Exercise: Colour Relationships

This exercise relates to colour relationships - how colours work together and in what proportions they work best. Colours opposite each other on the colour circle are deemed to be complementary, as in they work well together and are easy on the eye; in a similar way to how an major chord on a guitar is easy on the ear. There are 3 complementary colour relationships:

Yellow and Violet

Red and Green

Blue and Orange

J.W. von Goethe, a German poet and playwright, suggested that depending on a colour's 'brightness' it should be allocated a number, the higher the number, the brighter the colour. These numbers were Yellow 9, Orange 8, Red 6, Green 6, Blue 4, Violet 3.  So red and green worked best together in equal proportion, and violet and yellow should be approximately 3 parts violet to 1 part yellow. Of course these figures are not set in stone and were a result of von Goethe's own subjective feelings but it is a good starting point for mixing colours in photography. 

Below I have made 3 images for the complementary pairings mentioned above and I have tried to keep them in the proportions suggested by von Goethe.

Yellow and Violet

The brightness of the yellow is complemented by the dullness of the violet. Although the proportions are not ideal - it is easy to see how the large disparity in proportion works well with these two colours.

Red & Green

Red and green are complementary colours which have equal value in terms of brightness. Consequently I have given them roughly equal weighting in this image - however, my feeling is that the red monkey is quite overpowering compared to the green metalwork of the bench, so I have redressed the balanced with the green grass.

Blue and Orange

The orange sign on blue background of the trolley park at my local Sainsbury's. A clear blue sky tops it off. Again, not quite the ideal proportions but I think the image works better as it is.


The next part of the assignment was to make 3 or 4 images where the colour relationships worked well subjectively but were not the complementary relationships we have been taught are correct.

Sky blue and red.

I like this combination of colours for reasons I can't describe. Some of it I think is the content, which is literally from a different era. It also brings to mind images I've seen elsewhere but which I can't pinpoint!

Yellow and Blue

Yellow and blue seem to be seen more together than orange and blue and I think they work well. This is the arched glass window in the Bentall Centre in Kingston which is perhaps a metaphor for the sun in the sky.

Orange and Green

I think the balance of these colours is about right, as is the blend of the colours themselves. I like orange and green together. The muted red of the pavement also helps create a soft pastel feel.

Yellow and Red

Yellow is the brightest colour and  should really defer to red in terms of size in the frame, but the faint yellow compared to the bold red means that the red needs to be smaller in the frame for it to balance. I also like the lines and shapes in this image so it was another factor in how the colours were to be considered.