Color can go unnoticed and underappreciated at times. It’s easy to put color theory on the back burner when you have things like lighting, aperture, white balance, and all sorts of other things on your mind. But when you’re planning your shoots out, spending a few minutes considering the colors you will have in your composition can make a big impact on how the image is perceived by viewers.


Colors And What They Mean

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Each color in the color wheel has a different emotion attached to it. You can choose a color based on what kind of emotion you want your composition to have. Here are few colors and what they mean:

  • Red is probably the most commonly used color by photographers. Mainly because it is such a strong color that is very eye catching. Use it in your photos when you want convey intensity, passion, or strength.
  • Blue is a cool color that can give a sense of relaxation, tranquility, and peacefulness. Use it in your photos when you want your images to have a relaxed, laid back feeling.
  • Green is often used by advertisers to associate their products with nature, health, and even money. You can use green in your images to portray similar connections.
  • Yellow just makes people happy. It’s the perfect color when you’re going for an upbeat, energetic mood in your images. It also catches the eye extremely well and can work wonders on making your subject really pop from the photo.

Check out the great graphic above for more details on what different colors mean. It’ll also tell you a little more about the color wheel. These to subjects alone, however, could be an ebook of their own! If color theory sparks your interest, there are tons of resources out there that take things to a very detailed level. It really is fascinating!


 Complementary Colors

One way photographers can use color theory is by considering using complementary colors in their images. Have you ever noticed how some colors look great together, while other combinations make your eyes hurt just looking at them? Just like matching your clothes or the furnishings in your house, you can match the objects that are in your composition to make it more visually appealing.

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For example, part of this image’s strength is the way the car matches the stripes on the pavement. Imagine the car in different colors, how would the image change if the car were red, blue, black, or purple?

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Other Ways To Incorporate Colors

Color theory can also be subtle references made by the photographer to evoke certain feelings. This can come in the form of using props that are colored a specific color, the color of the model’s hair, even the color of the light used to illuminate an image.


In this example, the photographer is using color theory as a means to aid in the balance of compositional elements in the image. In this case, the red hose and lift are dominant in the image, but the blue bucket and hose holder give balance to the image.


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You can also use color as a visual symbol for a certain emotion, feeling, or mode. In this case, the photographer chose to use red to complement the hearts.

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Really, the sky is the limit! One of the great things about color theory is it can work when it’s very subtly and when it’s glaringly obvious. So you might as well experiment with it and try out a bunch of different things. You’d be surprised at just how much impact a simple color change can make on an image–give it a shot!

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