Category Archives: 15 Building a library of colours

Exercise 23 Primary and Secondary Colours

collection-with-textIn this exercise we are asked to collect a set of primary and secondary colours without resorting to photographing paint. I turned the exercise and my weekend into an exploration of natural colour.

I undertook four very different shoots that I hoped would provide a wide selection of colours. The first shoot was to explore my local woods looking for mosses and lichens which provided nearly all the colours from orange through blue green, the exceptions being a fern which gave me a more “pure” green than the mosses at this time of year and the daffodils which provided a classic yellow.

The second shoot was to look at the fruit and vegetables in the kitchen, this gave me quite a selection of reds.

For the third shoot I visited some local flooded meadows in the search for blues and greens and in particular looking for reflections of the early morning sky in the shallow flood waters.

Lastly I visited Kew Gardens to look at their orchid festival, this trip provided a large selection of colours in the ranges of yellow to red and red to purple.

Restricting my self to natural colours at this time of year was challenging, it is still winter and although a few plants have been lured into life by the mild and wet winter there is very little in flower outdoors. A few daffodils have flowered locally and there were far more at Kew which being nearer to London is a degree or two warmer. The biggest problem was to find blues, there being no obvious blue vegetables, and among the huge collection of orchids at Kew there was only one flower that was predominately blue. The reflected sky in the flooded meadows gave me my best blue choices.


When I visited the National Portrait Gallery I noticed that they were using a painter’s palette (see above) as a motif on various souvenirs and I thought it would be interesting to try and do the same with photos. To achieve the overall effect using naturally occurring colours was too much to ask in a single weekend but I used the general idea to build my colour chart as shown below.


The idea is to read the colours from yellow, through orange to red then through purple to blue and onto Green and back to yellow. I found this whole exercise absorbing starting with the search for natural colours right through to looking at the wide variety of hues and selecting a set that covered the whole spectrum. I found that it sharpened my sense of colour making me far more conscious of where colour blends or mixes fit in the classic colour wheel.

I also looked back to the previous couple of weekends where I was beginning to think about collecting colours but had not settled on an approach.


That provided a quite different collection ranging from orange through red to blue.

The most obvious conclusion to this exercise is that colour is light and the intensity of light has a major impact on how we see and how we capture colour. Strong sunlight and taking a photograph of a pure red half a stop under exposed will give a strong deep red. The same object in the shade or over exposed will appear less red, paler. The object has not changed colour but the way we see that colour changes with the intensity of the light and the way we capture that colour varies depending on how much light we allow into the camera.

All in all a fun exercise, I just love colour.