Creatively composing with colour

Although painting and photography may seem worlds apart, many of the principles of colour which are used in art, can be applied to photography with some eye catching results!

Opposite colours (called complementary colours) attract the eye, helping to create dynamic images with strong visual appeal. Examples of complementary colours are red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. Images with these colours often have a vibrant, up-beat or happy feeling.

Similar colours (called analogous colours) can be just as appealing, but with more subtle results. Some examples are blue and green, red and orange, and purple and blue.  Images with these colours can portray feelings such as serenity, sadness or mystery.

The Colour Wheel

To help you understand how different colours work together, you can use a colour wheel (above left) to help you visualize which colour combinations will give you the best results.  You’ll notice that complementary colours are positioned opposite each other on the colour wheel, and analogous colours are close to each other.  Try printing a colour wheel to keep in your camera bag, so you can begin challenging yourself to get more creative with colour.  It’s worth remembering that the colours you use don’t need to be exactly opposite or right next to each other to be effective.  Colours which are close to or almost opposite each other will have a similar effect.

Here are some ideas for incorporating more colour into your photography:

Portraits: Use clothing or accessories, such as scarves, hats, or jewellery, which are similar or opposite in colour to a person’s skin colour, eye colour or hair colour. Look around you for coloured walls, fences, grass, water, or any element you can use as a background, which will enhance the portrait. When using colour in portraits, make sure the colours you include add something to the portrait, and don’t take too much attention away from the person’s face. Examples of complementary colours: a person with blue eyes against an orange wall, a person wearing a red t-shirt on green grass, or a person wearing a purple dress on a yellow lounge.  Examples of analogous colours: a person with green eyes against a blue sky, a person with blue eyes against some green grass, or a person wearing a red dress on an orange/brown lounge.
 
Landscapes: Examine the scene for any similar or opposite colours you can make use of.  Use foreground elements such as rocks, trees, grass, sand, etc which are either similar or opposite in colour, depending on the mood you want to portray.  Foreground elements can also help lead the viewer’s eye through an image. Examples of complementary colours: blue water with orange rocks, an orange desert against a blue sky, or a field of yellow flowers against a blue sky. Examples of analogous colours: a green tree with a blue sky, some orange rocks on yellow sand, or some red flowers against an orange sky.
 
So, next time you’re out and about photographing, don’t forget to use a splash of colour to help add some creativity and life to your images!