7 Ways to use color in photography

The people that know me personally or read my other blogs have heard before that I am a huge fan of Johannes Itten, a teacher at Bauhaus in the twenties of last century. I use his colorwheel all the time. In my profession as a graphic designer. When I am making my ceramics. And certainly when I take pictures.

colorwheel itten

1. Primary and secundary colors

The most intense (= satured) colors are the primary and secondary colors in their purest form. Occasionally I can make a picture that has only the three primary colors red, yellow and blue or the three secundary colors purple, orange and green in them, although seldom with a saturation of 100%.

color in photography

secundary colors in photography

2. Complementary colors

The colors that reinforce each other the most are the complementary colors. In the colorwheel they are opposite each other. They don’t necessarily need to be satured colors, so these are not the only pairs. But it is obvious they are the clearest example. Yellow versus violet. Blue versus orange. Red versus green.

complementary colors

3. Monochrome

A color can be mixed with white to make it lighter and with black to make it darker. It can be pretty difficult to make a picture that has only the tones and shades of one color.

monochrome in photography

4. Colorsplash

In iPhoneography there are several apps to make a colorsplash. The picture is made black&white and where you put your finger on the screen the color will reappear. You can also think of ‘colorsplash’ as one little part of exuberant color in an overall grayish photograph, giving you a lot of fun taking pictures.

color splash

5. Warm and cold colors

Have a look at the colorwheel and draw an imaginary line over yellow and purple. On one site are the warm colors, with reddish orange as warmest and on the other side are the cold colors with greenish blue as the coldest one. Warm colors tend to be closer by and cold colors give the impression to be further away. Especially in a landscape you can use this quality to realise more depth in your picture.

warm and cold colors

6. Emotion in color

If you want a particular kind of atmosphere in a picture, color can be a big attribute. It’s obvious in the first landscape, but I suppose you can agree with me it’s even more visible in the picture below. A sunrise is so romantic!

emotional colorsunrise

7. The symbolic value of colors

In the Middle ages blue was the color of Maria. Symbolizing pureness. A symbolic meaning is a matter of agreement. And can be different in another culture or another country. In the USA Democratic voting states are called the blue states, while in Holland blue is the color of the liberal party. In some countries the color of mourning is black, while in other countries it’s white or purple.

symbolic coloring

When you are going to make pictures you could try to focus on one of these 7 ways of using colors. It’s so rewarding to discover the value of different approaches of color once you practice it.

What do you focus on when taking pictures? Tell me in the commentbox below.

PS Read here how this theory is applicable to graphic designing.

2 thoughts on “7 Ways to use color in photography”

  1. I know the rules of the color wheel, but just realised that I hardly ever think about it when I take a picture… I focus mostly on the light and on the emotion. So I guess it’s method nr 6 then, emotion in color?!?
    I will pay more conscious attention to my choices in the future: I took a lot of complementary colored photo’s without realising it, I just like the strong reinforcement.


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