How To Use Colour Theory In Your Still-Life Shots

If you are taking photographs for an ecommerce store or other commercial purpose, one of the most crucial things to get right is the balance of colour. Of course, the composition is important, but even the most thoughtful arrangement needs to be backed up with striking colours. Here are some tips to help you get the most from your shots.


Why is colour important?

Colour can be used to draw the viewer’s eye to an item in the photo, which is the aim of any commercial image. It can also be used to create a mood or evoke an emotional response in the viewer. Poor use of colour can make an image look flat and dull, or even be confusing or off-putting to look at.


What terms do photographers use to describe colour?

Without getting too technical about it, a pure spectrum colour (such as you would see in a rainbow) is referred to by photographers as a hue. Value relates to the darkness or lightness of a colour—think of the difference between navy blue and ultramarine, for example. Value is not to be confused with saturation, which refers to the intensity of the colour.


What is meant by complementary colours?

Many people think that complementary colours are those that are close in hue, such as mauve and purple. However this is not the case. The term refers to colours that are opposites on the ‘colour wheel.’

One half of the wheel is made up of warmer colours, such as red and orange. This gradually moves around, via pinks and yellows, to the colder hues of blue and green on the opposite side of the wheel. If you look at the directly opposing segment, you will see that orange and blue are complementary colours, for example.

Arranging your photographs using complementary colours is a great way to create a bold and memorable image, because the background and foreground will really pop against each other. This can be hard to picture in your mind’s eye, but try placing an orange on a royal blue cloth, and see how stunning it looks.

Artists throughout the centuries have used complementary colours to lend impact to their paintings, so if you are still not convinced, have a browse through the works of some Old Masters! Think red poppies in a tumbling green field, for instance, which can be seen in masterpieces by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.

If bright and cheerful isn’t quite the mood you’re going for, then you can create a calmer effect by using a monochrome palette and playing with the saturation and values in an editing suite. You could also pick two hues which are next to each other on the colour wheel for a more subtle effect.

Another technique which is often used in food photography is to use a muted palette, but draw attention to the main subject with a pop of colour, such as a sprinkling of green herbs on a reddish coloured main dish. The takeaway point to remember is to balance out your colours, so they draw attention to the subject, rather than create a confusing mish-mash.


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