Have you ever been moved by a photo?
Whether it’s a surge of positive emotions or a touch of melancholy, photos have an incredible ability to evoke a range of feelings.
Sometimes, a photo captures your attention and invite you to delve deeper, to better understand the mind of a photographer or creative.
However, the mystery often remains in the shadows, leaving you puzzled at first. There’s something elusive about that photograph – or those photographs – that manages to captivate your eyes and engage your mind.
Your thoughts and your mind’s wanderings all intertwine with your emotions and thoughts.
In most instances, the source of this captivating effect can be traced back to colors.
Sometimes, colors outshine the subject, the composition, the perceived imperfections, the technicalities like ISO and aperture settings. Colors become the vocal storytellers.
Notably, even the monochromatic world of black and white photography is a realm of colors that conveys a unique emotional resonance.
And for the skeptics: the study of color psychology is far from frivolous; it’s a realm grounded in logic, research, and substantiated findings.
Extensive studies in visual perception have established an intimate connection between color perception and human visual physiology. The intricate dance between different colors and their impact on distinct photosensitive cells in the retina generates neural signals that find their interpretation within the intricate realms of the brain. This elaborate process orchestrates the symphony of emotions and perceptions that colors awaken.
While colors’ meanings can have a touch of subjectivity, their significance is underpinned by a foundation of objectivity. The realm of color psychology delves into the profound influence of colors on human behavior, emotions, and perceptions. The fusion of this psychology with the art of photography is profound. It interweaves with a photographer’s choices in style and the preferences exhibited in their meticulous editing. Colors extend beyond mere visual stimulants; they weave intricate emotional and psychological narratives that leave a lasting impact on people.
Consider the fiery passion often attributed to red. It’s not merely a color but a trigger for energy, intensity, and urgency. Red has the power to whet your appetite and command undivided attention. On the other hand, blue is the symbol of tranquility, trustworthiness, and serenity. It’s a color that subtly communicates professionalism and reliability. Meanwhile, green mirrors the essence of nature, radiates freshness, and ignites the spark of hope, all while creating an aura of calm and relaxation. Yellow, the embodiment of joy, optimism, and happiness, can also, when overused, unexpectedly stir irritability. The majestic purple exudes creativity, spirituality, and opulence, wrapped in an enigmatic veil of mystery and luxury. Black emanates a sense of elegance, formality, and strength, though it can also symbolize the depths of darkness and melancholy. White stands as a beacon of purity, simplicity, and order, often lending a touch of cleanliness and spaciousness to the scenes it adorns.
This narrative, however, is merely the prologue.
The magic lies in combinations, overlays, and comparisons, which wield the power to amplify or reshape their connotations. This is where color palettes step onto the stage, breathing life into the interplay of colors. These palettes are meticulously crafted combinations of specific colors, chosen and harmonized to evoke distinct visual or communicative effects. Across various contexts, including photography, color palettes serve a multitude of purposes, from creating harmony and coherence to enhancing readability and expression. They even serve as powerful tools in marketing.
Yet, their influence doesn’t stop there.
Color palettes are capable of evoking emotions and sensations, making them versatile tools that can be tailored to specific moods or emotional responses. The color palettes most commonly employed in photography include complementary colors (i.e. the IG’s beast “teal & orange”), analogous colors, and monochromatic variations, the dynamic dance of triangular palettes, complementary pairs, and a myriad of other combinations.
For instance, when we combine the meanings of photos with possible “neighboring colors” combinations, it highlights a concept called analogous harmony. This is when colors that are closely related on the color wheel come together, creating a feeling of calm and balance in a scene.
On the other hand, there’s complementary harmony, where contrasting colors from opposite sides of the color wheel are brought together. This can create a vibrant and powerful blend of emotions. Imagine the pairing of red and green, sparking a dynamic and energetic feeling.
Then, there’s triadic harmony. This harmony achieves a balance between contrast and unity by involving three equally spaced colors on the color wheel. This combination, results in a joyful and harmonious energy.
When you pick four colors from the color wheel that are equally spaced, it’s called a tetradic color scheme. Imagine you’re taking a picture of a sunset scene. You could use blue, orange, yellow, and purple. The blue sky, warm sunset colors, and hints of purple in the shadows would make the photo really pop and feel exciting.
Lastly, there’s monochromatic harmony. This approach explores different shades of a single color, creating a sophisticated and elegant effect. It’s like combining various tones of blue to craft a soothing and unified atmosphere.
Indeed, the colors chosen for a photograph can serve as a compass, guiding the viewer on a journey that aligns with the photographer’s intent and harmonizes with the subject and the composition.
This exploration of color psychology, concealed beneath the surface of colors, is an engaging topic that holds a lot of value for both photographers and observers.
Photographers can wield this insight to sculpt their unique style, conveying their overarching ideas consistently, or even embarking on an exploration of diverse styles. Such a journey empowers them to communicate effectively through their photographs across a multitude of contexts. Everyone else, however, can simply take a moment to absorb the profound impact of colors and the emotions they rouse. And maybe, just maybe, find themselves with an answer to the question:
“Why in the world do I find that photo so inexplicably captivating?!”
Exploring my collection of photographs was a really good exercise, as it allowed me to uncover the color patterns that define my photographic “style.” More importantly, it made me discover the recurring shades in my images—those instances where I focused more on the subject and composition than on the colors.
While examining the colors in my photos, I intentionally didn’t aim for perfection. I knew that achieving flawless color combinations like complementary or triadic harmonies might be challenging. But perfection wasn’t my goal. I wanted to find the natural connections between colors that bring life to my pictures. What intrigued me the most was how many of my photos fit into the harmonies categories. Although they may not be textbook harmonies per se, they do exhibit a remarkable similarity to them.
There are imperfections in these color combinations and they’re open to different interpretations, and I welcome that. I’m curious to hear your thoughts and ideas.
I want to mention that I know I’m far away on getting really good at using colors consistently and effectively in my work. It’s something I’m excited to improve on in the months ahead.
If you’re also a photographer, I’d love to hear what you think about colors and how they play a role in our creativity and communication. Colors can make a big difference in how we tell our visual stories.
Have you thought about using a color palette tool, like Adobe’s color wheel, to look at your photos?
Do your images follow certain color patterns? Or do you take photos with a specific color idea in mind? Asking these questions can reveal interesting things about your photography and how color plays a role in it.
And if you enjoy looking at pictures, do you have a favorite color combination that you really like? Or maybe a set of colors that makes you feel a certain way?
I’m curious to know your thoughts!
If you want to keep talking about this, you can find me on Instagram.
Let’s keep the conversation going and share our ideas about colors and photography.
Lastly, a big thank you to everyone who read this article. Your time and interest mean a lot, and I appreciate you joining me in exploring the world of colors in photography.
Take a look at my Instagram page for diverse content!
If you’d like to have a chat via email or explore potential collaborations, feel free to visit my contact page.