What is a Color Wheel: how to find the perfect shades and hues for your photos

What is a Color Wheel: how to find the perfect match for your photos

Getting colors that work well together is crucial to any good photo composition. In our latest photography cheat sheet we answer the question, ‘What is a Color Wheel?’ and point out some of the key things you need to know.

The most useful tool for experimenting with colors is the color wheel. Used for centuries by artists and designers, these rainbow circles show how different colors interact with each other.

Primary colors (red, yellow and blue) are spaced evenly around the circle, with secondary colors (made by mixing primary colors together) falling in between.

As a rule of thumb, colors that sit next to each other on the wheel work harmoniously together, and colors that are directly opposite each other are complementary to each other.

It’s also worth keeping in mind when matching colors that different shades evoke strong psychological reactions in the viewer, and even small flashes of one color can really change the mood and message of a photograph.

Used correctly, color is one of the easiest ways to create really dynamic, eye-catching shots.

Infographic: What is a Color Wheel?

What is a Color Wheel: how to find the perfect match for your photos


Click on the infographic to see the larger version

Cheerful yellows and oranges are classed as ‘warm’ colors. These have a big impact, and are best used in small doses. Tread with caution when using red – it has strong positive and negative connotations, signifying passion and love but also danger and sin. Blues evoke feelings of tranquility.

For a really strong effect try mixing primary colors (red, yellow and blue) to make a bright, bold statement.

Matching together shades of ‘cool’ colors like blue and green creates an instantly calming effect. Or for instant contrast, mix a ‘warm’ color such as orange or red with a ‘cool’ green or blue.

Color connotations vary around the world. In the western world, for example, the color of mourning is black, but it’s yellow in Egypt and purple in Thailand.


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