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“The Psychology of Color”

Kodachrome was first introduced by the Kodak Company in 1935. This film opened up a whole new world to photographers: the world of color.

Black and white photography (known as monochrome), is beautiful, stunning, and unique. But color speaks to the heart. By tapping into the subconscious, it evokes emotion, producing impact.

Psychologists have conducted countless studies on why and how color effects the human brain. Out of these studies have come many theories.

It has been determined that there are four main colors that effect the human brain. These are called “psychological primary colors” because, unlike the standard primary colors, green is included.

Red Rose

Red: Working as a stimulant, the color produces feelings of arousal and excitement. Associated with passion, love, and desire, it is a popular color choice for weddings, formal occasions, and holidays. The color symbolizes energy, strength, and power. Red produces many positive feelings, yet, it has also been linked to negative reactions such as aggression and defiance. Whether viewed in a negative light or a positive one, red remains the color of boldness. It appears at a wavelength of 650 nano-meters.

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Blue: Polar opposite to red, this color works to sooth and calm the viewer. Associated with duty, honor, and trust, it is equally powerful. Despite it being the color of communication, blue has been linked to feelings of aloofness, coldness, and apathy. An unemotional color, it symbolizes both logic and efficiency. Blue is the color of tranquility. It has a wavelength of 475 nano-meters.

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Yellow: An emotional color, it stands for optimism, friendliness, and creativity. It speaks of confidence, self-esteem, and extroversion. On the negative side, too much of the color can create feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear. Yellow represents mixed emotions. Its wavelength is 570 nm.

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Green: Harmony and balance. Listed as an earthy color, it works to sooth the viewer. Providing peace to those who look upon it, green is restful, reassuring, and refreshing. Shades of this color are gentle on the eyes. Despite its calming properties, green can also stir feelings of excitement and adventure. It speaks to us on a primitive level. The color causes many to crave outdoor challenges and daring feats. Symbolizing hard work, it is listed as a physical color. Green has a wavelength o 510 nano-meters.

On the magnetic spectrum, wavelengths vary starting with the shortest (violet) to the longest (red). Blue, green, and yellow make up the three in between shades. Recorded in nano-meters, visible light lies on a range of 400 to 700. White is viewed as a mixture of color while black is the absence of color.

So, how does this information help the average photographer?

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Color evokes emotion. A photographer, who understands the effects of color, can control the emotions of those viewing his images. In other words, he can make a person feel what he wants them to feel.

The longest wavelength on the color spectrum, red, tends to appear closer than it is in actuality. Therefore, it works to pull the viewer into the picture. This creates a feeling of intimacy and closeness. Blue, gives the image a wide-open, spacious feel, leaving the viewer with a sense of vastness.

Warm colors produce one set of feelings, while cool colors a different set. A photographer will choose the emotion he desires his viewer to have and will then select the appropriate colors that will spark that specific emotion.

Color sets the mood. A landscape of an ocean is to produce feelings of peace and tranquility. Place a bright red buoy off to one side, and the viewer becomes distracted. Unless this redirect in focus, is the goal of the photographer, its presence should be cropped from the shot.

Color creates impact. A photographer controls emotions by selecting specific colors. He creates impact by contrasting these specific colors, by placing them in a particular fashion, or by highlighting their differences. For example: a firefighter rushes into a burning building. Flickering orange flames against a rippling sea of black. A yellow jacket streaked with grey ash comes into viewer. Dark shadows loom around the hero, but it is the color that draws the viewer into the image. In this scenario, the person behind the lens has grasped the concept of color. By contrasting bold shades against dark ones, he has created an image that will stun its audience.

Color evokes emotion, sets the mood, and creates impact.

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Color to a photographer is like a brush to an artist. Can a photographer work without color? Yes. Can an artist work without a brush? Yes.But, with the addition of color, and with the addition of a brush, the artist’s work will go from something ordinary, to something extraordinary.

Color is a tool. When used properly, this tool can produce powerful results.

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