The Colour Wheel

A colour wheel is a useful tool used for understanding the relationships between colours. Used by designers, artists and photographers, they can be used to create balanced colourscapes based on the use of complimentary and harmonious colours.

The first colour wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666 and features 12 colours, using the primary colours of red, yellow and blue as a basis.

Photo of a colour wheel

One half of the wheel features the “warm” colours and the other the “cool” colours”.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colours

In the artistic (or subtractive) colour models, the primary colours are red, yellow and blue. These are spaced equally around the wheel.

The secondary colours are produced by mixing primary colours, so mixing red and yellow gives orange, yellow and blue gives green, and blue and red gives violet. These colours also appear equally spaced around the wheel between the colours that produce them.

Finally, the tertiary colours are produced by mixing a primary and secondary colour and these are named after their constituent colours, so mixing green and blue gives blue-green, whilst mixing orange and yellow give yellow-orange. Again these colours appear on the wheel between the colours that produce them.

Lighter & Darker Colours

You can make all these colours lighter or darker by adding white or black respectively. A lighter colour is called a tint, whilst a darker colour is a shade. You can also add grey to create a different tone. These variations often appear on the back of the colour wheel.


Colours can be related in a number of ways.

Complimentary colours are those that appear opposite one another in the wheel, for instance orange and blue.

Analagous colours are colours that appear next to each other on the wheel, often in twos or threes.

A triadic scheme uses three colours that appear equally around the wheel, such as orange, green and violet.

A tetradic scheme uses a rectangle on the wheel to match fours colours, such as yellow, blue, violet and orange.

There are also other chords such as split complimentary and square.

Use In Photography

Knowing how colours relate to one another can be a useful tool in photographic composition. Finding a dominant colour and then contrasting it with a secondary colour can lift an image.

Green and red are complimentary colours

When deciding on how to capture a particular scene, knowledge of colour theory can help influence your composition to produce pleasing images. You can choose two colours and then find an angle to exclude anything that disturbs the balance of colours.

When designers use colour they often choose a dominant colour and match it with a secondary hue, sometimes adding in a third accent colour.

For more information about colour theory you can refer to the links shown below.

Useful links:
Colour Theory (from
Introduction to Colour Theory

The Seasons: Spring

After the overcast days and long nights of Winter, Spring is a welcome season of new life. For the photographer it’s a time of fresh new colour as the sun moves higher in the sky, flowers bloom and leaves return to the trees.

It starts with apple blossom and daffodils; pink, white and yellow. Sunlit against a clear blue sky these can give a picture of freshness, awakening from the hibernation of winter. As the weeks roll by, towns and the countryside turn greener, and again this green works well with the blue sky.

When taking photos of flowers you can get close up, allowing you to experiment with depth of field. Using a large aperture will give a shallow depth of field, allowing you to blur the background. However, you should carefully choose your focal point. At this point you may want to change the camera’s focusing mode from automatic to something more appropriate, either manual or single point focus.

Alternatively, you may choose to use a smaller aperture, meaning that more of the shot is in focus. The focal point becomes less important in this case but your surrounding and background might become more of a distraction.

Later in the Spring comes the blaze of colour that is rapeseed, or Canola as it is known in America. This can present some excellent photo opportunities, although photographers with a sensitive nose might want to pass this up.

If you are anywhere near a sheepfarming community, lambs and lambing can make good subject material, although it’s always important not to disturb the animals. There are invariably some great shots to be had of lambs running around the fields in the Spring sunshine.

Mayday is a good time to focus on seasonal celebrations, with May festivals and morris dancers providing good subjects.ckground might become more of a distraction.

Bedford Fours and Small Boats Head

Bedford Rowing Club staged their Spring Fours and Small Boats Head on Sunday 10th April. The races take place over a 2km stretch of the River Great Ouse at Bedford and feature crews from across the South East, including Loughborough, Guildford, Stratford and Kent.

The event was blessed with bright sunshine and above average temperatures and presented a wealth of photographic opportunities.

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