The seven color contrasts described by Johannes Itten are:

7 Contrasts of Johannes Itten

Contrast of HueContrast of Hue

Contrast of hue is illustrated by undiluted colors in their most intense luminosity and is formed by the juxtaposition of these hues. The greater the distance between hues on a color wheel, the greater the contrast. Orange, green and violet are weaker in character than yellow, red and blue, and the effect of tertiary colors is even less distinct.

Light and Dark ContrastLight and Dark Contrast

The contrast of light and dark is formed by the association of light and dark values. Darkened colors are considered shades and shadows while lightened colors are described as tints and highlights.

Cool and Warm ContrastCool and Warm Contrast

The contrast of cool and warm is formed by the apposition of warm and cool hues. Warm colors are often said to be hues from red through yellow, browns and tans included. Cool colors are often said to be the hues from blue-green through blue-violet, most grays included.

Complementary ContrastComplementary Contrast

When placed next to each other, complementary colors create the strongest contrast and reinforce each other. The contrast of complements is formed by the juxtaposition of opposites on the color wheel.

Simultaneous ContrastSimultaneous Contrast

Simultaneous contrast is the predisposition of a color to induce its opposite in hue, value and intensity upon an adjacent color and be mutually affected in return.

Contrast of SaturationContrast of Saturation

Contrast of saturation is formed by the collocation of light and dark values and their relative saturation. Saturation is controlled by adjusting tints, shades and tones or by mixing a color with its direct compliment.

Contrast of ExtensionContrast of Extension

The contrast of extension, or proportion, is created by controlling the percentage of one color relative to another. It is used to balance, or counter the balance, of an image that is heavily weighted with a single hue.

Explanations of Photographic Examples

  1. My Contrast of Hue example displays reds, yellows and blues because, by definition, primary colors exhibit stronger contrast then secondary or tertiary hues. The result is an intriguing image of constant movement and perpetual divergence.
  2. Light and Dark Contrast balances shades and tints, shadows and highlights, to produce variety, movement and harmony. In my example, the eye flows naturally from left to right while it follows the fence line; however, with the bright background and the dual-tone gate, the eye is drawn into the image and back to the left.
  3. By emphasizing the warm reds, yellows and oranges in the foreground of my next example and allowing the cooler greens and blues to dominate the background, I successfully demonstrated Cool and Warm Contrast in a compelling image rich with interpenetration and repetition. The elaboration of the foreground in contrast with the background creates additional variety.
  4. My Complementary Contrast image is dominated by a blue ground with a bright orange figure. As compliments and secondary hues they are strong enough to create an interesting visual impact but not so overwhelming as to generate an objectionable appearance.
  5. Simultaneous Contrast allows complementary colors to enhance each other based on their positions within an image and their alliance with each other. In my example, the rich greens and reds within my forest scene intensify each other and even combine with the yellows that are naturally present. Many of the primarily green areas of the foliage mix with yellow tints as do the reds and browns of the branches and undergrowth.
  6. By utilizing an unsaturated, plain blue background and highly saturated flower buds on sharply defined branches, a Contrast of Saturation is achieved. The buds are much more intense on such a flat, plain sky blue then they would appear had they been displayed against a bright yellow, red or orange or even a rich, dark royal blue, purple or green.
  7. Finally, I displayed my example of Contrast of Extension by exhibiting a common fire hydrant figure against a natural ground of browns, yellows and greens. While much of the image is dominated by warm hues, the red in the primary figure stands out, not because it’s a cool color or a larger shape but because it is a bold, concentrated hue surrounded by larger regions of distributed colors.

Simple Contrast Examples

Hue Example
Contrast of Hue

Light Dark Example

Light and Dark Contrast


Cool Warm Example
Cool and Warm Contrast

Complementary Example
Complementary Contrast

Simultaneous Example
Simultaneous Contrast

Saturation Example
Contrast of Saturation

Extension Example
Contrast of Extension

Composition Variations

Contrast of Hue Image
Contrast of Hue

Light and Dark Contrast Image
Light and Dark Contrast

Cool and Warm Contrast Image
Cool and Warm Contrast

Complementary Contrast Image
Complementary Contrast

Simultaneous Contrast Image
Simultaneous Contrast

Contrast of Saturation Image
Contrast of Saturation

Contrast of Extension Image
Contrast of Extension

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