Most landscape photographers use colours instinctively and to a large extent we are restricted in that we can’t really choose colours – we have to shoot what’s in front of us. However, there is some room for manoeuvre, in that we are able to frame compositions selectively and can seek out particular colour combinations. It’s therefore worth getting to grips with basic colour theory before embarking on this assignment.
The colour wheel shows how colours work together, through the relationships between primary (pure) colours, secondary colours (two primaries combined) and tertiary colours (a primary combined with a secondary).
Colours that are next to each other on the wheel are harmonious – they match well, are pleasing to he eye and appear serene. Colours on opposite sides are complementary, they contrast and have high impact, especially when they are saturated.
Warm colours (reds, yellows and oranges) ‘advance’, which means they appear more prominent and emphasise objects. Cool colours (blues and greens) ‘recede’.
Placing warm colours in the foreground and cool colours in the background creates an increased sense of depth in an image.
Armed with this knowledge, your assignment is to go out and shoot as many different examples of harmonious and complementary colours as you can.
View the images
- Use a polarising filter to enhance colour saturation when shooting complementary colours.
- Colours have an emotional impact – for example, red suggests danger or excitement, blue is considered calming and tranquil – so try to find compositions that work with the mood evoked by your colour combinations.
- Polarising filter.
- You can control colour combinations in landscape photography just as you can control any other aspect of composition.
- Composition is a subtractive process, beginning with everything that is in front of you, which you then reduce using your viewpoint, lens choice, depth of field, and so on. The same is true when selecting colour combinations.
- By choosing the right viewpoint and lens, it is often possible to juxtapose specific colours.
- Colours next to each other on the colour wheel are harmonious, while those on opposite sides are complementary.