Primary and Secondary Colours

This exercise set out to make me search for and take photographs of the primary and secondary colours. I needed to take my time over this as the eye needs time to train itself to see the colours in question. Indeed certain colours (green for example) were very difficult to find in a pure form. I spent a lot of time looking for the less obvious ways of ‘seeing’ these colours and wasn’t always successful. Just as thought I had found one of the colours, another similar but different hue would vie for my attention and I would take that too. Sufficed to say I built up a small library of images of various colours and then needed to go through them to establish which were the correct colours to use for the exercise. With a large amount of varying hues in my collection I found my eye and brain somewhat saturated and not being able to tell what was the true colour (much like spelling one word over and over until you’re not sure it’s spelt correctly). I decided that in order to find the ‘correct’ colour I would use the RGB dropper as a scientific way of establishing what was what.

Below are the colours I photographed in no particular order. I made three separate exposures of these shots with each exposure a half a stop apart (taking the exposure meter reading as ‘0’ and a shot half a stop + or – either side. This is known as bracketing). This was to see which of the images would look most correct and true to the colour I was searching for. It is important to note, however, that in the act of making different exposures, the final colour doesn’t change, it is merely darker or lighter. I have picked out the exposure which I feel best represents the correct colour and noted the exposure underneath.


RED - minus half a stop

RED – underexposed half a stop

One of the most powerful and vibrant colours, red is in abundance in both the natural and industrialised world. Red is especially abundant in Singapore, being an auspicious Chinese colour and makes up fifty percent of the national flag.


YELLOW - Plus half a stop

YELLOW – overexposed half a stop

Yellow is the brightest and lightest of the colours and cannot even exist in a dark form. It is at it’s most vibrant when set against a dark colour (especially black). Here, the darkness of the stems and shadow helps to accentuate the yellow hue. This is the over-exposed version which I feel adds more light to the yellow strengthening it further.


BLUE - exposure as per camera meter

BLUE – exposure as per camera meter

There are various different blues on display here and in fact it is the blue of the taxi which is closest here. I found blue a very difficult colour to find in the right hue. This is because the human eye is able to distinguish a large variety of hues which of course leads to a longer search to find the right one. Unlike the first two colours here, blue is a very cool colour and lacks the vibrance of red and yellow.


GREEN - underexposed half a stop

GREEN – underexposed half a stop

This was by far and away the most difficult colour to interpret for me. This is not a surprise as green is the colour which the human eye is most sensitive to and in turn leads to the way that the modern DSLR is set up having 50% more green pixels on the sensor than blue and red. I have used the underexposed version of the image here as I feel the added contrast gives a more pleasing green. I have used this image as it includes the correct green but by no means features it exclusively.


VIOLET - overexposed half a stop

VIOLET – overexposed half a stop

Another difficult colour to get right and indeed violet was photographed by me many, many times in this process. It usually turned out that what I had photographed was actually purple (a common mistake to make). Violet is a difficult colour to distinguish and I think the colour above would be a dark violet.



ORANGE – as per camera meter

A mixture of yellow and red, orange was an easy colour to find and distinguish both in nature and man-made. The use of orange gives a warm glow and is often associated festivity and celebration so it is apposite to find this Indian restaurant painted in this luxurious colour.

A relatively difficult and time consuming exercise made longer by continually finding more and more hues of the same colour. Indeed, I am sure that was the intent, to train my eyes to see a little more intently rather than just make assumptions on colour. Colour, although scientifically defined, is very subjective especially as not everyone sees in the same way (for instance some people are colour blind to certain colours).

I used Michael Freeman’s, ‘Colour – Digital Photography Expert’ as reference for this exercise.


One thought on “Primary and Secondary Colours

  1. Pingback: Colour Relationships – Part 1 | BA Blog

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