Our response to colors is complex, based on  physical, physiological and psychological response.


Color physically is wavelength (a disturbance in the visible spectrum (light)) - it's a wave oscillating at certain rate.


When our eyes set on it, it triggers physiological pheonmena of converting light to signals for the brain.


Brain, then based on psychological and emotional factors (based on expirience) creates associations, prefference and symbolism.


The idea of this article is to present view of this 3 factors and how they can be combined to trigger a stronger sensation. Let's get on with it.


To be able to communicate well some of colors characteristics I would make a quick intro to  Saturation, Hue and Brightness.


Hue - the essence of color, there is no clear word wirtten definition for Hue (there is mathematical however), while it's always related to the name of the color we see. It's the names of the primary hues that are distinguished and all noticeable differences between them. Doesn't sound too specific, right ?

Aspects of color

Creative concepts of colors in photography

Saturation - richness, intensity of the color, pure hues are hues at full intensity, maximum purity. All colors if you take all richness/purity of them they will turn into some kind of grey. Maximum saturation is colorfull while grey is colorless. This in practice is hard to achieve - to have purest color possible and lack of any colors.

Brightness - how light or dark color is, and is often associated with how brilliant (shiny) it is. At one end if color has no brightness it will be black, on the other if it has maximum brightness it will be white. Unlike saturation when we change brightness color purity (colofulness) is intact, we will not see another color sneak into perception. The tricky thing is that brightness is not independent of the color.

RED - it is intense and alarming color, dominating over cooler colors (green, blue). For a color to dominate it means that it looks closer in 3D space. Red has allot of energy, passion and agression. It's a very solid color, meaning that signifacnt hue adjustment towards orange or violet will still result in a perception of red. Emotionally creates an association with something strong, warm, hot.
It can be both passionate on the one hand and dangerous, infernal on the other.
      It is related with blood, conflict and destruction.

It is a strong religion (India, dots on forehead) and cultural symbol - often used as a revolution color.

   As an everyday use we associate it with prohibition and restrictions - stop signs, traffic lights.

It is the color of sin and desire.

It is a symbol of power, celebrity symbol - red carpet in ceremonies.

Green - the color of the nature and is strongly associated with it. Our eyes due to adaptation and evolution have most sensitivity to the green color, that's why standard camera sensors ahve twice as many green pixels as blue and red. It has a very wide range of hues and we (humans) can distinguish it in lower ilght levels than other colors. Green variations are very easy for us to descriminate and small variation can be distinguished easily. It's power is with medium brightness.


The color have positive feeling to it as it is symbolism of nature, freshnesh, calmness, growth. It's a symbol of safety.

Youth and progress are associated with green again in sync with nature. It is active and permissive color, symbolizes 'go' on the traffic lights. Green is related to a good and healthy manner of live and used in many food and pharmacy advertising and messages.

Paradoxically having a green cast in a image is one of the worst undesired effects in color iamges. The paradox of the green is that while it's a symbol of health, when not in the right place it's a negative symbol of decay like mold.

Blue - the cool color, relatively dark and quiet. It's much darker than red and green, less active, but have more strength when it is very deep. It's hard to discriminate purity when it's darker and there are no other blue colors around it. It's the color of the sea and the water - very easy to find in it's purest forms around us. It is often related with intelligence, confidence, faith, truth. It is a calming color that slows metabolism, it's refreshing and cooling. It can literally reduce sensation of temperature.

Symbolizing passive, reflective mood, withdrawn.
It is often used as an advertising of airlines, hi-tech, precision.

It is a male color, associated with competence, expertise and stability - it's common choise of tie in politics and official events.

It's color of purification and cleaning advertisement.

It's the color of the sea and often used in fish restaurants.
It is the main colors in shadows after sunset and before sunrise.


"Blue is the male principle, sharp and spiritual" - painter August Macke

Yellow - is the brightest and lightest of all colors. It's briliance.

Orange - is radiant rich color.

Violet - trickiest color of them all, ellusive to reproduce, and hard to identify - no wonder is the color of mystery and magic.

White - purity, sacred and goddly, it's a color of perfection - and yet absence of color in it's purest.

Black - no light and darkness, it's the perfect neutrality achieved by no exposure.


This article is highly influenced by Michael Freeman's The Color Photography Field Guide


This article have art by photographer Ivaylo Daskalov

Hue Saturation graph

        In the graph it is shown how are color affected by saturation and hue, brightness is unchanged. When saturation is decreased we qualify colors as "muddier", "dirtier", "less colorfull", "less vibrant"

        It is time to introduce Brightness (Lightness) into the game:

Gradients showing Min and Max effect of Hue, Saturation and Brightness(lightness)

    On the graph above we have brighntess(value) on Y axis and Saturation (chroma) on the X axis. It can be seen that Yellow and Orange have maximum saturation at different brightness levels compared to blue (shape is not symetrical).

Yellow have maximum saturation at different brightness level than Blue

Let's get on with the colors

There are three basics use of color - use as dominant in scene, use it as a combination or as an accent.

