Color theory and Color Wheel – what it is and how to use it

The basic terminology

Before starting diving into Colors, lets have a look at some basic terminology used in food photography:

  • HUE – is a synonym for color that distinguishes one from another. It refers to a color family
  • Saturation – is the intensity and strength of a color
  • Tint – is a mixture of a color with white, which increases lightness
  • Lightness or luminance – is how dark or light the color is
  • Shade is a mixture with black, which increases darkness
  • Tonality – is a color scheme or a range of tones
  • Palette – is a group of colors, used to describe a mood or theme

Color Theory

Wikipedia says: “In the visual arts, color theory is a body of practical guidance
to color mixing and the visual effects of a specific color combination. There are also
definitions (or categories) of colors based on the color wheel: primary color, secondary
color, and tertiary color.”

… simply said, color theory is a technique or set of guidelines that help you create a
color combination which makes an image beautiful and harmonious.

The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Mixing primary colors together, you willl get secondary colors: orange, purple, green. A combination of secondary colors, you will get the tertiary colors: red orange, yellow orange, yellow green, blue green, blue purple, red purple.

The color wheel also shows you how the colors are perceived: warm or cool. These are important facts when creating color combinations.

What is Color Wheel

The color wheel (above) is a tool, that helps us understand how to combine colors in images. The color combinations are created based on the positioning of the colours on the wheel.

In food photography, we mostly use these color combinations:

  • Monochromatic color scheme – when you use only one hue family and its different tints, tones and shades
  • Diad color scheme – uses two colors that are separated by one color on the color wheel
  • Analogous color scheme – are colors sitting next to each other on the color wheel
  • Complementary color scheme – colors complement each other – they sit on the opposite sites of the color wheel
  • Split Complementary color scheme – uses one hue from one side of the color wheel, and two hues from the other side of the color wheel of the opposite direction
  • Triads – utilizes three equidistant colors on the color wheel

Key take-away:

  • Colour theory is a guidance for creating eye-pleasing and harmonious images
  • we use colour wheel to understand how to combine colours into harmonious combinations
  • colour wheel divides colours into warm and cold colours
  • in food photography we mostly use these colour scheme: monochromatic, analogous, diad, complementary, split-complementary and rectangle.
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