Primary and Secondary Colours

Continuing the focus on colour, this exercise was intended to focus on the specifics of the primary and secondary colours based on a painter’s primary colours. The primary colours are:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

The secondary colours are those that are considered the complementary opposites of these primaries:

  • Green
  • Violet
  • Orange

An interesting break down and representation of the colour wheel can be seen here.

The aim was to find a scene that was filled with the specific colour and matched the colour from the colour wheel as closely as possible. As we found in the previous exercise, varying the exposure of the image can affect the colour that is captured so as well as capturing an exposure as defined by the camera’s meter, the task included capturing images half a stop either side of the metered exposure. The camera I used for this exercise only bracketed in 1/3rd of a stop so I’ve captured the other images at 2/3rds of a stop difference.



PrimarySecondaryColour-12 PrimarySecondaryColour-10 PrimarySecondaryColour-11

Capturing red, the camera’s meter seemed to get the closest to the red I was trying to capture.


PrimarySecondaryColour-15 PrimarySecondaryColour-13 PrimarySecondaryColour-14

The 2/3rd’s of a stop of over exposure here is the closest to the yellow of the colour wheel but it still contains quite a lot of orange. The subject itself is not quite the correct shade but this is being emphasised by the capture. As I was able to completely fill the frame with this colour, it was fooling the camera’s auto white balance setting significantly. Using AWB, the colour captured was very grey in it’s appearance.


PrimarySecondaryColour-18 PrimarySecondaryColour-16 PrimarySecondaryColour-17

Here, the 2/3rd’s under exposure from the camera’s metered value is best matching the colour wheel. This is quite interesting because of the other detail captured in the picture. With, the inclusion of some of the snow, it would be expected that the cameras meter would be fooled into under exposing the image. With the best capture of the colour being from the image 2/3rd’s of a stop under exposed it suggests that without the snow, further reduction in the exposure would have been needed.



PrimarySecondaryColour-5 PrimarySecondaryColour-4 PrimarySecondaryColour-6

Looking for a specific green really opened my eyes to just how many subtle variation of green exist in nature. With the chosen green, the cameras meter seems to have got the best exposure in terms of the colour.


PrimarySecondaryColour-2 PrimarySecondaryColour-1 PrimarySecondaryColour-3

Being the middle of winter, it turned out not to be the best time of year to be searching for this colour. The chosen plant, was actually the only thing I came across of this colour and unfortunately isn’t quite large enough to fill the frame but is enough to illustrate the objective. Looking at the leaves of the flower, I think the colours match the colour wheel closest when the image is again 2/3rd’s of a stop under exposed.


PrimarySecondaryColour-9 PrimarySecondaryColour-7 PrimarySecondaryColour-8

Until going out to specifically focus on colour, I’d always thought of bricks being red. Spotting these new bricks, they certainly looked orange. The closest colour match comes from the camera’s chosen exposure.


From this exercise, I’ve learnt a number of things. The first is that I am a lazy photographer when it comes to white balance considerations. I’ve always left the camera in an auto white balance setting and relied on being able to correct the white balance setting by capturing the RAW data. This exercise has shown that the camera can be fooled by large amounts of a single colour in the frame so relying on the AWB may not always be possible or desirable. If I want to get as much right in the camera as I can to save on time in later stages of the image workflow, it is important to consider how colour can fool the camera’s metering with regards to white balance settings and the exposure.


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