Using Color to Emphasize Your Subject

Color often sets the mood in a photograph but it can also accentuate a point of interest. You can use colors to make an image stand out, such as by playing with contrasting or complementary colors or setting the colored subject against a muted or monochromatic background.

A standard color wheel or spectrum is halved into two sides: cool and warm. A cool color such as green will have an opposite (and warm) color which is red. Contrasting colors are those which are far apart in the wheel, the further they are from each other, the greater the contrast. If you pair contrasting colors in your image, you can make the image appear more striking. However, too much color contrast can soon be exhausting to look at.

Another type of pairing are complementary colors. These are color pairs that are on opposite sides of the wheel such as red and green or blue and orange. But just because they are called 'complementary' does not mean they are complimentary and some pairs will not look that attractive if you use them in the shot.

Colors also stand out in a shot if there are no other colors that might steal its impact. By placing a colored subject against a background with little or no color, the subject will immediately draw attention to itself. You can then fully present and appreciate the beauty of a subject's color.

A little splash of color can be enough to bring focus to the subject. Some photographers experiment with a post processing technique called 'selective desaturation' where the image is monochromatic except for a point of interest which remains colored. It is often regarded as 'cliché' and is over-used by beginner photographers but if applied successfully, this technique adds to the message you are trying to put across.

By using the backlighting technique, you can make your subject's colors look more vibrant and intense. Look for subjects that are transparent or translucent and hold them up against the light. You will notice that the colors look different; they may even appear to be glowing. Plastic objects and thin items such as paper often make great subjects for backlighting since they allow some light to pass through them, highlighting their colors and details.

Use other techniques to bring out the colors of your subject. Try to capture its iridescence, its muted softness, or its vibrancy. Play with color combinations but do not go overboard by showing too much color or the photo will turn out look garish and be an eyesore.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 at 11:00 am and is filed under Articles, Miscellaneous, Photo Inspiration, Photography Techniques. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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