Photography tips – Discover the magic of colours 





Colour can express more than you might think

After my articles LOW BUDGET – Photo tips, free color lookups and a little bit of truth in a world full of illusion, I have today another photography tips article for you guys.  The colours in photography are besides the light an extremely important and great stylistic element. With colours you can not only create a certain tension, spatiality and harmony in your photographs, but also create a dynamic picture. But colours are also but one thing: the trigger for emotions. With colours you can decide which effect you want to create with your photos. Some films and series attract us simply by their great world of colours. The overall picture seems incredibly exciting, almost captivating and in addition, it radiates an incredible harmony. As you can see, colour can stimulate our senses and trigger associations.

For example, I like the old, analogue films from the period 1970 to 1990 very much, as they often have these very warm depths. Those who have been reading my blog for a long time might have noticed that I also tend to warm up my photos when I edit them. Cold pictures are pretty rare in my collection. Of course, there is no right or wrong here, as we all feel colours in a minimally different way. However, you can make basic statements as we all are homo sapiens.

For me personally, the colours are the most important design element in photography after the light. These tipps can be wonderfully combinded with the article „Use household items to create even better photos“.


In general, I’d like to say that one never stops learning in any field. Thus I have learned again a lot by writing this article! And now we finally open the magical book of colour theory. So hold on thight and let’s go!




Colour contrasts

In a photo you almost never find only one single colour, thus it is very important to know how colours influence each other. We automatically connect different colour constellations with other things. Thus the colours red, green and yellow in one picture remind us of traffic lights. Delicate pink or blue make us think of babies while yellow and black remind us of bees. Red, yellow and orange in one picture let os dream of autumn. Of course it also depends on what we personally associate with a special colour. For example, I always have to think of the beautiful landscape of Rügen when I see delicate tones of brown and blue or when I see black, red and yellow combined I have to think of the German flag.

Furthermore there are different colour contrasts with various impacts on images. Therefore I want to show you a few examples:


 Create tension with complimentary colours

There are different colour circles in which colours are almost opposite each other. Some of them are simply combined and consist only of six different colours, like the colour circle according to Goethe. Then there are other colour circles in which colours merge and thus you have more different colour shades in the end. It always depends on the choice of colour model to which colours are complimentary. Today I want to introduce you to the model of Helmholtz (German physicist & physiologist † September 8th, 1894 in Charlottenburg) so that I can show you the effect of complimentary colours according to this model. In this colour circle red & cyan, yellow & blue as well as green & magenta stand opposite each other. Since complimentary colours strengthen each other and appear even brighter, these colours are often used in advertising. For example a red tomato looks even fresher when photographed on a green underground or on a green background. Additionally complimentary colours also cancel each other when mixing them; for example you might know these green cover sticks that should be applied to red spots to make them appear weaker.

If you have been shooting for a bit longer and you occupy yourself with the subject of colour theory, at some point you realize that you have been working subconsciously with complimentary colours all the time. That way I was totally surprised when I went through my picture folders to find suitable examples. I didn’t have to make a photo for this issue, as they were already there.











 Spatiality created by the light-dark contrast

By using a light-dark contrast you can create spatiality and highlight special areas visually or put them in the background. You certainly know the image processing technique of Dodge & Burn. With this technique you’re more or less creating the same effect: by darkening or brightening up different areas you’re creating more plasticity. For example the grey circle below only seems plastic through the lightening and darkening and let’s us immediately think of a sphere or the moon. Actually the light-dark contrast is not a true colour contrast, but nevertheless it is a very important part of colour theory. Besides the colour contrast we react to the light-dark contrast the most. The more two colour tones differ in their brightness, the faster and the more pleasant it is absorbed by our eyes. For example pink and red are mostly experienced in an unpleasant way in their combination. These two colours have a very similar brightness. Pink and yellow on the other hand seem very harmonious in combination.









