Complimentary Colors

In our previous post, we examined the color wheel and how each of the primary, secondary and tertiary colors fit onto the color wheel. The colors we examined are considered to be part of the RYB (subtractive) or artistic color model. It is the basic color model for painting and designing. So, why are we looking at this model? To learn color theory, you have to start with the basics. When you create an image, you are looking at it with your eyes, just as if you were looking at a painting. So if you want to understand the relationship of colors and how they fit together, then we start with the standard color wheel.

When deciding what colors to use in your pictures, you should understand which colors are harmonious with each other. The color wheel below shows that the complimentary color for red is green. Red it the exact opposite color from green on the color wheel.


If you wanted to know the complimentary color for red, you would pick the color that is exactly opposite from red. In this case it is green. The color opposite of blue is orange, and so on. You can go around the wheel and find all the complimentary colors for each color on the wheel. Even if you don’t have a wheel available, your eyes can help you judge which colors would work best together.

Other ways you can put complimentary colors together are as follows:

Analogeous: In this color scheme, you pick colors that are directly next to each other such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow orange. One color would dominate and the other two colors would support the first.


Triadic: In this scheme, you would use colors in the shape of a triangle on the color wheel which are evenly spaced. Pick a color that would dominate and the other two colors would act as the accents to the first.


Split Complimentary: This color scheme is very similar to the complimentary color scheme except that instead of the exact opposite color, you would use the two colors adjacent to the opposite color on the color wheel. This color scheme is also contains less viewing tension than the complimentary color scheme and is easier to use.


Rectangle (tetradic): To add even more variation to possible complimentary colors, you could use colors of this scheme. To pick colors here, a rectangle can be used with the color wheel to pick four colors that are compliments of each other as in the complimentary color scheme such as red and green with orange and blue. Two colors would be paired with the exact opposite color for each to create a rectangle.

Square: This color scheme is very similar to the tetradic scheme except we use the four colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel like a square.


With the rectangle and square color schemes, you have to be careful to balance the warm and cool colors in you images.

Using color schemes are great when you are setting up objects in a photo shoot but it can be extremely helpful to have this knowledge when you are out shooting because you can train your eye in color patterns.

Next up in this series is an explanation of the RGB and CYMK color models.

#photography #colors #arts

<<, <Prev, Next>, >>

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s