Color Theory: best color combinations for photography (and how to take it further)

Color Theory: best color combinations for photography (and how to take it further)

Learning the basics of color theory can add instant impact to your photo compositions. In this quick guide we’ll take you through the best color combinations for photography according to color theory and how you can take it one step further to make truly amazing images.

Color Theory: best color combinations for photography (and how to take it further)

Most of us use color in our photography without really thinking about it. As soon as you stop and really consider which shades you use in your shots and how you match colors together in your compositions, though, you’ll see a drastic change in your photos.

In this tutorial we’re going to run through the basics of color theory. We’ll look at how to use a color wheel to mix and match colors perfectly, and then focus on using color in four different ways to create bright, exciting shots in seconds.

You’ll need some bright clothes, but these can be picked up cheaply in charity shops. First we’ll show you how to add one or two touches of a single vibrant color to a mostly neutral subject to create portraits that really make an impact.

From there, we’ll experiment with using complementary colors (ones on opposite sides of the color wheel) together. The third stage is to mix shades of one color for striking effects, and to finish we’ll clash lots of different colors for fun rainbow photos.

We’ll also explain how getting the correct lighting can drastically change how colors are shown. Color can have a huge effect on our moods – used cleverly, it’s a brilliant way to really bring your photography to life.

Color Theory Tip 01 A touch of color

Color Theory Tip 01 A touch of color

An easy way to experiment with color is by adding a bright pop of one shade to an otherwise neutral composition.

Red is a fail-safe choice, but any warm shade, such as orange and pink, will also work well as a focal point.

Our model’s red lips and scarf stand out against her black coat and the grey walls, drawing the eye in and making the shot come alive.

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Color Theory Tip 02 Matching complementary colors

Color Theory Tip 02 Matching complementary colors

Once you’ve mastered a single splash of color, try contrasting two shades for a bright, exciting portrait.

The easiest way to pick two shades to use together is by referring to the color wheel – colors that are directly opposite each other, such as orange and blue, or red and green, will usually complement each other well.

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Color Theory Tip 03 Shades of a single color

Color Theory Tip 03 Shades of a single color

Colors can evoke very strong emotional reactions when we view them.

Red, for example, symbolises passion and danger, while blue has an instantly calming effect.

Play on the viewer’s feelings by creating a shot that uses multiple shades of only one color – our mix of shades of green creates a restful effect.

Pick the right White Balance
As our two portraits show, different White Balance settings drastically change a shot’s color palette. In our first photo, we’ve used the tungsten setting to tone down our model’s purple dress and impart a cooler mood to our portrait, while in the second we’ve kept the light natural for a warmer effect on the photo’s different shades.

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