Understanding Composition: Using Colour

March 23, 2011 · 3 comments

in Documentary,Equipment,Resources,Travel,Tutorials

The colours in a photograph, and how they are arranged, can make or break an image. Colour, and the use of it, determines the emotional content of an image. Since colour is such a powerful element of composition, be careful how you use colour, and where you position it in your frame. A brightly coloured area in an otherwise monotone photo, can attract the viewer’s attention, so make sure that is the reaction you want.

Colours are proven to affect mood. While cool colours like blues and greens can be tranquil or refreshing, warm colours like red and orange can convey vibrancy and passion. Pastel colours can portray a light-hearted or romantic mood, while earthy tones offer a more natural and organic feel. What thoughts or feelings jump into your mind when you look at the below images of the boat and the Chinese lantern?


Complimentary colours are colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Masterful control of complimentary colours is essential in composition. If you want to make an object stand out in a photograph, use a background with a complimentary colour to the object. The subject matter, no matter how small, will immediately catch the attention of the viewer. Look at the below images and find the colours on the colour wheel above. Notice how they are on opposite sides of the wheel?

If you are photographing similar colours, which are harmonious and not complimentary, you are going to need to rely on other elements of composition, such as texture or form.

Weather, lighting and exposure all affect how colours are photographed. Bright sunny days produce luminous colours, while overcast days produce more subtle colours. To make colour pop, try over exposing by up to 1 stop.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Julian March 23, 2011 at 10:27 am

Wow, this is excellent.

rikki hibbert March 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Thanks Julian!

Fine Impressions March 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Excellent ! I agree with you. Contrasting color tones also make a picture stand out from the rest.

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