I Love Color

April 6, 2012 | 1 Comment

I love color. I love it because it’s exciting and energizing. I love it because it’s physical and sensual. I love it because it’s emotional and expressive. I love it because it’s interesting – scientifically, historically, socially, psychologically.  I love color because you can look at it literally, abstractly, or symbolically. I love color because it has a rich history and diverse cultures and people have done such different things with it, but somehow I can connect with most of the things they’ve done with it, even if I don’t have the same culture or language. I love color because it’s a language that we can all do so much with.

Do you love color too?

What will you do with color today?

(Don’t think for a second that I don’t like black and white or gray; they’re some of my favorite colors!)

Read / view more on color theory here.

Read / view more on color psychology here.

An essential quality of color is temperature. Temperature can be used to attain a color balance. Temperature can be used to enhance spatial relationships within an image. Temperature can be used to elicit psychological responses within the viewer. Understanding and exploring the dynamics of temperature in color can benefit any visual artist.

There are physical characteristics of color linked to temperature. The color temperature of light (Kelvin degrees) is determined by measuring a black body radiator (an object heated so that it emits light). As the physical temperature of the object rises, color transitions from red (long wavelengths – low energy) to blue (short wavelengths – high energy) through ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). When it comes to light sources, physically, blue is warmer than red.

There are also psychological qualities of color linked to temperature. Psychologically, blue is cooler than red. These associative qualities of color with regard to temperature are almost universally accepted. This is due in large part to our physical environment – water is blue, plants are green, sunshine is yellow, fire is red.

Using the qualities of one sense (touch) to describe the qualities of another (sight) can be a tenuous affair and may lead to ambiguity and confusion. The more precise a language is the more useful it is. The language of HSL (hue, saturation, luminosity) is a very precise language. When using the language of HSL, hue values mark a position measured in degrees on a color wheel. A circle has 360 degrees, so the scale is 0 – 359.

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Color doesn’t exist out there. Color is produced inside us. Color is the human response to vibrations in a narrow part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

visiblespectrum

Color is an event. In any color event you need a light source and an observer – and often an object that reflects the light perceived. There is no color without an observer – just energetic vibrations.

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Our perception of color is complex; part physical, part biological, part psychological. Understanding more about our different responses to color and how they interact helps visual artists be more visually sensitive observers and more effective communicators.

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Learn more in my workshop The Power of Color.

Learn more with my DVDs on Color here.

Learn more with my free color resources here.

There are essentially three kinds of color.

Antarctica_2009-LXXIX

Ideal

Ideal color (often thought of as accurate color) is produced when the color of objects is unmodified by temporal or atmospheric effects or enhancement. Forensics and product photographers favor this type of color.

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Ambient

Ambient color is produced when the color of objects is modified by time of day or atmospheric effects, like dust or fog. Landscape photographers often favor this type of color.

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Synthetic

Synthetic color is produced when the color of objects is transformed from its original color to another color. You can produce synthetic color before photographic color or afterwards with digital enhancement. Graphic artists often favor this type of color.

It’s useful to distinguish between these three types of color. Doing this provides insights into how (what tools to use and how to use them) to adjust color in your images. It also provides insights into your color preferences and visual voice.

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Learn more in my workshop The Power of Color.

Learn more with my DVDs on Color here.

Learn more with my free color resources here.

Color has 3 elements – luminosity, hue, and saturation. All colors can be described as some combination of these three values. While we see all three elements simultaneously in a single color, learning to distinguish these three elements from one another is an important perceptual skill.

luminosity

Luminosity, the light and dark of color, can be describe on a scale of 0-100. 0 is pure black. 100 is pure white. (It’s the zone system’s 0-10 times 10.)

hue

Hue, the color temperature of color, can be described on a scale of 0-360. (There are 360 degrees in a circle. Every 30 degrees transitions into a new family of color – i.e. 0 is red, 30 is orange, 60 is yellow, etc.)

saturation

Saturation, the degree of neutrality of color, can be described on a scale of 0-100. 0 is absolutely neutral. 100 is maximum saturation.

