If you’ve read ‘The colours of great photography part 1.’ by now you know that the colours you choose to use in your photography are fundamental because they help tell your story as well as communicate on an emotional level. Also, if I’ve done my job well, you’ll also have a better understanding of colour theory.

Before going into more colour harmonies, I wanted to expand on the use of red and its combination with blue. Officially, it’s not a colour harmony, although I personally think that it should at least be given the title of ‘honorary’ colour harmony because it is widely used by professional photographers.

Why is this combination so appealing? Good question!

After several hours searching the web for an official explanation I found none so I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that for starters, blue is the last colour we see which also means that when it’s used as a background, it gives depth to our images. When used together with red, the first colour we see, the spatial separation is maximised.

© Steve McCurry

red and blue harmony

Furthermore, it creates a strong contrast both visually and on a more emotional level. For example, in the image above by Steve McCurry, the red helps to reinforce the life and energy of the people and is contrasted with the serene blue background. The same concept applies to the image below by Jorge Delgado-Ureña.

© Jorge Delgado-Ureña

Cuba red and blue harmony

These two colours are also the extremes of warm and cold colours and therefore transmit opposing sensations. Have a look at the photograph below by David Allan Harvey and think about how the colours add to the story.

© David Alan Harvey

Red and blue harmony

Triadic colour harmony:

By adding yellow to these two colours, we get a triadic colour harmony. Triadic colour harmony is not just the use of red, yellow and blue, but rather the use of any three colours equally spaced around the colour wheel, but red, yellow and blue is the most commonly used.

Triadic colour harmony

This scheme is popular among artists because it offers strong visual contrast (although less so than the complimentary colour harmony) and has more balance and colour richness.

© Alex Webb

Triadic colour harmony

© Steve McCurry

Triadic colour harmony

© Constantine Manos

Triadic colour harmony

Another benefit this harmony has is that it adds a playfulness to an image which is why it works so well in the above two images by Steve McCurry and Constantine Manos.

Tetradic colour harmony:

The tetradic (or double complementary) harmony is the richest of all the harmonies because it uses four colours arranged into two complementary colour pairs. This scheme is hard to harmonise; if all four colours are used in equal amounts, the scheme may look unbalanced, so you should choose a colour to be dominant or subdue the colours.

© Jorge Delgado-Ureña

Tetradic colour harmony 35mm focal

© Alex Webb

Tetradic colour harmony

As you can see in the images above, they both have dominant colours. The top image is dominated by orange and complemented by the blue sky. Whereas the red and green complimentary colours are found in the woman’s clothes. In the second image mint Green is dominant and complimented by the pink cotton candy. The blue sky and orange posts act as the other two complimentary colours and accentuate the context of the overall image.

Finding a balance between colours is important in all colour harmonies and it becomes increasingly important, the more colours you use. Another thing many people don’t realise is that too many colours, especially ones that don’t follow any order can make an image very confusing and visually unpleasant.

To conclude and going back to what I was saying at the beginning of part 1., colour is all around us:  we are able to process this information and focus on what is important and necessary to make sense of the world, BUT, in photography you, the photographer, are the “filter” and it’s your job to get rid of everything that isn’t important to the story or emotions that your photo aims to convey.

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