We’ve all heard things like: “Wow, that’s a great red sunset.” Or “I love that cool blue in your
waterfall.” The question still remains, would they have liked your shot if there was no color in it?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for color, but I consider it a great supporting actor, NOT the star of
the show. If the only thing you can state about a particular shot is that you love the colors, then
you are guilty of being sloppy with color.
That having been said; far and away the most powerful force of color is its emotional impact.
In a novel by Irving Stone called “The Origin“, Charles Darwin says, “Green is the most restful
and satisfying of all colors.” In that same said novel, Dr. Adam Sedwick replies, “You’re right;
green is the color to unravel the knots of life’s rope. Blue is colder, red more explosive,
yellow turbulent . . .”
The first mistake that most photographers make when working with color is to assume that it
is the most important factor – even to the exclusion of basic composition. I’m sorry my friend,
but that is wrong. Regardless of how vivid or exciting a color is that in and of itself does not
mean it will be a great photograph.
To the extent that it is possible, keep in mind that ideally a photograph should have one dominant
color. Additional colors should appear subordinate to and supportive of the main color. Remember
that different colors invoke different emotions. Some are positive; some are negative depending
on the viewer’s perspective. If you want to send a clear dominate message in you image, you
should strongly consider a dominate color.
As we have already mentioned, red is often associated with passion and romance. But keep in
mind that it can also bring up thoughts of pain and anger. If you want to tap into the subconscious
mind of your viewer, then you need to be aware of many of the associations that people have
with color. For example; In the United States, the color white is often associated with weddings.
A bright, colorful cheerful event, right? In Korea, white is worn at funerals. To them that color is
associated with death. If you are a MASH fan you will remember this lesson when Max Klinger
offered his Korean Bride to be, a beautiful white wedding dress. He didn’t exactly get the response
he was expecting.
Here is a partial list of some of the things that we often associate with different colors. Remember
to keep cultural and family history in mind as well.
- Red = passion and romance or violence and anger.
- Yellow = joy and intelligence or criticism and being scared.
- Blue = peace and harmony or fear and depression.
- Orange = confidence and energy or slowness and pain (fire)
- Purple = royalty and religious or bruised and beaten.
- Green = growth and soothing or envy and greed.
- Black = strong and committed or evil and death.
- White = purity and goodness or cold and distant.
A photograph that has a dominate color has a greater chance of sticking in the viewers memory,
if it was taken correctly to begin with. In other words, having a dominate color will NOT make up
for poor composition to begin with. But if you already have a winner, (good composition, good lines,
rule of thirds, framing, etc.) then the dominate color becomes the icing on the cake. If someone
walks away from your image with a strong emotional experience (good or bad) you can consider
yourself a success (at least with that image). Now it’s time to go out and do it again, and again,
and again . . . keep on smiling!