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The word value has a few implications but here, value and color refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color. We can easily understand value when an image is black and white, but it's hard to know the value of a color when it's in color. Though it's absolutely critical that we do understand this, as it has a direct impact on the color relationship in a piece. Here are some examples of an assignment that I gave to the students in my color course at RISD, where they create a self-portrait of their other alternative personality, whatever that might be.
The watercolor palette is limited to three primary colors, and the goal is to create variation in value and hue by creating a harmonious pallete while maintaining the focus on value arrangement. They each have to scan their image in black and white. If we look at these paintings in value next of color version, we can see that they all still hold up as compositions without the coma. The balance of value is varied amongst the pieces. The first one displays an excellent use of graphic shapes for a pleasing composition with a full range of value.
The next uses a high contrast of light to dark, exploring a focused blast of color. This one uses a dramatic contrast of value, with the main focus on the eyes. Then these last two use texture, shape, and light with value to compose their paintings. Each of the examples demonstrates the power of value and the color. If we remove value range from the paintings, the composition and overall contrast disappears, making the portraits far less interesting to the eye.
Having some measure of value range and contrast helps an image become more readable, and allows the colors to react to each other in an overall relationship. Without a range dark to light, the color appears a kind of gray zone, and it's far less interesting. The easiest way to check this is to look at a piece in Photoshop under image, then adjustments in the black and white setting. You might have to play with the contrast, or adjust the overall value of an area of color to darken or lighten it.
Seeing the image in black and white tonal range, can help you make the adjustments needed. Either way, when it comes to color there's definitely value to having value.
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