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Use Color for Impact

Color has tremendous impact as it triggers psychological responses, emotions, feelings of calm, anger, and serenity. Additionally, it draws the eye to specific locations within an image. Colors can be soft and muted or go to the opposite extreme wherein they are bold, vivid, intense, and saturated. They fall into spectrums that can soothe the mind or create movement and calamity. The strategic use of color is critical to the mood, feeling and impact of the image. It can be just a part of the composition or make up the entire photograph. Color is universal and needs no language to be understood. Think of a STOP sign. Whether you’re driving in an English speaking country and it reads STOP or Spanish speaking country and it reads ALTO, the striking red octagon leaves no doubt as to what you’re required to do.

Striking, saturated, and bold colors can be heard calling out to viewers while soft and muted tones fade to a whisper in comparison. Primary colors fall under the category of bold while pastels take on whispering qualities. If you were to place Easter eggs on a fire engine, although your eye would eventually find them, what would draw you to the image was the intense red of the truck.


Colors fall into families, one being their warmth. The family of warm tones are reds, yellows and oranges while cool tones are blues, greens and purples. Warm tones give the illusion   of coming forward in an image while cool tones recede. This is most evidenced when a photo is made up of two colors that fall on the opposite sides of a color wheel. Think of a fall colored yellow aspen set against a deep blue sky. The bold yellow tree seems to pop off the page while the sky takes a back seat in the distance. This is because yellow and blue are opposites. The same applies to red and cyan in addition to magenta and green.


Finding a brightly colored small subject immersed in a sea of muted tones allows the tiny focal point to become the primary subject in the image. It may take up a very small percentage of the frame, but because of its color, the eye is drawn to it first and foremost. Another situation where color is enhanced is just after a storm where the air is fresh and clear. Use a polarizer to try to remove the glare off the surface of your subject to allow the color to come through. Shooting at sunrise and sunset adds warmth to a scene as the sun shines throughout the particulates that linger on the horizon. As the sun gets higher in the sky, the spectrum becomes very blue and cool in tone. Study images where the color grabs you and try to figure out what the photographer did to create the situation. Apply your hypothesis to your next outing and see if it works. The more you understand light and color, the more you’ll be able to create images using color with impact.



To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my new book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at to order your signed copy.


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