The RGB of it all

Or is it the CYMK? (One matters online; the other in print). Do you dream in color? Did people dream in black and white before the invention of black and white film? If so, how did they know what the world looked like in black and white? When are color photos best and when do black and white images better solve the visual problem at hand? What moods and emotions do colors


Pre-PhotoShop, manipulating color was limited to the photographer’s skill in using filters or other special effects. Digital photography expanded the recording of existing colors to any colors that PhotoShop would allow. But just like the advent of desktop publishing resulted in some truly awful publishing, the use of Photoshop initially enabled some truly awful, garishly colored images. As a cautionary note: keep the colors authentic unless you are trying to imply a psychedelic experience.

Explaining the complex science of color is beyond my expertise. However, here are a few simple rules that I can share: avoid the Christmas colors of red and green together unless the photograph is about Christmas. Those colors are so closely associated with Christmas in western culture that the association sometimes attaches itself to red and green when they appear together in any photo.

For an image of mother and child to illustrate the concept of caring, don’t dress the mother in red. Blue is the color of sky and calm water. As such it is a universal color of peace and calm. ‘Blue’ is also associated with sadness such as in the expression ‘the blues’. Use a blue cast to an image of a depressed person to get across that emotion. This can be a better, more sophisticated means to the end than hitting the viewer over the head with an image of someone who is obviously trying to look really, really sad. This image of a businessman uses both color and authentic expression to create an effective shot. But use care: an overall hue of a grey/blue also makes the temperature change. An image with a bluish hue sends a message to the brain that it might be pretty cold in the room or scene. Some colors have universal meaning because they are so closely tied to the primary colors in nature: orange/red for fire (hot!), green and blue skies. The primary colors are yellow, red and blue. Yellow in nature usually implies fall. But yellow is also the color we associate with the sun and by extension, with sunny days and happiness. There is a reason that the smiley face is yellow.

© Nejron

Pink is for a baby girl and blue for a boy… but did you know that jail cells are often painted pink to calm the prisoners? Or that some football teams painted the visitors locker rooms pink in an effort to reduce aggression? The professional and collegiate associations then said that locker rooms could be any color but both the home and the visitor rooms had to be the same color. Pink disappeared pretty quickly from the palette of jock room decor.

Pink may be girly but red is not. It is the color of stop signs for a reason. Red means LOOK AT ME. Or LOOK OUT. If you want an object to stand out against others in a scene, make it red. Fire engine red.

Before you go to work with models, pay attention to the colors in the wardrobe. Do the colors compliment each other or clash? How does the clothing work with the other elements in the image? Are the colors contemporary? Look at the background color in studio shots. Have an informed reason for picking a certain color of seamless.

Did you ever wonder why suddenly you see a color everywhere? There are several groups that assist designers in picking colors for the next season for apparel, upholstery, paint and even car interiors. See the color association link below to sign up for their free newsletter about what colors will be in and which will be out.Photographers should study the elements of color theory. Take a class if you are clueless. I have to admit though in my personal art work I like to think that it’s good to know the rules so I can break them. A discussion of B&W vs. color in a later blog.If you doubt the power of color, spend a minute or two looking at this website. I haven’t a clue as to what the type says but the every changing palette is mesmerizing.

Below you’ll find some places to learn more about color

Color Fundamentals for digital photography:

Photo credits: Andres Rodriguez, Chegevara, Graphicphoto, Karenr, Nejron, Rob Hill, Ruta Saulyte, Wally Stemberger.

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August 23, 2007


Interesting! Everytime I spend time reading your posts I always learn something. Thanks for sharing your knoledge again Ellen, your articles are some of the best posts I've ever seen on the web :-)

August 22, 2007


A very interesting and useful article again! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and ideas with us!

August 15, 2007


Orchidpoet: yes nice model in the yellow water. As an aside, she had great hair! Long dreadlocks look great when the person swings their head!

August 15, 2007


the single paragraph issue: I don't know why sometimes the article appears as a single paragraph and other times just as I posted it. I'll ask an admin that is smarter than I am on these things!

August 15, 2007


This is one of the images inspired by Ellen's blog, they have been approved now. :)

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August 15, 2007


Great post indeed, will surely be useful for future shoots.

August 13, 2007


Hi Ellen, thanks for the article.

This weekend, I saw a beautiful black woman with yellow bikini on the beach, and remembered your article about the sunny smiley yellow color. The color combination seemed to be right for me, blue water, yellow bikini, beige sand..., so I invited her to be my model. Now the shots are waiting to be reviewed.

By the way, why does your article appear as one single paragraph? I am sure you must have separated them. Maybe DT web master can separate the paragraphs in your article in the future. It would be easier to read. Best regards.

August 13, 2007


As usual ... very interesting informations. And especially I found the last link very usefull. THY and I am looking foreward for the B&W discussion.
Good luck

August 10, 2007


in medieval times the color designations were actually reversed.

blue was the color for girls or women because it was considered more delicate and fragile.

red was the color men wore into battle as knights. red for power, red for blood. but as most dyes were made from leaves and berries they were not color fast. soon the reds became faded and more pink in color.

i have forgotten when those designations became what we know today. but someone, somewhere, a designer perhaps decided that pink was more feminine and blue was for boys.

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