Understanding Color in Photography: A Simple Guide

  • Oct 23, 2023
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Science and art And everything is nice. These are the elements required to comprehend color in photography. Whether you want to improve the work on your photography website or establish a profession in the area, learning how to use color properly is essential for any photographer. Color, along with light, is one of the most crucial aspects of photography. Everything, from composition and visual attractiveness to the viewer's attention and emotions, is affected. We've put together a short guide to understanding color in photography and learning how to utilize it successfully to help you make the most of every subject.
Understanding Color in Photography: A Simple Guide

What you need to know about color in photography is as follows:

  1. Color order
  2. Color scheme types
  3. Variables of color
  4. Colors that advance and recede
  5. Color psychology
  6. Color composition
  7. Weather and light
  8. Equipment and accessories
  9. Color is used in abstract images.
  10. Color post-processing

1. Color order

Let's begin with the fundamentals: kindergarten art class. Remember how much fun it was to experiment with different paint colors to create new ones? As it turns out, this is exactly how color works in photography. The sole difference between color theory in photography and color theory in kindergarten is that light utilizes an RGB color wheel, whereas paint uses a CMY color wheel.

All of the colors we see are classified into three groups: primary, secondary, and tertiary. While these categories are not precise, they can serve as general suggestions for using color in your photographs. The closer a color is to a main color, the more attention it will draw to itself in the image. When combined with the other criteria described in this article, you will be able to build compositions that seem balanced and visually pleasing.

Humans have three types of color receptor cones in their eyes, each sensitive to various wavelengths corresponding to blue, green, and red hues, as you may recall from basic biology class. The primary RGB colors are these three hues, and all other colors in the spectrum are created by combining at least two of them.
Secondary colors necessitate the visual stimulation of two distinct receptor cones. To see the color yellow, for example, a balanced mix of red and green light is required.
Tertiary colors, often known as intermediate colors, are those produced by combining a completely saturated primary color with another half-saturated primary color and omitting the third primary color. You can also obtain them by combining a main and a secondary color.

02. Color scheme types

To properly employ color in photography, one must first learn how to produce balanced color combinations. Color schemes are widely used to describe these combinations. A set of rules can help you use color schemes to your advantage so that your photographs have a consistent look.

Color schemes are classified into three types: complimentary, analogous, and monochrome. Each of them includes the following:

Complementary colors

Complementary colors are those found on the color wheel's polar opposite sides. There are three basic reasons for the popularity of complimentary color schemes in photography. One is that the contrast between the two colors is strong and striking. Two complimentary hues naturally balance one another. They just look good together.

Remember the "orange and teal look" photography craze that swept the industry a few years ago? The two colors are opposite each other on the color wheel, making them complimentary, which may account for the trend's success.

Analogous colors
Color schemes that use adjacent hues on the color wheel are said to be analogous. They are typically based on a main color that acts as a link between all of them, but in other circumstances, the dominant hue may be a secondary color. The lack of great color contrast leads to visuals that are balanced and peaceful.
Analogous color schemes are common in nature, making them especially popular in nature and landscape photography. Consider the deep oranges and reds of a fall forest or the blue and green tones of the ocean.
Monochrome colors
When we hear the word "monochrome," we typically think of black-and-white photography. Monochrome color schemes, on the other hand, relate to any composition that uses only a single hue, with variations in its tones and hues. This style of photograph can be quite powerful because the subject dominates the shot while remaining in tune with its surroundings.
Monochrome color schemes have been one of the most popular in photography Instagram accounts in recent years, as artists strive to give their feeds a unified look and feel.

03. Variables of color

Each hue contains a vast range of tones and tints, transforming a simple color wheel into the entire palette of the 10 million colors that humans can see. Each of the many colors in this vast palette has its own name, tone, and shade, which are defined by the color variables hue, saturation, and brightness. These variables are often known as HSL.


The radial position of a color on the RGB color wheel is referred to as its hue. It specifies the color's name, such as red, yellow, blue, or purple, and is shown in degrees ranging from 0 to 360.

