The theory of colour is important to any artist, including photographers. The theory can be quite complex and this section serves as an introduction for you to understand the most significant elements.

imagesThe are three primary colours: Red, yellow and blue. The primary colours are the three colours that all other colours are derived from.

The secondary cosecondarylours: green, orange and purple. These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colours.

The tertiary colours: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green.

images-2These are the colours created when you mix a primary and a secondary colours. That’s why the hue is a two word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange




Warm colours describe colours that are vivid or strong. They evoke emotion. We have phrases such “red hot with anger” that draw on this notion of warm colours. They occur throughout nature. Examples of warm colours include red and orange. Consider the warmth of a sunset on a summer’s



Cool colours describe colours that are calm or soothing in our everyday environment. Cool colours are seen in nature and are human made. Think of a calming ocean scene on a winter’s day. Examples of cool colours include grey, blue and green.

complete wheelColour is an important aspect in photographic composition. By slowing down and looking at the colour we are seeing we can enhance our images by considering colour.  This diagram shows all the colours of the colour wheel together.

Other aspects to consider are:

  • Complementary colours lie opposite from one another on the color wheel. These colours create a contrast and draw in the eye of the viewer. As photographer be on the lookout to use complementary colours.
  • Analogous colours are next to each another on the colour wheel. Using analogous colours creates a more low contrast and harmonious colour scheme.
  • Monochromatic colours are made up of shades from just one color, for instance, several different shades of purple.

Examples of complementary, analogous and monochromatic colour images. Click to enlarge.