Artistic Principles of Photography
Once you’ve mastered the technical aspects of your camera, canvas, or life, it’s a good time to start thinking of color palettes.
Here’s a link to a wonderful article about analogous colors, complimentary and split complimentary colors, as well as the basics like primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Keep in mind that the terms are specific to the color wheel they are using. Many types of color wheels exist, and analogous colors on one color wheel, could end up being complimentary colors on another.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man /// Moses Harris /// Goethe’s Color Wheel
Claude Boutet’s Color Wheel from 1708
Moses Harris’s Color Wheel from 1766
Ignaz Schiffermüller’s Color Wheel from 1772
All color comes from light. Color is a wavelength of light.
Isaac Newton’s Primary Colors…
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple and Indigo.
Goethe’s Primary Colors…
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple.
Mrs. Apples Primary Colors…
Red, Yellow, Blue.
Wikipedia’s Primary Colors
Primary colors are subjective and therefore do not exist.
Webster’s Primary Colors
Primary colors are subjective colors that make secondary and tertiary colors.
Art teachers usually teach that the primary colors are red, yellow and blue. They teach it in kindergarten, and even in computer science at NYU. Did you know nearly everyone sees color differently? Red can be made from (the secondary) colors, orange and purple by mixing liquid watercolors. Red. It’s not a primary color after all, is it? So, do primary colors exist? In life, thousands of color triads can be primary colors, but they all come from Isaac Newton’s wavelengths of light.
In my view, Wikipedia is correct, but so is Webster’s. Do we need a system of primary colors that is not subjective, in order to teach colors properly? Maybe we do. Which is why I have made my own color system of eight primary colors.
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, Black and White.
Black absorbs the colors you see, and white reflects them. They are like 0, which is a number. And a natural number at that.
Metaphorically from a mathematical view,
Isaac Newtons view is 1-10.
Goethe’s View is 1-9.
Mrs. Apples View is 1,2,3
My personal view is 0-9.
If you look at a color spectrum from Isaac Newton’s prism experiment, all the colors can be defined with his set. To break it down further, into triads, is to make it more complicated. The color gamut from his set is going to be nearly infinite, rather than just using a triad of colors from the color wheel. But it is not going to be infinite, because it does not include a pure black or white. The traditional painter method of red, yellow and blue, or what modern printers use, magenta, cyan and yellow, is much more limited than if they had used all seven of Isaac Newtons colors. By using my primary colors, the gamut is further expanded because it includes a pure black and white. Indigo is included as a hue between blue and purple, just as 0 and 1 include 10, but 1 to 10, does not include 0. Indigo metaphorically is 10. A combination of two numbers, and the first combination of two numbers.
Shade: Making a color darker with black
Example: Pale green to green
Tint: Making a color lighter with white
Example: Red to pink
Hue: The colors as they shift on the spectrum, without becoming darker or lighter
Example: Orange to orange-yellow to yellow
Value: How light or dark a color is, in terms of luminosity.
Example: Candlelight, fire, sun or how gold is more luminous than a yellow crayon.
Structure & Form
Think about the proportions of the photo.
In Europe, Fibonacci, Leonardo da Vinci and Vitruvius took a mathematical approach of divine portions. As Vitruvius wrote in de Architectura good architecture comes from symmetry. Likewise, good photography uses symmetry and the divine ratio. World class photography and architecture uses the rules, to break them. Elements of symmetry in the background maybe, with an asymmetrical foreground. In the Far East, Feng Shui, meaning wind and water, embraces natures flowing elements. Feng Shui is the ancient art of creating flowing energy, through design with lighting and objects. Vastu Shastra, the ancient Indian laws of architecture, merges the two ideas of the East and West. The wisdom of Vastu Shastra created man made, perfectly symmetrical temples, but allow for the wild overgrowth of nature. So what should the photographer follow?
Look for flowing elements and follow them in nature, but also look for symmetry. If a tree grows up and a stream flows around it, why not do a panorama of the whole scene?If a building is a perfect circle or square, why not center it in a square photograph?
Candida Höfer is a photographer with a European style, perfect symmetry.
Jen Huang‘s photos flow in harmony, perhaps inspired by a touch of Feng Shui.
Bharat Sikka archives a culture influenced by Vastu Shastra, now mirroring the West.
You can do any of the above, but the key is to choose a style and stick to it.