You might not notice it but colors affect you more than you realize. It can influence affect your mood, your behavior, perception, even your appetite! Colors could also trigger certain memories. That’s because it is inherent for human beings to react to a stimulus and take an action. Color serves as a stimulus that triggers an emotional response among human beings.

Color could also evoke reactions through associations. A rush of blood red heightens alertness while soothing green brings a sense of calm.

In art, color is used to represent the real-life form of an object. Shades of green are for the trees, blues for the skies, for example. However, it also associated with feelings. It is often used to represent the mood of the scene, red for anger, blue for tranquility, yellow for cheerfulness, and so on.

In photography, the subject’s color is determined by the color of the light source as well as the color of the subject. A camera will record light as is but the human brain is constantly compensating to what the eye sees.

If for instance, you enter a room lit with light bulb that generate reddish brown light on white objects, the brain will correct the light so that the eye sees the white object appearing white despite the reddish brown light. However, the camera will pick up the reddish brown light and record it as such. 

How Color Affects the Mood

Looking at colors is always a sensory experience, colors represent different things to different people. Colors bring emotions to the scene. The visual impact of an image is enhanced with the right combination of colors and this is the reason why some images tend to grab people’s attention right from the start. Even a well-composed image could end up looking mediocre when it is not engaging the audience emotionally.

Unfortunately, color is not as deeply understood or discussed in great detail in the photography world. It takes more than mastery over the camera to take a good picture. Even when you did everything right, an image that lacks emotional intimacy will not make much of an impact. Most viewers are not concerned about the technical attributes of a photograph or how well composed an image is, but the way the said image made them feel.

The Importance of Color in Photography

Color is important in photography because it is used to tell a story visually. It could elicit joy, sadness, awe, or delight among viewers without uttering a single word. It’s the reason why most people feel happy when seeing a photo of a dog playing fetch in the park or sad when seeing an image of a starving African baby.

Color also plays a role in adding contrast to photographs. It heightens the dramatic effect of an image, making it look or feel exciting, mysterious, or perhaps, somber.

Colors are categorized into two types, cool colors and warm colors. Pairing warm hues with cool colors could draw attention to certain parts of an image.

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The 3 Aspects of Color

Color is considered as three-dimensional because it has three aspects. These aspects are:


Hue refers to the given names of colors on the color wheel (blue, red, green, etc.) It is the basic definition of color perception.


This term refers to the light and dark properties of a color. All hues are made in all values. Adding white paint to any color can create a lighter color. Adding black paint could darken pigments.


This term refers to the level of grayness in a hue. The less saturated the color is, the higher the level of grayness appears. Vivid primary colors are highly saturated while pastel hues are unsaturated.

Photography Tips: Using Colors to Create Stunning Images

Use the Color Wheel

By gaining a deep understanding on how to use color in photography, you can create images with harmonious and balanced elements. If you are unsure how to compose your shot, check the color wheel.

You can use complementary colors to make certain elements of an image stand out. This color theory works best in street and urban photography. For nature, wildlife or landscape photography, use analogous colors (colors that are side by side on the color wheel) to highlight the gradation of tones and hues in an image. For an image that tells a story, pick triadic colors (3 colors spaced out evenly around the color wheel) to highlight certain parts of the photograph.

Color by Emotion

There are 8 main colors and each one has emotions and meanings associated to it. You could break the rules and experiment with different colors to elicit certain emotions but generally, these are the emotions that each color evoke:

Red: passion, energy, power, anger
Orange: Happiness, warmth, confidence
Yellow: cheerfulness, brightness, friendliness
Green: Calm, balance, natural
Blue: Cold, tranquility, sadness
Purple: Luxury, mystery, royalty
Black: Classy, serious, dramatic
White: Fresh, pure, clean

Get the Right Tools

Having the right gears is important when it comes to shooting the perfect scene. Practice with composition and color theory using your camera and complement your main photography gear with a polarizing filter to enhance the vibrancy in color photos.

A polarizing filter is perfect for landscape photography in particular because it reduces glare. If you want to have more control over color during the post-production process, try shooting in RAW. Invest in lens hood to block direct light and minimize lens flares, when needed.

Back to Basics

Still unsure how to use color in photography? Remember the basics of composition, use leading lines, the rule of thirds, and repeating patterns to draw the audience’s eyes into the colors of your images.

Wrap Up

Color is important in photography because it affects the subconscious. Learning to use colors to evoke different emotions makes for an impactful image. The use of color enhances your photograph’s composition and framing. You can tell a story, set the mood, and compose a balanced image, shot after shot.

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