Color Theory for Photographers

However, in some cases, color can negatively impact an image as well, causing it to swim with details and appear distracting, or even unrealistic. While it may be a thin line to walk, being able to use color effectively can help you to take your photographs up a notch, allowing you to create compositions that are eye-catching and exciting. Developing an eye for color can take time, but it is something that’s worth pursuing with your photography. With this in mind, let’s take a look at color theory as well as some different ways that you can use color to bring out the best in your images. There is a lot to explore when it comes to color theory, and how it affects our images, but understanding the color wheel and how the different colors work together and complement each other is a great place to start. Different color combinations provoke different feelings and responses; with some color schemes working together much better than others.

By understanding how different colors work together, you’ll be able to see things differently, and get the most from the colors around you. Here’s a basic look at some different color combinations.

First, let’s look at analogous colors. These are the colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. An analogous color scheme can consist of anything from two colors on up to half the wheel. These colors – think blue and green – can often make for a pleasing and harmonious color combination. Complementary colors are shades that are located directly across from each other on the wheel. Think: blue and yellow or orange and green. These colors are complementary because they are said to work well together. Complementary combinations can create a high-contrast and vibrant look especially when used at full saturation. A split complementary color scheme takes two colors that are directly opposite, and another color that’s one of the complementary colors’ analogous color. This type of combination often works extremely well, helping to balance out an otherwise high-contrast color combination.

Triadic colors are three colors are equally spaced out from each other on the color wheel. This color scheme is very similar to split complementary colors. A quadratic color scheme is a combination of two complementary color harmonies on the color wheel. This grouping can also be called a double complementary scheme, because it is the combination of two complementary colors. Of course, there are many more combinations that you can use as well including monochrome colors, such as a black and white color scheme. Depending on the type of photography you are working with, the harmony of colors you choose to work with will vary. For instance, in most types of landscape photography it can be difficult to influence the resulting colors in a composition – although you do have some control over foreground elements that you may choose to include, such as brightly colored flowers – or the results of your image in post processing. In portrait photography, though, or when capturing macros, it can be easier to create specific color combinations.

When working with different color combinations, keep in mind that the brightness and saturation of different colors will impact the harmony of the resulting image. In most cases, you’ll want to pay close attention to the colors in the image that are bold or saturated as these are the ones that will generally attract the viewer’s attention. These colors work well for the subject or main focal point in an image. As you probably already know, different colors tend to convey very different moods in an image. Colors that are on the warm side of the wheel – such as red, orange, and yellow – often result in an image that feels in bold or energetic, while colors that are cooler – think: blues and greens – tend to convey feelings of calm and tranquility.