The Briliant Use Of Complementary Colors In The Queen's Gambit

12/13/2020 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

What many photographers aspire to do is to be able to tell a story with the their images. To create pictures that make the viewer keep looking as they dig deeper and deeper into layers of the photograph. I know, easier said than done. When I am looking at pictures of great photography masters or famous paintings in the museums I often wonder what is it that captures my attention. I recently asked myself the same question again when watching the Netflix show Queen's Gambit. I came to a conclusion that one of the reasons are the backgrounds that make a lot of scenes visually interesting. It makes you not only look at the characters in the scene but your eyes often wonder amazed by the beautiful color combinations and shapes of the art deco interiors. Now, this is especially interesting for the color photographers so Let's take a look at the brilliant use of complementary in Queen's Gambit


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Color is an interesting element in arts like photography and painting. But why should we really use the colors when the black and white photographs look more classy and art-like.
"Supposing the painter had only ideas to express, he would perhaps need only drawing and the monochrome of chiaro'scuro” (an effect of contrasted light and shadow) wrote Charles Blanc in his book "The grammar of painting and engraving".

Colour is a powerful mood changer and it can be expressed based on a photo’s color scheme. Like, a cold tones can elicit a feelings of sadness or loneliness, while a warmer tones might suggest tenderness or joy.



Let me show you two very similar monochromatic scenes from the show. In the first one Elizabeth just woke up in her room after the first night she spent in her new home. Now, take a look at the second one. After you have a chance to see both, which one do you think suggest she is sad and depressed. Now, this thing is not unique to the movies, since a movie is really just a bunch of stills. Even when I show you two stills from the scene side by side you are definitely able to tell which one is more joyful. It is all thanks to the different color scheme used those shots.


Now let's look at both scenes converted into black and white. Suddenly the emotion is gone. But, this can also be a good thing. It all depends on what you want to achieve with your picture.


Now, let's take a brief look in the history. It was In 1830 in Paris when Eugene Delacroix, who later became one of the greatest colorists of all times, ordered a carriage on his way to Louvre. Which looked somehow like this, painted in bright yellow. About to step in, he saw something that quite surprised him. The yellow color carriage produced violet shadows. The phenomenon he just saw was "the law of complementary colors." By combining two primary colors yellow and blue for example we create a secondary color, in this case green. This green color is than complementary to the red color, meaning the it reaches its maximum intensity if we place it next to a red. Very simply said.

Now that we know that we can take a great advantage of that. When you look at Elizabeth Harmon in the show, what is her color? Color that defines her, that makes her stand out? It is red and her red hair. So knowing that it would seem logical to somehow use the green in the same frame as Elizabeth,and that is exactly what they did. I am not talking about those green pills by the way. You can notice a lot of green environments around her that create a great contrast with her hair. Like for example in this shot.



But what I like most is the choice of her dress. Especially those pieces centered around green, like for example this one.


Interesting thing is that Blank in his book proposed an idea. Is the color (in that shadow) produced by the eye? When I first saw the scenes in the series I have immediately thought to myself, what a nice green dress. But knowing my eyes being a little, let's color-unreliable I also asked my friends. Now, interestingly some saw green and some did not. Until finally I used a colour picker on my computer which identified the colour as grey. 


That being said I think it’s important to have in mind that everyone’s eyes are different and that how we perceive colours is on us. But ultimately when we theoretically understand how the colors work it means we can then implement it into our photography to make our shots even better. It of course is a very complicated subject and I am by no means an expert in this topic I just thought this might be an interesting food for thought and an inspiration how you can constantly work on improving your photography or cinematography skills even when you just watching TV

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This article was originally publised on  aboutphotography.blog and shared with permission. 

Text, image and video via about photography


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