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    Mastering Color Series – The psychology and evolution of the color YELLOW and its use in photography


    The post Mastering Color Series – The psychology and evolution of the color YELLOW and its use in photography first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Megan Kennedy.

    Frida Kahlo once wrote in her diary: "Yellow: madness, illness, fear (part of the sun and of joy)." As one of the oldest pigments that people use, the spectrum of attributes associated with yellow makes it a permanent presence in art and design. In this article we will look at the evolution and the artistic impact of yellow from prehistoric to contemporary visual art.

    The psychology of yellow

    As one of the oldest versions of yellow, the sun and the yellow are inseparably linked, the qualities of the sun (warmth, energy and radiance) reflected in human perceptions of the color yellow. Throughout history, the sun was viewed by many cultures as a figure of heavenly power. As a result, Yellow has also inherited connotations of power, knowledge, imperishability and status.

    Many associations that are attributed to yellow come from nature. For example, sunlight shifting the darkness of the night has forged a relationship between yellow and joy. Spring flowering flowers such as daffodils, dandelions, lel, and forsythia draw connections between yellow, rebirth and renewal. The yellowing of autumn leaves cultivates associations of change, balance and age. Vivid hues of lemons, bananas and corn characterize yellow as a color of food.

    And in some cases dangerous plants, insects and animals, shows yellow as a sign of warning.

    Yellow has a strong historical and cultural significance in China, where it is the color of glory, royalty, happiness and wisdom. In many Latin American cultures, however, yellow is associated with death, sadness and mourning. Similarly, yellow is seen as a mourning color in some parts of the Middle East.

    In Japanese culture, yellow means courage, sophistication and wealth. In Africa, yellow is worn to mean senior members of a community. Saffron, a clear orange-yellow, is considered sacred in India, which stands for selflessness and courage.

    The high visibility of Yellow is extensively used in safety equipment and signage. However, due to its reflective properties, yellow can also lead to visual fatigue. Geel ' s associations with energy may have to do with impulsivity and selfishness. A close relative of gold and yellow is associated with money, wealth and sometimes greed. To be mentioned cowardly is called a coward.

    The evolution of the color yellow

    Ocher yellow

    A natural clay-earth pigment, the availability and versatility of yellow ocher saw widespread use from the prehistoric period. Gavin Evans, author of The Story of Color: an Exploration of the Hidden Messages of the Spectrum, states that "archaeologists in the Bomvu Ridge area of ​​Swaziland have found 40,000-year-old mines that were used to dig out red and yellow ocher that were thought to be used for body painting."

    Ancient cave paintings made with yellow ocher pigments were found in Pech Merle in France, the cave of Lascaux and in the cave of Altamira in Spain. The Aboriginals from Australia have painted yellow ocher scents for more than 40,000 years.

    Nowadays artists continue to use yellow ocher in traditional forms and in modern paints.


    Its name is derived from the Latin word auripigmentum (aurum meaning gold and Pigmentum pigment means), orpiment is found in volcanic fumaroles and hydro-thermal veins and hot springs. A richly colored orange-yellow arsenic sulfide, the striking color of orpiment, has interested both Chinese and Western alchemists in ways to make gold. Although it was very toxic, orpiment was used in Egypt, Persia, Asia and Rome.

    Indian yellow

    Indian yellow was widely used in Indian watercolors and tempera-like paints. Known for its use in Rajput-Mughal paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries, Indian Yellow was also used throughout Europe from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

    Indian yellow pigments were said to be produced in rural India from the urine of cattle fed only on water and mango leaves. Nowadays, a synthetic Indian yellow shade is produced with a mixture of nickel, asyl, arylide yellow and orange burned with quinacridone.

    Lead-tin yellow

    Lead-tin yellow takes two different forms. According to ColourLex, "the first and most commonly used lead-tin-yellow type I and a mixed oxide of both elements is tin and lead … Lead-tin-yellow type II may contain traces of silica and also pure tin oxide." The earliest occurrence of lead-tin yellow dates from the 1300s. It was most used in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Johannes Vermeer, Titiaan and Anthony van Dyck all used lead-tin yellow in their paintings.

    Chrome yellow

    When chromium was discovered in 1797 by the French chemist Louis Vauquelin, lead chromate was synthesized and used as a pigment. In use by the second decade of the nineteenth century, the toxicity of chrome yellow and its inherent tendency to oxidize over time and darken upon exposure to oxygen, largely replacing it with cadmium yellow.

