Do you remember watching the Wizard of Oz? The film starts out in sepia-toned monochrome, emphasising the dreariness of life in Kansas, and once Dorothy is transported to Oz everything explodes in glorious technicolour.
Colour plays an important role in our lives. We may associate particular colours with our memories of past events, and they evoke a response in us when we see them. Colour can be used as symbolism and we have many colour-based associations within our language and culture. We even have a ‘Colour of the Year’!
Isaac Newton showed that colour is an illusion when he used a prism to split light into a rainbow of colours. All colours as we see them are made up of light emitted at different parts of the visible spectrum. The colour perceived by our eyes is based on the light reflected from an object, just as the image made by a camera represents the light received by the sensor. If the surface of a red apple absorbs all the wavelengths other than red, the red light is reflected back and we see the apple as red.
We all see colour in different ways. Women are more likely to see colours accurately than men, and there are many degrees of colour accuracy even amongst those who would not be considered colour blind. Aside from this, our perception of colour is affected by the prevalent light falling on the subject. The mind analyses the information it receives by comparing the colours in the scene and corrects for the variations in the light over the day, or indoors/outdoors, to give us consistency in what we see. Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, called this ‘colour constancy’.
There has been a tremendous amount of research on how colour affects human beings and some suggests that men and women may respond to colours differently. Colour affects us emotionally, with different colours evoking different emotions. Emotions are felt in the more primitive, limbic system of the brain, and we may have a strong emotional response based on memories associated with a particular colour. Wearing particular colours can affect our mood or represent it. Some days it feels right to wear that bright red sweater yet at other times we may be drawn to a quiet pastel colour shade.
Warm colours are attention-grabbing reds, yellows and oranges. They may represent warning, energy, vibrance, heat and fire. We also associate them with hostility, anger, power, warmth and comfort. They are likely to dominate a photograph, even if they are a tiny part of it.
Violet, blue and green are cool colours. They are more peaceful, soothing, calming. They may be associated with sadness, indifference, freshness or clarity. These characteristics influence how the viewer feels about our photographs, the overall effect may be quieter and more relaxing.
Does your mood affect the colours you are drawn to photograph? There is much to learn about ourselves when we consider our relationship to colours and the shades we choose to make a part of our lives.