Color Wheel

If you’ve ever studied with Tony and Rob, you know that when they discuss photography, the first thing is to break down the process and the most fundamental element is Light. To describe light we consider it’s brightness, color and contrast. 

Today, let’s take a closer look at color - more specifically, the color wheel. 

Artists and academics have tried to understand and describe color for centuries. About 2,400 years ago, Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle theorized that color existed in the form of rays sent down from the heavens by God. It wasn’t until the Renaissance in the 1300’s that more sophisticated models and systems were developed. 

Plato and Aristotle 

Plato and Aristotle 

Francois d'Aquilon, a Belgian Jesuit mathematician and physicist developed a model for colors that was based on his observations of color changes from sunrise to sunset. It wasn't until the mid-1600's that our friend Sir Issac Newton developed a logical model for color that was based on scientific observation and experiments. 

RGB Color Wheel LARGE-1000.png

Using a prism, Newton discovered that light could be broken down into the colors of the rainbow. And, more specifically, they appeared in a clear and distinct order. 

To describe his findings, he developed the color wheel - something that is used by artists and scientist to this day. It's important for photographers to understand this color model as it is the foundation for many discussions on color theory and artistic composition. But you'll find that, for photographers and artists, it falls short. Newton's empirical definition of color was challenged by 17th-century German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. More about that later.