    Joseph Mallord William Turner used chrome yellow for highlights in his dramatic romantic paintings. In aviation, the beloved Piper J-3 Cub approved chrome yellow as standard color. As a result, chrome yellow and similar equivalents are known as Cub yellow in aviation circles.

    Cadmium yellow

    A large part of the cadmium produced worldwide is used in rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries. However, part of cadmium goes to the production of cadmium pigments, a family of vibrant red, yellow and orange colors. First discovered in 1817, good permanence and color properties mean that cadmium yellow has remained in use since it was produced in 1840. Claude Monet ' s Wheatstacks (Sunset Snow Effect) and Still life with apples and grapes are two examples of applications of cadmium yellow in the arts.

    Arylide yellow

    Arylide yellow (also known as Hansa yellow and Monoazo yellow) are a family of organic compounds that are used as industrial dyes for plastics, construction paints, inks, oil paints, acrylic paints and watercolors. Discovered in 1909 by Hermann Wagner in Germany, arylide yellow became commercially available around 1925 and has been used predominantly as a replacement for cadmium yellow since 1950. Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock used arylide yellow in their artworks.

    Yellow in visual art

    Yellow's tendency to attract attention makes it an impressive presence in the visual arts. Ancient Egyptians used yellow ocher to paint the skin tones of women and to depict gods. Yellow ocher was also a staple on the palettes of Roman artists, who used it to capture backgrounds and paint skin tones.

    Judas Iscariot was depicted in yellow during the Middle Ages. The exact reasons for this are unclear. Nevertheless, the image of Judas quickly developed associations between yellow and jealousy, discomfort, tension and betrayal. Despite its negative associations, however, artists continued to draw on yellow as a color of life and abundance. As one of the first artists to use commercially produced paint, Vincent van Gogh culminated his famous fascination for yellow in numerous works of art, including A Field Of Yellow Flowers, Dunes and his study of sunflowers.

    Painted during his Golden period, Gustav Klimt ' s, The kiss is structured around lush yellow and gold leaf. Pier Mondriaan incorporated yellow into his daring compositions of color and line. Artists such as Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning also used yellow to promote the lightness and movement within their paintings and Andy Warhol used vivid hues of yellow to give a block-like, surreal tone to his images of pop culture icons and everyday objects.

    New artistic materials and technologies emerged with the advent of the 21st century. Olafur Eliasson ' s The weather project generates an atmosphere infused with the breathtaking light of an artificial yellow sun. The infinity rooms of Yayoi Kusama, seemingly endless fields with yellow pumpkins dotted with black dots, play with the nature and psychology of seeing. And James Turrell takes advantage of the changeable quality of light through its Skyspaces, which enclose the yellow light of the morning and the evening every day.

    Yellow in photography

    The suggestive nature of yellow and its associations with betrayal, betrayal, joy, warning and nature remain just as moving within the framework of the photo. Street photographer Saul Leiter took the strip of yellow in his street scenes and added a tangible rhythm to his work. Mark Cohens ' image of a blond boy who brutally smokes in the camera lens is interrupted by the boy's bright yellow skivvy. Gregory Crewdson often absorbs yellow light from lamps or house windows, and confronts domesticity with palpable unrest. Frans Lanting's image of a leopard digging in grass explores yellow in the natural environment. Kyle Jeffers uses yellow to accentuate architectural landscapes and the yellow images by Annette Horn follow the energetic properties of yellow on the 2-dimensional photographic plane.

    Yellow can also be used as a creative tool in photography. Golden hour, the period of daylight that occurs just after sunrise and just before sunset, has a distinctive yellow hue. During this window, daylight is the softest and the warmest, creating opportunities for dynamic portrait photography and landscape photography. Generally, the most subtle colored filters are yellow filters used in black and white photography to slightly darken the sky and enhance the contrast of green foliage. Yellow filters also produce warmer skin tones in portraits.


    The liveliness of Yellow has been resonating with artists and viewers for thousands of years. As the most vivid color on the visible spectrum, yellow reflects the dynamics of life. Loaded with associations of joy, rebirth, renewal, change and energy, the use of yellow in art has also conveyed portraits of jealousy, betrayal and greed. The liveliness, versatility and accessibility of Yellow connect with the public through associations derived from both the visual arts and the world around us.

    Do you use the color yellow in your photography? Feel free to share your photos & thoughts in the comments below.

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    The post Mastering Color Series – The psychology and evolution of the color YELLOW and its use in photography first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Megan Kennedy.

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