Before we dive into experimentation, let’s look at basic colour theory, which refers to the many ways colours can be blended to create visually pleasing and complimentary tones. The relationships between colours are broken down into three orders (Primary, Secondary and Tertiary) and often presented in a wheel.
The primary colours are red, blue and yellow and are sometimes known as pure colours because the mixing of other colours can’t create them.
Secondary colours are any colour that is a combination of two primary colours (i.e. red + blue = purple).
Finally, tertiary colours are a combination of a primary colour and a secondary colour (i.e. red-orange, yellow-green, etc.)
Complementary colours are directly opposite on the wheel and can create high contrast in a photo. Analogous colours are near each other on the wheel and create low-contrast harmonious photos. Also, if a combination of background colours is analogous then the subject will be more in focus.
Colours are a powerful photography tool and can convey different moods and elicit various feelings. Generally, so called ‘cool’ colours like green, blue and purple have a relaxing, tranquil effect, whereas ‘warm’ colours like red, yellow and orange can evoke passion, anger and warmth. When the subject matter and the emotion of the colours are aligned, it can intensify the image and create a much deeper meaning. Similarly, you can experiment with colours that stand in direct emotional contrast to the image (i.e. Anger and Blue). Even a slight understanding of the symbolism of colours lets you experiment with deeper levels of storytelling.
Photographed with a Nikon D800E and the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR ISO 100 | f/9 | 1/500s | 200mm
From the impossible brilliance of ocean coral to the honest character of rusted steel, the world around us provides a never-ending tapestry of incredible colours to capture. One thing to consider is how colours react to different surroundings and scenarios. The same colour can make for a different photograph at different times of the day, or similarly during varied weather. Experiment with the effect that weather plays by taking photos before and after a rainstorm and see how the colours and hues are affected. You might even get to practice your rainbow photography as a bonus while you’re out there!
When people hear monochrome in a photography context, many assume the image is limited to black and white but can actually be any photo that only contains hues and shades of a specific colour. Whether you achieve this effect in lens or in post-processing, it’s a great way to experiment and add emotion to your images. Too many colours can be distracting, and by taking a monochromatic approach you can draw more of the viewer’s attention towards the composition or subject matter. Similarly, monochromatic colour photography can really bring texture to the fore. Whether you’re on a downtown city block or deep in the jungle, opportunities to experiment with monochromatic colour are everywhere, so just start shooting.
Post production has ushered in a level of experimentation that photographers a few decades ago could only dream of. Learning the basics of a photo-editing software can unleash a world of creative photography opportunities. From bumping up or down saturation levels to increasing or decreasing hues in a photograph, there is no limit to the experimentation you can do. To play around with monochromatic colours, simply convert any image into black and white and then replace black with any colour you can think of. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes playing around with colour in post.
Colour and photography are inextricable, and the more you experiment the more you learn about what’s possible.