LHS (luminosity, hue, saturation) is an excellent language for describing color perceptually (though not necessarily the best for editing and printing). Instead of memorizing RGB values for all the colors in all the standard color spaces, or CMYK values for all devices, or a Pantone swatchbook, you can simply observe color and translate that into 3 values.

LHS is an easy language to learn. Luminosity and Saturation are described on a 0-100 scale, essentially a 1-10 scale with more granularity. Easy. Learning numerical values for Hue is more challenging, but if you memorize a few values you can easily figure out the others. Think of the color wheel as a clock. 0 degrees, red, starts at 3 o’clock. Count back 1 hour, 2 o’clock, to the next color, orange, or 30 degrees. Keep counting back in 1 hour increments to the next color, (i.e. 1 o’clock or 60 degrees is yellow). (An easy mnemonic for remembering the progression of hues is ROYGBIV – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. You’ll need twelve words to make it all the way around the clock – red, orange, yellow, warm green, green, cool green, cyan, blue, warm blue, purple, violet, magenta.)

Consider LHS a ‘zone system’ for color. It’s a simple sophisticated language that can be used to describe color with greater clarity. You’ll find learning it will lead to better communication. Once you learn it, you’ll be able to communicate more precisely with others who know it – you can even teach it to others quickly.

You’ll also find that once you learn the language of LHS, you’ll see color more clearly, remember it better, understand more about how colors work together, and find ways to adjust colors to reproduce them more accurately or enhance their capacity for expression.

Learning LHS is time well spent.

Exercise

Identify colors with LHS numbers.

Here are three examples.

50-0-0

50/0/0

100-0-100

100/0/100

30:75:75

50/30/50

Now, call out numbers for more of the colors you see.

Make this a habit and you’ll develop razor sharp color perception.

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Learn more in my workshop The Power of Color.

Learn more with my DVDs on Color here.

Learn more with my free color resources here.

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The engine that drives color dynamics, contrast, is a measure of difference between colors. Contrast can be measured by both the amount and kind of difference between colors.

You can discuss contrast in terms of amount. There can be a lot or a little. You can move between two very different colors (i.e. from black to white) or two similar colors (i.e. from dark gray to light gray).

You can discuss contrast in terms of how transitions between colors are made. There can be many (fine) or few (coarse) steps in between colors. (Having many steps in between contrasting values is an essential criterion for continuous tone imagery.)

You can discuss contrast in terms of how transitions progress. The steps in between can be made in a regular (even) or irregular (uneven) manner.

If contrast brings variety and energy, ask yourself what kind of energy you seek. Just as each color often elicits a set of associations, so too does each type of contrast.

High contrast images are often thought of as dramatic, while low contrast images are often thought of as quiet. Images where transitions are made with many steps are considered smooth, while those with only a few are considered abrupt. When gradations transition evenly they seem calm, graceful, and can be navigated quickly, while when they transition unevenly they seem dynamic, syncopated, and take more time to navigate. There are many subtle distinctions that can be made within these broad generalizations. This is an area that rewards continued exploration.

Sharpen your eye, by developing the ability to identify both the amount and quality of contrast between colors. You’ll find this to be an extremely valuable skill. You’ll increase your sensitivity to color, expand the range of color choices available to you, and add strategies for meeting color challenges. Color will become more intense and pleasurable for you.

intervals_1hue_variL

Luminosity intervals of one hue. Hues achieve maximum saturation at specific luminosities.

intervals_1H_variS

Saturation intervals of one hue – luminosity and hue stable. Achievable only for mid level luminosities.

intervals_variH_maxS

Hue intervals – maximum saturation, luminosity shifts. Hues achieve maximum saturation at different luminosities.

intervals_variH_1L

Hue intervals – luminosity stable, saturation shifts.

intervals_compsthruS

Hue intervals between two complementary hues passing through the color wheel.

intervals_compsthruH

Hue intervals between two complementary hues passing around the color wheel.

gradation_exercise

Try These Exercises.

