic of colors clearer for me.

    • Deb,
      What kind words! I really struggled with putting this post together so it is doubly encouraging that you found it helpful in your own color study.

  5. Wow! Your examples are just perfect and you clearly understand it all so well and explain it so I, too, can learn from you. There are lots of really fantastic images here! I love the green and red with the grill and 370-Amazing!

    • Cedar,
      I am so gratified to know that my words and examples have been helpful to you in your own learning process. I found it a very useful exercise to analyze my photos from this perspective – figuring out what role color plays in my image-making process.

  6. I love this series of shots Brenda….the vibrant blue, red, yellows against the black in stark graphics, the onions, the regal sign, the address with desaturatued primaries….love it. You’ve found some great examples of color combinations. Well done.

    • Susan,
      Definitely a worthwhile exercise – to comb one’s archive, looking for the way that color is used (or not used). The results were rather surprising to me as I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms before. I certainly had to do some digging to find these more complex examples.

  7. I love reading your blog Brenda, You always have such great things to say. I really like your images, particularly the broken glass orange & blu.

    • Leanne,
      And I so appreciate your comments and that you take the time to let me know you have been here and found something worthwhile.

  8. Very interesting — I feel like I learned a lot about color.
    You know I love that window picture — the contrasts and the shapes are amazing, especially the almost phantom-like dark holes where the bottom windows are broken out.
    I also love the first picture, of the onions. It’s must more organic than your usual subjects, but still bears your mark — the close-up view, the incredible composition.
    Love this!

    • Lisa,
      Keep studying – the color wheel test will be next! Thanks for following along with this primarily visual treatise – not much application here for wordsmiths like yourself.

  9. What a wonderful study in color and contrasts. Especially love that theater marquis. Well done!!!

    • Marcie,
      That theatre marquee is certainly an aberration from the normal color palette available to me on a normal basis here in Northeast Ohio. Couldn’t resist it against that blue, blue sky. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  10. I love your graphic shots, they are always so interesting. It amazes me the color combinations you found and your explaination of each is wonderful!! Great job!!

    • Cathy,
      Actually, I am quite amazed at the color combinations that I found as I feared that monochromatic would be my only option! I have noticed that color is becoming more important in my shot selection. During today’s photo walk, I took a number of shots that were driven primarily by color. Yes, old dogs can learn new tricks.

  11. ohhh… love the Regal theater sign… makes me think I should take a peek at our old-town theater… perhaps there’s a photo op there?

    • Christine,
      I was searching for shadow shots the day I took the theatre marquee shot. One of those spur-of-the-moment decisions – “don’t those colors look wonderful against that blue sky?” Glad I did – otherwise, my color study would have been rather drab.

  12. Brenda,
    First, like always, let me praise your amazing images! And second, I love reading your posts about your explorations and journey with photography. I love how you’ve approached and addressed this exploration with color, and I love how you’ve learned a bit more about what your own processing – so wonderful, and always inspiring! 🙂

    • Laura,
      In the past week, I have found myself much more aware of color as an element in choosing my subjects – this study has changed the way I see. And as I walked the familiar streets of downtown, I was filled with new ideas and inspiration. I found it rather exhilirating. I appreciate that you are sharing this journey with me.

  13. Love your shots, especailly the stripes and the emerald/orange window. I love that the green/orange colour are fairly muted but still work so perfectly together.
    I struggled with this one, but it is amazing how colour works in all our photography – whatever stage of the process.

    • Becs,
      I have found that working through this exercise is impacting what I choose as photographic subjects. I am noticing color more. And I think that is a good thing for me. It has opened up other avenues of exploration.

  14. I say, every posting, just gets better and better…you are on a roller coaster going UP UP UP!! What a ride you are on, and we all get to follow along. Your onion photo is just the most gorgeous photo ever!! I kid you not. The entire composition, color and CLARITY and SHARPNESS are amazing. You must have not only a very very good eye, but an excellent lens (and steady hand)……. It is thrilling to see someone progress so quickly in their photography!! warmly, Sharon

    • Sharon,
      Thank you so much for your enthusastic response to my color study. I actually had to go back a bit in my photo archive (over a year ago) to pull out that onion shot but I couldn’t resist its gorgeous color scheme. I actually do not have a DSLR – for the past year, I have been using a Canon G11, a higher-end point-and-shoot. So your compliments on my technical skills is very much appreciated. I can only hope that this roller-coaster continues to climb upwards.

  15. Let me say, this is a great camera indeed, but it is the eye behind the camera that counts and YOU have it. You are spending quality time with your photography and it seems to me, that over the past months that I have been reading your blog, you are continually raising the bar. If you are in the next FYE class I look forward to those postings.
    smiles: sharon

    • Sharon,
      I know that a DSLR would give me more photographic options. However, I am very happy with my camera choice – and I have adjusted my photographic style to fit my camera’s capabilities. It really means so much to me that an artist of your caliber can see progress and improvement in my work – isn’t that what we strive for? And yes, I will be joining in with the next FYE class, so I look forward to continuing the journey together.

I greatly appreciate your comments!

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