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Using Colour In Photography

Rather than simply take a colour photo, your pics can be improved by following a few simple rules regarding colour.

1) Complimentary Colour

Each primary colour has a complementary opposite on the colour wheel. When used together, these colour combinations always look good. Red/green, blue/orange, yellow/purple. The colours can be used as the only palette in the photo or combined with more neutral colours.

Pic 17 shows an example of red/green with the red tulips highlighted by the green leaves with an orange/red background of soil.


Pic 18 has a blue/orange colour combo with a more neutral silver grey which serves to break up the complementary colours and therefore makes them stronger in the frame.


The yellow/purple colour combo is probably the hardest one to find but it doesn’t need to be used in abundance to be effective. Pic 19 shows only about a third of the photo filled with the complementary colours and yet it dominates the frame.


PS. For anyone who’s interested in how I did that photo…..hiding small pieces of tasty cold meat amongst the petals is a surefire way to get puss to poke her nose in there.

2) Dominant Colour

Warm colours dominate, cool colours recede. Using a lesser amount of a warm colour (red, yellow, orange, pink) against a cool background (blue, green, grey) can give a lot of impact to your photos. The eye is immediately drawn to the warm dominant colour which stands out against its receding background.

Going back to Pic 18, the warm orange is only a small portion of the photo and yet your eye is immediately drawn to it.

In Pic 20, the small splashes of yellow and red immediately dominate over the cooler green and grey background.


3) A Single Colour

Using simply one colour combined with texture can make for an interesting and eye-catching photo. Shades of one colour also work very effectively. When seeking out scenes to photograph, narrow your vision down to isolate the colours and you may be surprised at what you find that is worthy of pointing your camera at!

In Pic 21, I found a little scene by the edge of a lake. Shades of brown with texture provided by the dried mud, the water and the broken bottle.


With Pic 22, the tiny undeveloped green grapes make an interesting picture against a backdrop of green vine leaves.


Pic 23 is a frame of gold, with the texture and interest provided by the patterns in the water.


By thinking about the colours you see through your viewfinder and using them effectively, your photography will improve and your photos will be a pleasure to look at. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of taking a few steps forward or zooming in a little to isolate your colour palette and remove unwanted, more distracting colours from the scene.

The photos used to illustrate this tutorial remain the property of Gayle Knowles and may not be used, published or distributed without the permission of the photographer.