1            Create a set of equal luminosity intervals of one hue.

Optionally, repeat for all hues – ROYGBIV.

2            As above, create equal intervals of hue.

Optionally, repeat for all hues – ROYGBIV.

Optionally, repeat for all hues at different luminosity levels.

3            As above, create equal intervals of saturation.

Optionally, repeat for all hues – ROYGBIV.

Optionally, repeat for all hues at different luminosity levels.

4            Match the intervals (luminosity, hue, and saturation) between two color progressions.

Download the Exercise File here.

Because it’s difficult to separate other forms of image content from color, color exercises are best performed abstractly. While it’s useful to check numerical values for colors and color relationships, because these exercises are perceptual (often incorporating physiological and psychological responses that are not physically measurable), determine your answers visually. Train and trust your eye.

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Learn more in my workshop The Power of Color.

Learn more with my DVDs on Color here.

Learn more with my free color resources here.

reflection_iceland

Transparent colors contain a rich clarity that makes them seem charged with light. Incorporating the effect of transparency into your images can produce a luminous impression, even though (typically) the media your images are reproduced on contains no light

While the true effect of transparency cannot be produced without the use of transparent materials, the visual impression of transparency can be produced.

The impression of transparency can be achieved when two sets of color are joined by a third that is perfectly balanced between them. Split the difference between the luminosity, hue, and saturation of the two to arrive at the third.

You can vary the spatial placement of the third color set by making it more similar to one set than another.

Akin to transparency, translucency can also be simulated, by skewing the perfect balance of transparency towards another color (typically a neutral color). Additionally, subtle shifts in luminosity and reductions in contrast

may make the effect even more convincing.

Often called color balancing, standard photographic color correction attempts to remove color casts. With a color cast an image seems veiled by color. Removing a color cast makes an image seem clearer, more saturated, and more three-dimensional.  Achieving the effect of transparency will too.

Many color strategies employ optical illusions to create or intensify a visual impression. Once you identify and understand these illusions and the color theory behind them, you can put them to work for you too. In addition to enhancing existing color relationships, you can create new ones.

Careful handling of color can enhance the impression of transparency or translucency.

1_transparency

Three colors are selected to create the impression of transparency. The l, h, and s values of the middle color are placed close to the midpoint between the values of the two outside colors

2_reposition

Changing hue towards one color shifts spatial orientation.

3_translucent

Changing luminosity shifts spatial orientation and creates effect of translucency.

Try this Exercise.

Choose three colors and orient them so that the middle color appears to be transparent. Ideally, select a middle color that produces an additional optical illusion where each total shape (1+2 and 2+3) can be seen as lying either on top or below.

Download the Exercise File here.

Because it’s difficult to separate other forms of image content from color, color exercises are best performed abstractly. While it’s useful to check numerical values for colors and color relationships, because these exercises are perceptual (often incorporating physiological and psychological responses that are not physically measurable), determine your answers visually. Train and trust your eye.

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Learn more with my free color resources here.

Learn more with my DVDs on Color here.

Learn more in my workshop The Power of Color.

cymbolism
Find out what colors people associate with words.
For instance, a majority of voters associated the word God with white.
Choose a color for a word, then find out how other people voted.
Explore it here.

Check out my Color Psychology posts.

Learn more in my DVDs and Power of Color Workshop.

testcolorpsychtest

What does color reveal about your personality?
Find out here.

Take the Luscher Color Test and compare.

Check out my Color Psychology posts.

Learn more in my DVDs and Power of Color Workshop.

morephotosaudiowppi

In this interview I discuss one of my favorite subjects – Color!

Check out my seminar at WPPI Las Vegas March 10.

Check out my workshop the Power of Color.

Learn more with my DVDs.

Learn more in my free Lessons.

MorePhotosRadio – John Paul Caponigro for WPPI
Play: MorePhotosRadio – John Paul Caponigro for WPPI
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