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The Ultimate Guide to Color Theory for Photographers


The Ultimate Guide to Color Theory for Photographers

Colour is all around us, and when used correctly it can help your images come to life. Colour has the power to transform your compositions; from dull and uninspiring to exciting and alive.However, in some cases, colour 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 colour 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 colour can take time, but it is something that’s worth pursuing with your photography. With this in mind, let’s take a look at colour theory as well as some different ways that you can use colour to bring out the best in your images.

Analogous Colours

First, let’s look at analogous colours. These are the colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. An analogous colour scheme can consist of anything from two colours on up to half the wheel. These colours – think blue and green – can often make for a pleasing and harmonious colour combination.

Complementary Colours

Complementary colours are shades that are located directly across from each other on the wheel. Think: blue and yellow or orange and green. These colours 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.

Split Complementary Colours

A split complementary colour scheme takes two colours that are directly opposite, and another colour that’s one of the complementary colours’ analogous colour. This type of combination often works extremely well, helping to balance out an otherwise high-contrast colour combination.

Triadic Colours

Triadic colours are three colours are equally spaced out from each other on the colour wheel. This colour scheme is very similar to split complementary colours.

Quadratic Colours

A quadratic colour scheme is a combination of two complementary colour harmonies on the colour wheel. This grouping can also be called a double complementary scheme, because it is the combination of two complementary colours.

Of course, there are many more combinations that you can use as well including monochrome colours, such as a black and white colour scheme. Depending on the type of photography you are working with, the harmony of colours you choose to work with will vary. For instance, in most types of landscape photography it can be difficult to influence the resulting colours in a composition – although you do have some control over foreground elements that you may choose to include, such as brightly coloured 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 colour combinations.

Brightness And Saturation

When working with different colour combinations, keep in mind that the brightness and saturation of different colours will impact the harmony of the resulting image. In most cases, you’ll want to pay close attention to the colours in the image that are bold or saturated as these are the ones that will generally attract the viewer’s attention. These colours work well for the subject or main focal point in an image.

Different Colours, Different Moods

As you probably already know, different colours tend to convey very different moods in an image. Colours 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 colours that are cooler – think: blues and greens – tend to convey feelings of calm and tranquillity.