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CCYL 15: Color Basics

Since most of us are stuck inside our homes or yards, I decided to rerun a series I did several years ago, called Cee’s Compose Yourself Lesson (CCYL).  This is not a challenge, but I suggest you play with new ideas or ways of looking at taking photos.  Hopefully this will fill your day with a little excitement and joy.  Please feel free to play along and join in the fun.

Color Basics

When I started putting this post together, Chris asked me what color had to with photo composition.  To her, color was just there.  You got what you saw.  That is true to a certain degree and in some cases you can’t control the color.  But as with all the other compositional tools that I am teaching in this challenge series, it’s nice to know the practicality of colors and some of the basic rules.

These compositional lessons are all part of your bag of tricks to take better photos.  If a trick doesn’t apply, don’t try.  Don’t try to force a rule that doesn’t apply, but do look for ways to bend the rule if that helps.  This is why we can break all the rules in photography and still have a stunning composition.

Color Basics

I’m sure most of you have heard about the color wheel.  The wheel consists of twelve basic colors and looks somewhat like a rainbow.  From this there are several combinations you can work with.

Depending on which website or book you are reading about color, there are three basic types of color combinations:

  1. Warm and Cool Colors – this is pretty self-explanatory because the colors makes you feel warm or cool.  (We will be covering these today.)
  2. Complementary – colors that are next to each other on the wheel.
  3. Opposing – colors that are opposites on the color wheel.

In the next couple of challenges I will go through Complementary and Opposing colors.

Which Colors are Warming and Which are Cooling

The color wheel below will give you a quick idea on which colors will give you that warm, cuddly feeling and which colors will make you want to put a jacket on.

You see that the warm colors are red to yellow-green.  If you want to warm up a photo, add a little bit of orange or yellow to your photo.  You can do this with the white balance on most post-processing software.  You can even change your camera settings to help.  I usually wait until I do my post-processing because it all depends on the feeling I want from the photo once I decide to edit it. 

Warm Colors

The warming colors also tend to energize you, especially the bright reds and oranges.  You want to keep those colors out of your bedroom.  The best places to use these colors are in your kitchens and dining rooms.  They would be good for classroom or art rooms as well.

Sepia (brown) tones fall on the warmer side of the color wheel.  Brown comes from the color orange.

Cool Colors

The cooler colors are in the range of the violets to dark green.  These colors tend to calm you down and are soothing. These are wonderful colors for your bedrooms, reading and meditation rooms.  Or any other place you really want to calm down.

Cooler colors tend to make your photo look sharper and clearer.

Black and white photography falls into the cooler category because black and silver actually fall into the blue color.  That is why black and white appears to crisper and more dramatic.


In these series of photos, think about which ones make you feel warm or which ones make you want to put a jacket on.

Which ocean scene would you prefer to stick your toes in?  The only differences between these two variations of this US Coast Guard Ship is the light balance and toning.

In this cooler photo, I added more blue to the white balance temperature making a cooler color.  I also added a little more exposure to the photo.  (This could have been done on my camera as well as in post processing.)

In this warmer colored photo, I added more yellow to the white balance temperature.  I also took down the exposure slightly which made it appear that I took the picture much closer to the golden hour of sunset.

In this example, I used the same original photo and used post-processing software (Adobe Bridge) to create the warm and cool effect.   This first photo is of a dahlia in black and white (cool).  Notice the sharp details it has.

Here is sepia (warm) version of the same dahlia.  I used a slight orange color in the sepia.

A warm colored gallery.

A cool colored gallery.

I’ve gathered a list of challenges and their hosts.  So if you know a challenge host, please direct them to my blog.  Feel free to contact me anytime.  I hope everyone will be able to use my lists.

Qi (energy) hugs


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