Color Theory in Photography: Make Your Photos POP

Color Theory in Photography: Make Your Photos POP

The psychological impact of colors is huge on the viewers. Every different color affects our perception of the image. So choosing a color that fits your personality or brand and sticking to it can dramatically change your Instagram feed for the better. Color theory, psychology in photography is a lot more objective than one might think. 

So I have decided to reintroduce the color theory to you ladies in the easy to understand kind of way: 

What is Color? 

Let’s get started with color. Color is light with spectral hues. In other words, it’s the very first thing we register. That’s why it has a huge impact on how we perceive an image. Think of it as the first impression. We can all agree that it’s important, can’t we? I see color as a communication tool so knowing the ways most people perceive color allows you to make better choices when trying to convey your message. 

Colors have a major impact on your photo’s mood. By choosing one dominant color you can completely change how the image feels. 

What is Color Theory in Photography? 

The color theory describes a collection of guidelines that are used in art and design. Its main aim is to appeal at the visual level and to appeal to the psychological level. In photography, people usually use three main colors red, green, and blue as their primaries (the RGB system). By mixing those colors, you will be able to get secondary colors: orange, green, and violet. Do not worry if this sounds a little complicated. There’s always a way to make it more simple. 

How to Easily Apply Color Theory? 

One of the quickest ways to choose complementary colors is to use Adobe’s Color wheel. As an added bonus to it, creating a color palette this way is completely free. If I were you, I'd first select a photo with the colors and feel that I already like. Then I would simply upload that photo to the Adobe's Color wheel: 

color mood example

Once you do that, Adobe will show you colors that can be chosen based on the mood: colorful, bright, muted, deep or dark. In my case, the colors aren't that colorful because clearly I chose a more muted photo. However, if you do like vibrant colors, you will have a chance to really figure out which ones you like the most. Having one bright color is usually enough for your Instagram feed to look colorful and also sophisticated. 

In case you want to check out the color wheel itself you can click the "Color Wheel" button that is highlighted in the picture below: 

You will be also able to select between analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary, compound, and shades color harmony rules. In the art world, this is also called color harmony. Color harmony allows you to mix and match colors that go well together. Usually, you will have one color that is the most dominant in the photo. Also, the so-called - key color.

I personally prefer the complementary color palette because these colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. In other words, they create the highest contrast look. They make the most striking image. However, that being said, triad, can be usually seen in nature, which we can all agree that nature is beautiful. So choose what you like the most. 

What is Color Psychology? 

While the color theory is interesting, color psychology is simply mind-blowing. In nature, color is one of the most powerful signaling systems. That's one of the ways that we know if our food is safe to eat or indicate if there is danger, e.g. we will react very differently to a yellow striped bee and a black fly.  Color allows us to quickly asses the situation and that's why it has a huge psychological effect on us and our actions.

Angela Wright has developed a methodic and logical approach to color psychology. Since the early 1980s this system has been practiced. Big companies such as The Body Shop confirm the system’s effectiveness in their products increased sales. So by knowing your audience and yourself, you can choose colors that will help you send the right message quicker and in a more effective manner.  

What do Different Colors Mean?

Each color has both positive and negative connections to it. Before you read the meanings of the colors found by psychologists you could a quick and fun test. Write down these colors: white, black, red, blue, yellow, green, orange, pink, grey, and brown. 

The best way to do this is to also color a little square next to them to give you a more visual stimulus. However, that's not necessary. And simply write down the first couple of words that come to mind when you see or think about that color. That could be anything: a feeling, a person, a brand. This way you will know which colors have the most positive effects on you and which ones have the highest impact. 

I was lazy so I did the test on paint. You can see my results bellow: 

color test

They don't have to make much sense to you. However, after doing this little test, it was clear to me that white, black, and red stands out from the crowd to me. They just have the highest impact on me. When comparing that to the psychologists' results, I found out that red in particular is one of the strongest colors that has an actual physical impact on us. When you think about the traffic light, that makes complete sense.

Does that mean that I would choose these colors for my brand? It would highly depend on the brand itself. For example, if I wanted people to associate it with strength, I probably would. However, if I had an environment-friendly brand, I would go for more earthy tones such as brown and green instead of the high impact red. 

RED: Physical
Positive: Physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, excitement.
Negative: Defiance, aggression, visual impact, strain.

BLUE: Intellectual
Positive: Intelligence, trust, efficiency, duty, logic,
coolness, reflection, calm.
Negative: Coldness, lack of emotion, unfriendliness.

YELLOW: Emotional
Positive: Optimism, confidence, self-esteem, emotional strength,
Negative: Irrationality, fear, emotional fragility, depression, anxiety.

GREEN: Balance
Positive: Harmony, refreshment, rest, equilibrium, restoration.
Negative: Boredom, blandness, stagnation.

ORANGE: Physical comfort
Positive:  Warmth, security, sensuality, fun, passion.
Negative: Deprivation, frustration, immaturity.

PINK: Soothing
Positive: Nurture, warmth, femininity, love.
Negative: Inhibition, emotional claustrophobia, physically draining.

GREY: Neutral
Positive: Psychological neutrality.
Negative: Lack of confidence, dampness, hibernation, lack of energy.

BLACK: Clarity
Positive: Sophistication, glamour, emotional safety, efficiency.
Negative: Oppression, coldness, heaviness.

WHITE: Clean
Positive: Hygiene, clarity, simplicity, sophistication, efficiency.
Negative: Sterility, coldness, elitism

BROWN: Nature
Positive: Seriousness, warmth, earthiness, reliability, support.
Negative: Lack of humor, heaviness, lack of sophistication.

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