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As a way to make this jaunt into color theory especially relevant for us photographers, it is probably valuable to relate it to contrast. We know contrast to be the difference between light values. Extremely full contrast is the opposition shared between complete black and complete white. To say certain colors have this much contrast is a stretch, but colors contrast because without light, they would not exist (FIGURE 4.14). Analogous colors contrast very little when they are of the same intensity, and complementary colors contrast quite a bit. When colors change in shade or tone, even more contrast can be introduced.


FIGURE 4.14 Like light and shadow, the simple transition in tones of the dominating gold on the goose’s body provide it form, while the contrast between that gold and the blue in the water helps separate the subject from its environment.

ISO 400, 1/1600 sec., f/2.8, 400mm lens

Contrast in light, or in this case, color, is a great way to create dimension in images. One of the first things to look for when you enter into any photographic situation is where the light and shadows fall. When you see shadows, you know that when they’re positioned well in the frame, you can create a sense of a third dimension—depth—in the shot. Similar to the way that the difference between light and shadows builds dimension, when two contrasting colors are next to each other in a frame—they may be stacked or one may surround the other—they can contribute to the sense of depth in a shot (FIGURE 4.15).


FIGURE 4.15 The difference between brightly and dimly lit areas equates to a difference in the intensity of color. The contrast between Sam and the areas behind him are noticed in light and color, lending visual depth to this stacking of abstract color.

ISO 200, 1/125 sec., f/2, 18mm lens

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