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Picking Colors to Highlight Emotion in Your Pictures

Here’s what the smart use of color can do for your pictures: It can provoke emotion and even give deeper meaning to the stories you tell with your shots. In other words, spending some extra time to pick the appropriate colors can infuse your photography with so much more character. In turn, this creates a much richer viewing experience for anyone looking at your shots.

Think of colour like this: In your photography, colour should be the supporting player to the narrative that you’re trying to weave. Sometimes, colour can even offer great contrast to the story you’re telling, which provides an unexpected, surprise element in your shots.

If you know your colour theory well, you already know how colour can set moods and affect the interpretation of a scene. That’s what we’re going to talk to you about today.

Using One Colour at a Time

Monochromatic’s a great word because it indicates a commitment to only using one, specific colour at a time. By highlighting one colour exclusively in your frame, you get to express your deliberate side, which can provide a confident feeling in the entire frame. 

Picture this: You take a shot of a blue sky above a sparkling, blue sea, and there’s a blue boat in the middle of the frame, too. This one-colour harmony can make the viewer’s heart sing because it demonstrates a thorough cohesion in the frame.

Keep in mind that a shot like this is made even better by the use of different shades and hues of the same colour. Using various shades and hues will help to bring up the quality of the shot even further. Remember that “monochrome” does not necessarily mean black & white, it can be any single colour.

Using Colour to Balance Shots

Balance in your pictures keeps everything from getting too excessive or, on the flip side, too underwhelming. As with other things in life, aiming for balance in photography is recommended as well.

So ask yourself if your shot feels balanced in terms of the way that the colour elements are arranged. You can usually tell if your colour balance is alright or not by analyzing both halves of the frame. If one half is too heavy with one colour while the other side is way too light, then you know that imbalance exists, which should be fixed immediately.

Alternately, you may want to double-check to see if there’s just one colour running throughout the entire frame to offer an element of unity in the shot. Again, if it’s there, you’ll want to fix that.

When one color is used too excessively – say, red – it can make your picture seem “angry” or too intense/passionate. If that’s the mood or theme you want for a particular shot, then more power to you, but if it isn’t, then you need to go back to the drawing board.

Using Specific Colours in a Symbolic Way

It’s common knowledge that colours stand for different emotions and so have come to symbolize different things. This bit of powerful knowledge will serve you very well in your photography if you use it wisely. Knowing what colours tend to evoke what specific emotions can empower you to create even more stirring and vivid shots.

For instance, we all know that the colour red stands for intensity (at least in America and most European countries), such as when danger or passion is present. In contrast, the colour yellow is much more subdued and calmer. As such, it usually is associated with emotions of cheerfulness and happiness.

To use red effectively, you may want to get a shot of a red-faced person… wearing a red shirt… screaming in anger. While this may not be the most pleasing image, it demonstrates very effectively how red can complement the emotion of passion in this example. Alternately, to use yellow to promote its associated emotions, you could take a shot of a smiling, young girl wearing a yellow sundress… standing in front of a bright, yellow building. This would naturally inspire feelings of cheerfulness in your viewers.

Using a Colour Repetitively

The good thing about repetition is that it helps to make something stick in the viewer’s brain. That’s exactly why using a colour repetitively in a shot is another useful technique to help invoke emotion in a picture. Keep in mind that you can have other colours in the shot – that’s not a problem. However, if you want to use this technique, then one colour has to be predominantly used again and again in the frame.

The interesting part about using one colour repetitively in a frame is that it mirrors how effective this technique can already be with basic lines or shapes. By repeating a colour, you create a visually attractive image that allows the viewer to home in on something specific. This naturally has the effect of drawing your viewer in, which is what any intelligently composed shot will do.

Think of photographing a mural out on the street, as one example. Let’s say the mural has the colour orange repeated throughout… that’s its constant theme. The viewer will come away from looking at that shot with a feeling of excitement due to the vibrant nature of the repeating colour.

Create More Emotion, Create Better Viewing Experiences

Photography should always be about the viewing experience, as in how you make your viewers feel when they’re looking at your work of art. Yes, you can experiment with new techniques here and there, but the primary goal should be to touch your viewers, which is the cornerstone of creating emotion in a shot.

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