Emotional Images: how to add feeling with muted tones and harmonious color

Using harmonious color schemes

Using harmonious color schemes

Using harmonious color schemes

Diffused lighting not only subdues colors, but also the differences between them, helping to reduce conflict and promote harmony.

Harmonious color schemes are balanced, unified, pleasing to the eye and won’t eclipse your subject. Subdued lighting isn’t enough to produce genuinely harmonious color schemes, however.

For that you need to engineer them through careful color selections and compositions.

Primary and complementary color combinations work extremely well together but aren’t classed as ‘harmonious’ because they maximise contrast rather than unity.

According to color theory, a classic harmonious color scheme is created by combining a number of neighbouring colors from up to a quarter of the color wheel.

In its simplest form, a harmonious scheme can be created using just two hues – green and lime green, for example.

Combining three or four colors that all originate directly from one primary color works well: the primary color dominates and creates focus while the others enrich the scheme.

To maximise harmony, pick cool, passive colors such as green and purple – these tend to be more harmonious than the warm, active colors on the opposite side of the color wheel.

Try to avoid bright, direct lighting because it accentuates color conflicts. This can produce high contrast and interference with heavily saturated hues, even if they’re adjacent to each other on the color wheel.

Avoid discordant colors

Although it’s striking, this combination of bright colors is so discordant that it’s almost nausea-inducing.

Active hues such as red and hot pink, or red and orange are the worst offenders.

Reducing your palette still further, to monochrome, is another good way to create a color scheme that’s pleasing, yet avoids clashing color combinations.

Nature provides an almost unlimited source of harmonious hues. Think earthy landscapes, desert tones, ageing colors, forests, the ocean, autumn shades and fields of flowers. Just take care to eliminate any hue that could interfere with your harmony’s fragile interplay.

There are ample opportunities in urban areas too, but studios offer the ultimate environment in which to control color. When setting up a studio portrait, select backdrops, clothes, make-up and props that harmonise with your model’s skin, hair and eyes.

Don’t worry about including white, grey or black: these neutral colors can be combined with any other colors without causing conflict.

As we’ve seen, understanding color and being able to control it can open up a world of creative opportunities. Like most aspects of photography, acquiring these skills requires practice, but as Matisse would undoubtedly agree, your results will soon demonstrate that it’s time and effort well spent.

PAGE 1: Choosing your color combinations
PAGE 2: Emotional images in low-key color
PAGE 3: Using harmonious color schemes
PAGE 4: Using the Monochrome palette
PAGE 5: Diffusing flash for softer colors


See the light like a pro: everything you were afraid to ask about natural light
Studio Lighting: 4 seriously simple lighting techniques to try at home
Sunset photography: the only tutorial you need