 Harmony created by tone in tone

A harmonious colour image automatically creates a positive overall picture. This statement works not only in theory but also wonderfully in practice. By the use of only one colour in different brightness and contrast levels, a photo does not create any hassle but it expresses comfort and calms the viewer. A photo that is tone in tone expresses quiet and coziness. That’s why I prefer tone in tone photographies in warm colours. In order that you can directly test the effect of such photos, I have prepared some examples for you:










 Dynamic created by the warm-cold contrast

In the warm-cold contrast two colours – as the name already suggests – of the warm palette and the cool palette meet. Such photos have an immediate effect, since we can not escape this comparison. Such a colour combination immediately triggers closeness & distance, warmth & cold as well as intimity & distance within us. One could almost say that an interplay of these confrontations are playing up. Due to this change of colours as well as the contrasts of warm and cool colours a super dynamic is created. Photos with such a contrast captivate us in a very special way.











Colour saturation


Different effects can be created with the help of colour saturation. Thus, strong saturated colours appear happy, colourful, loud, particularly exciting and bright, while few saturated colours seem rather gentle, calm and dreamy. Both versions have a charm of their own as there is no right or wrong. Some love strongly saturated colours while others prefer rather gentle colours. On the one hand strongly saturated colours appear brighter and clearer while on the other hand desaturated colours seem dull and calm. In highly saturated photos sometimes details get lost and the view is primarily controlled by the luminosity of the colours. When you look at a photo with less colour saturation you can find even more details, the longer you look at it. In portraits I personally prefer very saturated colours, whereby I exaggerated a little bit with the upcoming photos for visualizations reasons. When it comes to landscape photos I prefer photos that express a certain quiet by less saturated colours, just like the landscape shots of Binz below.









Colour temperature

As you might already know, colours can be divided in two fields: warm and cool colours. We know now, that the effects are totally different. Warm colours seem harmonious, inviting and friendly, while cool colours seem rather soothing, clear and powerful. Unfortunately some people forget to adjust their white balance on the camera sometimes and thus a photo that has been taken on a warm summer day seems rather cool. Of course you can solve this dilemma afterwards when you shoot in RAW, however it’s recommended to adjust the colour temperature at the time the photo is taken. By the way the colour temperature is not expressed in Celsius but in Kelvin. But why do I tell you all this about the colour temperature? In photography it is extremely important to consider the colour temperature in order to take a picture whose colours correspond to those we also perceive with the eye. In the collage below you can clearly see how different a photo can be just due to a different colour temperature.





Colour effects

Already in childhood we learn that colours have different meanings. Thus we connect red with warmth, blue with cold and green with nature. Also in photography you can use colours directly to create different effects. Colour always has a special recognition value. Sometimes you see photos and you immediatly know that these are made by photographer X, as these are typical for him/her. Colours do not only trigger personal associations but they also reflect our feelings. In the following section I would like to explain to you the effects a particular colour has. I have divided the different colours into positive and negative associations. Let’s go!


 The effect of RED

Red signals heat and attracts attention immediately. We connect a red heart with love as this colour symbolises passion as well. This eye-catching colour attracts attention in every case.


Positive associations: strong, dynamic, passionate, seductive, warm, brave
Negative associations: aggressive, brutal, furious, dangerous, dominant, loud







 The effect of BLUE

Blue is still the favourite colour of Germans. Blue seems even-tempered, strong and sometimes even magic. In contrast to other colours, blue has the same effect in all gradiations.


Positive associations:

still, quiet, even-tempered, relaxing, strong, authoritarian, magic, light

Negative associations: cold, silent, depressive, boring, unpersonal






 The effect of GREEN

Green is a very natural colour and is often encountered in every day life. With green colours we associate especially nature, environment and health.

Positive associations:

natural, healthy, relaxing, positive, calming

Negative associations: bitter, green, sour






 The effect of YELLOW

Yellow is a very merry and bright colour. Happiness, optimism and kindness are often associated with this colour.

Positive associations:

friendly, happy, optimistic, warm, ripe

Negative associations: obtrusive, envious, cowardly




In order that you can immediately check whether you really learned something today, I have prepared a few examples of photos for you, that are assigned to one or sometimes more examples of colour theory in photography. Thus you can easily check yourself by figuring out to which colour scheme the photos can be assigned to. Below you can find my solutions. Have fun!









How did you like my article?Are you still interested in photography topics?

XX, Christina Key






Solution: (from left to right)


1. men portrait: warm-cold contrast // 2. women portrait: tone in tone // 3. landscape of Rügen: warm-cold contrast // 4. autumn tree: warm-cold contrast // 5. outfit with varnish coat: complimentary contrast // 6. portrait woman with roses: light-dark contrast





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Do you already know?

Do you already know?