The Basics of Colour in Photography

man, red beanieStrong and dynamic colours can add another dimension to your photos and turn just an average photo into an eye catching masterpiece. Lighting and composition all affect how the colours appear in your photo, and so we’ll go into a bit more detail on how to best use light and composition to your advantage.

Why colour is important

The main benefit of colour in a photo is the affect it has on the viewers emotions, and you have complete control over this. You may have a perfect composition but the viewer might not feel any emotion if you don’t take colours into consideration. The importance of colour doesn’t just apply to photography though, interior designers and decorators carefully choose colours to give the room the atmosphere they desire.

Light and colour

Light has a huge affect on how colours are portrayed in the image, and can be the difference between a murky unsaturated image and a bright, colourful, highly contrasting image. If you’re shooting landscapes then light is down to the elements and weather, so you will probably have to do some waiting if it’s an overcast day. The time of day is also key to this, for example first thing at sunrise and at sunset the sun turns everything a golden orange colour, so if you want this effect then you need to be shooting around these times.

The main colour

There is usually one colour that dominates the rest in your scene, and you can use this to your advantage. Having every colour you can think of in your frame can confuse the viewer because they won’t find any one point to focus on and also your image may turn out looking boring. So pick a colour that dominates all the others and compose your image to include this and try and reduce the amount of other colours in your frame and this will help the viewer focus on only one point of interest.

Although I’ve just said you need to find one colour to include in your frame, including one or two will make your photo more dynamic and contrasting colours work well for this. For example bright and darker colours work well to give your images more impact.

Controlling the colours

If you’re shooting landscapes then you may have little control over the colours except simply waiting for the right lighting and weather. But for shooting inside for example a photo shoot with a model you have lots of control over the colours you want in the image. You can choose the clothes of your model, the props and location you shoot in, so you have complete control really and can make whatever photo you can think of. As we’ve already covered, lighting has a huge effect on the appearance of colours, so studio lighting and flash can be used to your advantage as well.

Isolate the colour

Isolating the dominant colour is important for a striking photo. Your lens choice is important in this and it will depend on what you’re shooting to which lens you need. But lets assume you’re shooting a single subject, the best lens so you can isolate them would be a telephoto or zoom lens so you can zoom in and remove other subjects from the frame. If you don’t have either of these or you don’t have the distance available to use then you can get in closer and move around until your dominant colour and subject is filling the frame.

The bold colours

Some colours attract more attention than others and will easily catch the viewers eye. Warmer colours tend to attract the most attention. One very strong colour is red, but be careful when using stronger colours that they don’t move the viewers attention to that subject when it isn’t the main subject you want the viewer to see.

Complementary colours

Complementary colours differ to bold colours in that they don’t attract the attention of the viewer but add to the image in making the main colours stand out more. These colours are usually in the background, for example a blue sky or green fields.

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