In this Epson video my father and I share insights into our creative lives and our passion for printing.
Learn about our exhibit here.
View our catalog here.
View our ebook here.
Learn more in my digital printing workshops.
Color psychology is the study of how color affects human behavior. It’s a long-standing, field used in art, design, marketing, sports, medicine, and much more.
Despite its long history and widespread use, there’s a lot more to discover about how color affects people scientifically. Here’s are a few facts that have been scientifically proven.
We see certain colors more quickly than others.
Warm colors are stimulating and cool colors are calming.
A red room feels 10 degrees warmer, while a blue room feels 10 degrees cooler.
Colors can enhance the effectiveness of placebos.
The presence of green speeds healing.
Athletes perform better in certain colors and get penalized more in others.
Clearly, the responses to color are at once physical, psychological, and social, so identifying the strongest contributor(s) to a response(s) is no easy matter. The more social the response, the more likely it is to vary between individuals. Socially, color psychology has many layers – universal, cultural, regional, communal, individual. And then there’s time. Age (as well as gender) can also influence how a person perceives and interacts with color. An era or a moment can become important factors too. It’s complicated but it’s fascinating!
Color affects body, mind, and emotions. Color can be used by physicians to promote physical and psychological health, by businesses to brand identities and influence purchasing decisions, by political movements to propagate values and ideas, and by artists to communicate aesthetics and emotions. Color is a powerful communication tool that can be used to influence perception, mood, and action.
Considering the psychological dimensions of color consciously will give you a greater awareness of the phenomenon of color and improve your ability to communicate with it. Remember, there are shared responses to color and you have your own individual responses to color. Being able to tell the difference can be insightful. This mindfulness is something every visual artist will benefit from.
How will you use color?
Read more on Color Psychology here.
Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see a color? Chances are you’re not alone. Color associations come from many sources universal, cultural, regional, communal, and individual. These all change over time, with changes happening faster at the individual level than the global level.
It’s useful to understand what associations accompany colors for a majority of people. This understanding can be used to influence perception, clarify statements, reinforce messages, produce physical responses, and elicit emotional reactions.
It’s also useful to understand what associations accompany colors for yourself. This understanding can become the basis for a personal palette that gives your images a unique style. It will clarify and deepen your personal journey.
You’ll find classic associations with the colors of the rainbow and more here. You’ll discover classic images connected with a color, verbal expressions related to the color, and synonyms or the many words used to describe colors in the same family.
Studying color psychology will make you a more able and aware communicator. After you familiarize yourself with the ways other people relate to colors it’s time to make it personal.
You have specific and unique relationships with color. This relationship has many layers. It’s a product of your biology, your culture, your time, your community, your experiences, and the reactions you choose.
When you become more mindful of your relationships with color you will deepen them.
Becoming more aware of your personal relationship with colors will lead to personal discoveries, help you communicate more personal messages, and do so in a more personal way.
Begin this journey into color by spending time with color and freely associating. What sensations, emotions, thoughts, memories, associations, words and phrases arise within you when you are in the presence of a color? Ask these questions for as many different colors as you can think of. It helps to look at the color while you’re doing this.
Do this more than once. How have your relationships with colors changed over time? It’s likely you won’t know unless you develop this habit of being more mindful of color. It helps to have a journal to look back and see influences and patterns over time. Keeping a journal can be a mindful practice.
When you first try this you may draw a blank. When was the last time you tried something like this? When you were a child? Reawaken that playful spirit!
Get the process started and guide it along the way with questions. Ask a lot of questions. Instead of looking for one answer look for many responses. Write down your responses. When you write, write for yourself not others. Forget about perfection. Instead, aim for rich and deep. Later, revisit what you write and add more. Continue to use this reflective process to energize and enrich your relationships with colors.
Here are a few useful questions to ask.
Do you or don’t you like it? Why?
How does it feel? (Describe the sensation of it.)
When you see a color what to do you feel physically?
How do you feel about it?
When you see a color what do you feel emotionally?
Where do you find it in your environment?
Where do you find it in other environments?
Do you encounter it a certain times (of the day or year) and not others?
What things do you connect with it?
Does it bring back memories?
How often do you wear it?
How often do you use it in your images?
(Look back at all of your images. It can be very interesting to track your use of colors over time.)
What other questions can you think of to ask of color?
Write them down.
Find more answers.
Continue your personal journey into color.
Read more on Color Psychology here.
Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.
Looking for great reading on color psychology?
Start with these three very different books.
A simple approachable survey that’s lushly illustrated.
The expanded version of a true classic The Elements Of Color includes personal exercises and analyses of historic paintings.
A comprehensive overview of all areas of the field by the most prolific author on color.
Why do you need to understand color to get the best black-and-white images?
Let me count the reasons.
1 You Need To Understand How Flexible The Luminosity Of Saturated Colors During Exposure And Conversion
Understanding how light and/or dark you can make saturated colors will help you pre-visualize the tonal possibilities within an image before exposure. When post-processing, while you’re converting color images to black-and-white, I recommend you make all of these ideas visible realities, making many different black and white versions and comparing them side-by-side. At the same time, you need to understand how neutral and near neutral colors do not offer the same flexibility, which will improve both your vision and your efficiency.