On a scale of 0 to 100, saturation refers to the purity or intensity of a color. The closer the color is to monochrome, the lower the saturation level.
Luminance, often known as brightness or value, determines how bright or dark a color is. It has a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being black.

04. Colors that advance and recede

The color wheel is divided into warm and cool hues. Warm colors span from red to yellow, while cool colors range from purple to green. This isn't a clear-cut distinction because certain green and purple tones are sometimes regarded as part of the opposite temperature.

Warm hues tend to stick out and catch our eye immediately. As a result, danger and stop signs are frequently yellow or red. As a result, warm colors in photography are sometimes referred to as progressing colors. Cool colors, on the other hand, fade into the backdrop and are referred to as receding hues.

Knowing this, you can employ color to add visual depth to your photos by blending advancing and receding hues. A photograph of a yellow fish with a blue background, for example, conveys a considerably stronger impression of depth than a photograph of a purple fish.

05.Color psychology

There's no arguing that colors have a powerful impact on our emotions. As a result, when shooting a photo, it's critical to keep color psychology in mind, as the hues present in the image can drastically transform the atmosphere of the scene. A snapshot of an abandoned building, for example, will feel far more inviting than a photograph of the same location taken on a dreary, cloudy day.

Color can elicit the following emotions:

  • Red: passion, anger, strength

  • Orange: cheerfulness, vitality, fun

  • Yellow: happiness, warmth, joy

  • Green: nature, health, calm

  • Blue: balance, sadness, coldness

  • Purple: wisdom, loyalty, spirituality

  • Pink: playfulness, compassion, sweetness

06. Color composition

When discussing photography composition guidelines, it's typical to focus solely on shapes, numbers, and subject placement. Color, on the other hand, is as important in your compositions as any other aspect of the picture. Color in photography has the same impact as tangible items because we see different hues in the same way we see subjects. Colors can thus be used as leading lines, natural framing, negative space, patterns, and to add depth.

07. Weather and light

The hue of the scene you're capturing is directly affected by the time of day and the weather. Light not only changes intensity throughout the day, but it also takes on new hues as the sun moves from one side of the horizon to the other.
Blue light begins to illuminate the day as the sun approaches its dawn position. As the first rays of sunlight reach the earth, the warm tone of the golden hour takes over. The color of light changes with each passing hour, depending on the weather.
Because color in photography may convey a wide range of emotions, it's critical to consider light conditions while capturing the proper message. Fortunately, there are various photography applications that can help you keep track of how the light varies throughout the day.

08. Equipment and accessories

Certain camera accessories and settings can help you achieve greater control over how colors appear in your photographs. Here are a few of the most well-known:
  • Polarizing lens: Polarizing filters, in addition to decreasing glare from reflecting surfaces, boost color contrast and saturation. This brings the colors far closer to their natural appearance, reducing the need for post-production.
  • RAW files: RAW files save images with no compression and minimum processing, giving you complete control over the image editing process. Nowadays, raw data may be captured with almost any camera, even smartphone cameras.

  • White balance is one of the most generally disregarded camera settings, although it has a significant impact on color in photography. Various light sources have varying temperatures, and each casts a different color. By using the correct white balance option on your camera, you can ensure that the colors in your photograph remain true to life—or to your vision.

9. Color is used in abstract images.

Color is especially essential in abstract photography. As people and scenes become unrecognizable, the image's various hues become the subjects of the shot. Capturing abstract images may teach you how to use different colors to create balanced compositions, as well as how to use diverse hues as composition aspects.

10. Color post-processing

Color correction is a key stage in post-production. The options available in free photo editing software packages are practically limitless, allowing you to fine-tune every small element required to bring the real colors of your photographs to life. Despite, or perhaps because of, its accessibility, many photographers struggle with color correction.

Knowing when to stop is one of the most crucial aspects of color post-processing in photography. Instead of making the colors brighter and more intense to make them stand out, try to make them as true to reality as possible. Another crucial point to remember is that your photographic style should not be dependent on changing colors beyond recognition. If you're tempted, consider what the orange and teal trend achieved for landscape and portrait photography.

Above all, keep in mind that improper color correction can be as unappealing as Oprah's third hand on that Vanity Fair cover.