Preferences for Individual Colors
It turns out that that double-take raises some interesting questions. Do we have innate preferences for certain colors? Do those preferences differ between the genders? Is blue for boys and pink for girls something we’re born with? Why would that be the case? As visual artists, understanding the color preferences of our audience seems like it could be pretty important.
A number of studies have found that women tend to prefer redder colors and men bluer [Hurlbert 2007]. This even appears to span some cultural boundaries — but, perhaps critically, not all [Palmer 2013]. A plausible evolutionary explanation has been posited. As women are thought to have more frequently played the role of gatherers rather than hunters in early social groups, a more refined visual ability to distinguish ripe red fruits and freshly unfurled leaves from a dark green background — and to be drawn toward those potential food sources — could yield a survival advantage [Hurlbert 2007].
It turns out, however, that this is unlikely to be the case. Infants do seem to have some innate preferences, or at least attention biases, for certain combinations of hue and lightness [Palmer 2013], but these differ substantially from those of adults. This suggests that our adult color preferences aren’t something we’re innately born with, but rather something that is learned over time.
So, what does determine our color preferences? It turns out they can almost wholly be explained by our preferences for colored objects. In fact, a correlation with object preferences explains nearly 80% of the variation in color preference in the U.S. [Palmer 2010]. If you like juicy, ripe apples and ripe apples are almost always red, you’re likely to prefer saturated reds. Bright blue is synonymous with clear skies and clean water. Dark greens, on the other hand, may be redolent of a dark, oppressive forest; and dark yellows are, well, basically the color of rotting food and poop. Hardly anyone seems to like dark yellows in studies.
The influence of objects on color preference can even be tested. In one study, the initial color preferences of participants were determined. Part of the group was then shown images of nice red things, ripe strawberries, for example, as well as a selection of gross green things, “mold and snot”. The other portion of the group was shown kiwis and pretty green trees along with red images of “blood and lesions”. When color preferences were again tested, they had shifted for the two groups in just the way you would expect [Strauss 2013].
Why do boys like blue and girls like pink, then? It’s likely a cultural feedback loop. Girls’ rooms are painted pink, they’re given pink toys, pink dresses, pink bows. Boys get blue rooms, blue jeans, blue cars. And maybe even more importantly, boys are often told not to like pink. Pink is for girls. There’s a social stigma attached to men liking it.
Most images, however, contain not just one, but multiple hues. The question of how these hues may harmonize is still an active area of research (for an excellent overview see [Westland 2007]). There’s often not full agreement about what is or isn’t a harmonious set of colors, or within what contexts. There’s no shortage of ideas, mind you, but when put to empirical tests the theories can be a bit hit or miss, or yield results in the laboratory that don’t easily generalize to the complexities of the real world. I've often read, for example, that complementary colors work well together. These are color pairs opposite one another on a color wheel that make gray when mixed: blue and orange, red and green, etc.
Yet, when people are shown color pairs in simple arrangements on a computer screen, study participants reliably have a strong preference for analogous colors (those with hues very close to one another) rather than complementary pairs [Schloss 2011]. See which you prefer in the before/after image above. So, does that mean we should always strive to create photographs with as monochromatic a color scheme as possible? Of course not.
Evaluating flat color fields on a computer screen isn’t the same as evaluating those colors within a realistic context. This is what I mean about study results not translating well to the real world. Our brains inherently perceive the visual world through the lens of our prior experiences. It's not only our preferences, but our fundamental perception of different colors, that can depend on the apparent lighting of a scene, on three-dimensional information about it, on the relative spatial placement of color patches within that 3D environment, and on heaps of prior information about the objects within the scene. That all happens subconsciously. We can't turn it off. Imagine viewing color swatches in different contexts. Bright blue washed across a clear desert sky? Beautiful. The same bright blue washed across a ripe banana? That might turn your stomach.
I suspect there's a little more complexity to color harmony than the idea that we all have some unexpressed yearning to inhabit a monochromatic world.
Painters' Use of Color Theory
Painters have been experimentally studying color harmony for centuries, mixing colors and choosing color palettes to suit their aesthetic needs. And unlike photographers, whose palettes are often constrained by the objects in a scene or the ambient lighting conditions, painters have the complete freedom to choose a color palette that yields exactly the emotional tenor or dynamic they would like to convey. The image below is of Vincent van Gogh’s "Sower at Sunset". The relative abundance of different hues within the image is plotted as a hue histogram to the right. Longer bars indicate relatively more pixels of a particular hue; shorter bars indicate relatively fewer.
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The Art and Science of Photography: Color Theory (Bret Daniel)
PROJECTed IMAGE AWARDS
Bob Green 'Train To Nowhere'
Gary White 'Pump House Moon'
COLOR PRINTS -CREDITS
Phil Belbin 'Blue Handrail'
Di Sylvester 'Pot with Bracelet'
Alan Edwards 'Bird's Eye View'
Phil Belbin 3 Elvis Girls
Mark Passfield 'Leaning to the Right'
Phil Belbin ''Wondering'
John Stephens 'Across the Lake'
Sue Robertson 'Penny Farthing
Barbara Seager 'Paper Daisies'
Diny Jones 'Waiting'
John Halpin 'Clydesdale'
Pat Halpin 'Guard Dog'
PRINTED IMAGE AWARDS
TULIP TIME IMAGE AWARDS
Click on the images or the underlined titles to read the articles. Links are also provided to each artist website by clicking on their name.
Your best assets as a photographer isn't taught at photogrpahy school
Color Prints Best in Exhibition Gary White 'No Time to Read'
Highly Commended Bob Green 'The Lighthouse'
Highly Commended Sandra Crossan 'Cloud Leaf'
Monochrome Prints Best In Exhibition Chris Stimson 'Towards Higher Learning'
Highly Commended Ian Fegent 'Slow Recovery Falls Creek'
Highly Commended Jacqui Davey 'The Nest'
Projected Images Best In Exhibition Gary White 'Wind Blown'
Highly Commended Barbara Seager 'Wanaker Tree'
Highly Commended Mark Passfield 'Night Reader Robertson Cemetery'
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SHOOTING DREAMY BACKLIT PORTRAITS
everything you need to know about taking better smart phone Images
I didn't study photography in any official capacity — not unless you count a quick Google whenever there’s a term I don’t understand. So naturally, I'm biased in the argument about whether studying photography is worth it. But in my opinion, the most valuable asset to a photographer is something that cannot be searched on the internet, nor can it be taught.
Beautiful light, a genuine connection, and a glimpse into the soul—these are the 3 things I strive to capture in my photography. Even the most ordinary scene can be transformed into something magical when infused with vibrant colors, stunning natural light, and a truthful connection with your subject.
The Art of Photography: The work of Fan Ho
Tips for Better Composition of Architecture Photos
20 Amazing Photography Tips and Techniques
Visual Lines in Landscapes
Post Processing Techniques
How to create a Texture Overlay in Photoshop
from the editor
Welcome to the October issue of the 2019 Southern Highlands Newsletter, and congratulations to all award recipients.
As always if there are specific areas you would like addressed in the newsletters just send me an email (email@example.com) and I will endeavour to include articles and content to cover your requests.
Upcoming 2019 program