For each one I'll provide an examples

Red is dominant color and depending on the position and size in image can be most striking and atractive to the eye. It is one of the basic primary colors from centuries - in painting it is considered basic along with black and white. It is always a good accent combined with grey, black and white, and makes harmonious combination with green as it is found in nature. It is part of the colors of the sunset/sunrise so it can be combined explosively with yellow and orange, or softly if it is somewhat muted and blended. In interior design red and brown (woody) are often combined for a warmer and energetic feeling. When combined with blue it evokes striking contrast, it's a superhero color.

When brightness of the red is increased it's intensity is higher, stronger red, while when decreased it tends to be brownish and less vivid.

Saturation reduction result in more pastel , pink, or blush (tanned or redder skin colors) if brightness is slightly reduced.

As mentioned red is strong enough to keep it's characteristic in large changes of the hue, towards yellow and orange.

A common problem for cameras (mainly lower quality) could be to reproduce unpure red varying in hue in different brightness areas. Good aporach is to correct Hue and/or brightness towards the intended color, and achieve stronger or weaker influence of the red in scene.

Green - is resting for the eyes, so it's often used in interior for a calm and relaxing atmosphere. And a whole week of treking through green landscapes is definitely regenerative. Dark green is used as a money/trading symbol.


When darkened green is deeper and mature color with solid uniformity - olive green, sea green. When brightened it has simpler structure, more synthetic look - light turqouise, aquamarine, yellow green.


Saturation increase causes less natural and more striking colors, while in a little above the middle of the scale results in very calm colors.


Hue changes are in widest area of all primary colors, it's still recognizable mixed with yellow and blue respectively reaching lime and cyan. When desired effect is to have warmer feeling hue can be adjusted towards yellow, while if colder or deeper sensation is intended it can be pushed towards bluish.

Ranges of green

Green color has extremely wide range of good and effective combinations. It can be combined well with earthy colors, like brown and wood. It's in good balance with white. Red as color found in flowers is quite succesfull for different combinations, out and in balance. Orange and Yellow can be complimentary or dominantly related with green.


For a striking combinations more saturated and brighter greens have perfect backgrounds in the greyish colors. Blue and green are often found in nature but generally have limited appeal as a combination - nightly, dark scenes, or scenes expressing coldness for example. When green is "phosphorizing" it can be a good accent in almost any dark color except violet.

Blue - has large latitude in darker levels. Marginally close to dark violet and green, with cyan hues.


When darkened blue is deeper color with allot of strength - it takes allot of the energy. Darkest tones are close to ink /indigo, Brighter tends towards arctic ice and sky - much more vital and energetic colors but quickly looses significance with increased lightness.


Saturation has large latitude, and is cause for problems when matching digital and print. Saturated blue is very deep when in darker tones. Desaturaed colors have higher tendency to than other colros grey.


Hue changes are less sensitive towards green than to the violet. Even a small addition of red unpurities is very noticeable.

Ranges of Blue

On the X axis (horizontal) is Saturation (chroma) and Brightness is on Y axis (vertical). It can be seen that the strongest colors are in half of the brightness and below

On the X axis (horizontal) is Saturation (chroma) and Brightness is on Y axis (vertical). It can be seen that Red goes quickly towards brown when lightness is reduced, while it takes to coral and orange in the higher brightness levels.

Blue - as dominant color needs a little texture to be interesting and trigger emotion. However it's very sensitive to hue changes with violet and red inpurities, so careful Hue adjustment may be needed to preserve it as seen by eyes.


In combinations it's well contrasted by orange and finds good companion with muted colors , and ofcourse grey. White generally combines with less tention with blue and green, than red (where it signifies emrgency).


Dark saturated brown is not recomended as best companion.

Saturation has large latitude, and is cause for problems when matching digital and print. Saturated blue is very deep when in darker tones. Desaturaed colors have higher tendency to than other colros grey.


Hue changes are less sensitive towards green than to the violet. Even a small addition of red unpurities is very noticeable.

        The color is experienced rather than considered, similarly to the music. Like painters can use the colors, photographers are closer to have that ability to control and adjust it.


        It's soo good to have a deeper understanding of the impact and feelings that a color can trigger. As a minimum, this will allow for realistically (or unrealistically) presentation of scenes you encounter, but in a creative direction this opens up a new universe of creativity - original and emotional.


       Primary hues are the colors that can be described with one word - red, green, blue, cyan, magenta... All colors we can distinguish above, have hues, if we need to add another word to the description (light, dark, strong, mute) it's still the same kind of hue, though it looks a different. In image processing and color theory color is any unique sets of values of the primary colors (red, green, blue for digital display sources, yellow, magenta and black for print...etc.). Hue is very closely related to the color because if we have light blue it can be described as blue that is just bright or sky blue - still it's blue in it's essence. Any characteristics we add to the color is a modulation of it's Hue, as an example...

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© 2016  Alexander Nachev Photography

Sofia, Bulgaria