Color is one of the most obvious elements of composition. Everyone knows that intense colors make people take notice of your images. Ever wonder why there are so many sunset and flower shots? Color is the reason.
Color has a couple of functions in photographs. First, color grabs the attention of the viewer. Perhaps, because this function of color is so palpable, many photographers miss the more sophisticated function of color: color sets the mood of an image. Since color is such an important compositional ingredient, we should use color to its fullest extend — incorporating both functions of color into images.
Grabbing the Viewer’s Attention
Utilizing color to grab attention is often rather straight forward. Generally, what is required is a saturated or intense color (or colors). This type of color tends to grab the viewer’s attention and focus it on the area of color. Furthermore, the color tends to keep the viewer’s attention for an extended period of time. When the viewer’s eyes do wander, the color tends to bring the attention back.
There are a couple of primary ways to use color to grab a viewer’s attention. The first way is to use very bold colors. An example of this approach would be a dramatic sunset. The second way to use color to grab a viewer’s attention is to use a mix of contrasting colors. An example of this approach would be an image of fall colors where there is a combination of red, orange, and yellow leaves.
Setting the mood through the use of color tends to be a more subtle application of color than when color is used to grab attention. However, that does not mean that it is any less powerful.
Different colors elicit different moods. Since there are a huge number of colors, it is not possible to cover all of the colors and their impacts on viewers’ moods in an article such as this one. Instead, a few colors will be reviewed in an effort to convey how colors affect viewers’ feelings.
Blue tends to bring forth feelings of calm or cold depending on how the color is used. This is a reflection of how we perceive the color in nature: the deep calm ocean is blue, peaceful cloudless skies are blue, and large amounts of ice have a blue tint. Therefore, when we wish to create a feeling of calm in an image, we should include blue objects in the image such as a peaceful blue stream or a blue lake.
Green often communicates a feeling of lushness and vibrancy. Again, our feelings about this color are tied up with how we frequently experience the color in nature. We tend to associate green with spring and new growth. Green is frequently used in landscape photography. Green meadows, plants, and fields can be used to convey the mood of a flourishing scene.
Yellow, Orange, and Red
The last colors to be evaluated are the warm tones: yellow, orange, and red. These colors are associated with feelings of warmth and comfort (again the colors are tied to how we experience them in nature). Sunsets are a perfect example of how these warm colors create a comfortable feeling. When we wish to take advantage of these colors to create a feeling of comfort in our images, we can include objects such as flowers, plants, food, and rocks that contain these colors.
So far, we have looked at using color to create mood in photographs by means of including objects, with the appropriate colors, in an image. However, there is another way to use color to create mood in an image – the use of light. Early morning and evening provides us with colored light which can be used to powerful effect in images. Before sunrise and about twenty minutes after sunset, everything is bathed in a soft blue light. This light can be used to create a calm mood such as an early morning shot of a beach bathed in the cool, blue light.
Just after sunrise and before sunset, the light is often very warm with red, orange, or yellow hues. This light can be used to create feelings of comfort such as a beautiful mountain peak bathed in a soft, warm, golden light.
When properly utilized, color can be one of the most effective methods of grabbing attention and conveying mood in an image.
Interested in finding out more about color and photographic composition? Check out Ron’s full length advanced composition article @ Advanced Composition.