You may not think there’s a problem. You may think you know the difference. It’s obvious right? But is it? Do you? After a lifetime spent in the arts, I find photographers’ ability to describe color woefully limited, and this is never truer than when describing “black-and-white” images.
Most antique processes are black and white, right? Certainly, silver gelatin is black and white. But what if you tone it? Is a platinum print black and white or brown and white? Is a cyanotype black and white or blue and white? What about hand-tinted photographs? They were black and white but then they became colorful again, but it’s a different kind of color, isn’t it? And if only a little color is added is it still black and white? At what point does an image become black and white?
The problem is that having only two terms – color and black and white – for a wide array of color palettes limits not only our communication but more importantly our perception and thinking.
Can you effectively present a project or body of work that contains both black-and-white and color images? It rarely works, but in rare cases it can.
The problem is that color and black-and-white images appear to be from different times or even different worlds and sometimes both. They’re so different from one another that presenting them together breaks the continuity of the larger story being told (Even a collection of separate poems creates a larger story, albeit with a much looser narrative and context than an essay.) and it undermines the suspension of disbelief required to imagine that a small two-dimensional image accurately represents our much larger three-dimensional world. Viewers end up paying more attention to the way the images are presented and our attention is deflected away from their content. We spend time and effort trying to figure out a pattern between images that are color and images that are black-and-white and the reasons why they’re different from one another, which is wasted if there aren’t any. “It looks better.” isn’t a strong enough reason to break continuity and suspension of disbelief. If there is no reason that contributes to the content of the series, then it’s a few small wins for individuals but a big loss for the team, and we leave the work feeling confused and frustrated. (“I don’t get. Is it me?”) For these reasons it’s best not to mix color and black-and-white images. Instead, present them separately.
Maine is beautiful! And it’s never more beautiful than in the autumn during harvest season. The air is crisp and the place comes alive with color. It’s extraordinarily picturesque. Here are a few highlights to look for this fall.
Mountains of color
Color on the water
Color in the air
Color on the ground
Fields of late season wildflowers
Blueberry fields so red they look like they’re on fire.
Sometimes they actually set the fields on fire.
Tumbled beach stones
Rugged island life
Mysterious misty mornings
Rich evening afterglow
And this is just the beginning. There are so many more reasons to visit Maine in autumn! Who knows what you’ll find.
The photographers’ color wheel rendered by Apple.
The painters’ color wheel painted by Johannes Itten.
In color theory, one of the primary uses of color wheels is to plot complementary colors.
Painters and photographers use this information to create neutral colors. Painters mix complementary colors to get more neutral hues. Photographers add complementary colors to remove color casts, making neutral colors appear more neutral.
But photographers and painters apply different complements. Photographers identify three primaries and complements; red and cyan, green and magenta, blue and yellow. Painters identify three primaries and complements; red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple. Why do they use different complements? Painters have to address the impurities in the pigments they’re mixing. Photographers deal with pure light.
From a practical standpoint both types of artists learn to achieve the effects they want to achieve. From a conceptual or theoretical standpoint the difference is significant – and they share the same theories but their application of those theories differs. Photographers and painters should talk to each other more.
Photographers can enrich their understanding of color if they become familiar with the longer richer history painters have had with color; and at the same time painters can refine their theories and produce stronger effects by using photographic complements.
Physically and biologically our eyes do specific things. By using maximum hue contrast, complementary colors in close proximity to one another create optical effects: they make each other look more intense; any lines between them becomes more pronounced, often producing a light line, which can appear to flash if the eye moves back and forth across it; if made very small (like scanned pixels or printed halftone dots) they average to a neutral color. Artists use these effects to make more powerful visual statements.
Optically photographic complements are correct. You can test and prove this yourself. To do this, take advantage of the retinal after images your eyes produce. Simply stare at a solid patch of color for more than twenty seconds and then shift your gaze to a neutral field of color, like a white wall. The color you’ll see will be the photographic complement. So, if you want to take maximum advantage of the optical effects generated by complementary colors, choose photographic complements.
Finally, color theory can be very useful. Artists frequently create consistent color structures (some call them color harmonies), much like the tonal structures or scales musicians. They often use color wheels to plot these relationships (not unlike a musician plots a circle of fifths to identify musical harmonies). They draw geometric figures inside a circle of color to identify regular intervals between the colors chosen; straight lines for pairs, triangles for trios, rectangles for quartets, etc. There’s no ideal structure. Different structures generate different effects, both optical and psychological – and it’s useful to know what those are. What matters most is that a color structure is created, rather than color chaos. The colors identified as complements define a color wheel. Once again, because of the impurities in pigments, painters distort their color wheels (expanding the oranges and reducing the cool blues) to help them identify which colors to mix to make neutral or more neutral colors, but the unintended consequence of doing this is that they plot color structures on a distorted color wheel. Their ideal theories are skewed by physical imperfections.
Long after his death, it was noted that pointillist painter Seurat, who started a whole school of painters who used broken bits of complementary colors rather than blended less intense colors, could have achieved even richer visual effects if he had adjusted his color choices. Viewers experience visual effects with their eyes. And the photographer’s color wheel is aligned with our eyes.