The color wheel can help you understand the colors in your composition better. The color wheel can be very basic (like the illustration with this article) or be very complex and show minute shading differences for millions of colors. The color wheel shows the relationship of each color to other colors. Traditional color theory says that colors across from each other are complimentary. This means that they work well together. For example, you wouldn't consider red and purple clothing to "match." Red and purple are next to each other on the color wheel and traditionally considered to clash with each other. This is because purple contains red. When a mixed (or secondary) color is placed next to one of its component colors it traditionally clashes.
However, in photography complimentary and clashing colors can act quite differently. In photography, colors next to each other are often complimentary while colors across from each other are opposite colors. Colors that are at an angle to one another are often the most clashing colors. For example, purple and green do not go together well at all. Orange and green also fight against each other.
The stronger the color is, the more strongly the clashing effect will be felt. For example, a deep purple will clash with a deep green more strongly than a pale green and pale purple will clash.
Negative effects of clashing colors in photography are most often seen with man made colors. When opposite colors occur in nature they behave more like the traditional color wheel theory.
- Opposite Colors
- Can overwhelm an image or subject
- Can be used to draw attention to one part of an image
- Can be used to create a feeling of discord in the image
- Adjacent Colors
- Tend to blend in and not overwhelm an image or subject
- Can be used to "tie" two pieces of an image together
- Can be used to create harmony within the image