Cast your eyes to the right, and you’ll see a nature shot of a bee heading off from a flower on a nectar hunt. But think in terms of pure colour, and there’s a certain harmony going on: magenta flowers, green foliage and the yellow insect ‘popping’ out. The reason this shot’s colour palette is eye-catching is that it has a primary colour (green) and its opposing secondary colour (magenta) working together.
The primary colours of light are red, green and blue (RGB). Cameras (and your eyes) mix these together to form all the colours you see. Opposing these are the secondary colours: cyan, magenta and yellow (CMY). They’re opposites: for example, cyan is a mixture of green and blue, and contains no red. Similarly, magenta is a mix of red and blue (with no green), and yellow is a mix of red and green (with no blue).
Using a primary with its opposite secondary gives you maximum colour contrast, and is a sure-fire way to get a picture with immediate visual impact. Memorising these six main colours, and knowing which opposes which, is all you really need to know about the heady subject of colour theory.
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