Could you do me a favor? I want you to look around the room you’re in right now. How much color can you see? What different colors can you see? How is the light affecting them? What’s your favourite one?
Color is everywhere. It’s one of the first things we learn about when we’re little and plays a huge part throughout our lives. It’s all around us. So you’d think it would always be easy to understand, right?
Wrong. When it comes to photography, colors aren’t actually that simple—especially when it comes to using complementary colors. Lost already? Don’t worry, darling. Today we’re going to learn how we can use color in a better way to help make our images really pop.
What Are Complementary Colors?
Simply put, complementary colors are different colors, that, when placed next to another color, increases the total color contrast in the photo.
Now, you might think that if you have a dark red and a light red that’s a great combination. But since contrast is about difference, complementary colors need to be completely different to one another.
But how do go about you find them?
The Color Wheel
The easiest way to find complementary colors is by looking at the color wheel. This is a tool you’ll definitely need by your side. I’m sure you’ve come across it before: it might look daunting, but it’s actually really simple.
Here’s the main thing you need to know about the color wheel when it comes to complementary colors: it’s all about their position in relation to each other on the wheel. And that position is all about opposites attracting.
You see, complementary colors appear directly opposite each other on the color wheel. I know what you might be thinking—surely that doesn’t sound right! In reality, working with these colors can result in some seriously beautiful combinations—all just because each one of them stands out against their complimentary color.
So for instance, light blue is the compliment of dark orange and red is the compliment of green. Think about a simple red rose against a green background. It really stands out, doesn’t it?
The more distinct the two colors are, the more they stand out. Take the red and green example again: pairing the two together results in the reds appearing redder and greens looking greener.
What Do Complementary Colors Do in Photography?
If there’s one aim behind using complementary colors, it’s this: they add drama. These colors are bold and noticeable, so when your viewer sees an image using complementary colors, they get the feeling that what they’re seeing is important and meaningful. They know that a certain message is trying to be conveyed.
It could be as simple as that image of the red rose against a green background. It’s not what’s in the image that matters: it’s the use of color that makes a real impression.
Look at an image now. I bet you’re looking at it completely differently (because you’re noticing the colors!). It creates a totally different theme, doesn’t it?
That’s how using complementary colors can really improve your photography: it creates more of an impact.
Now that you’re nice and briefed on the theory, the only thing you need to do now is to seek out these complementary colors and capture them in your very own dazzling photo.
Other Things to Think About
Brightness is really important when it comes to using complementary colors. You don’t want to combine two really bright colors together—that just means they’re competing with each other. Your viewers might not know where to look because both colors demand an equal amount of attention.
The way to get round this hurdle is to choose a main color out of the two. So if you’re shooting a red flower against a green backdrop, you’ll want to choose either the background or the flower to be more prominent in your image. There’s no rule as to how much this should be—it’s up to you and what you think creates the best photo.
You can also adjust both of these elements in the Photo Editor. Head over to the Edit panel and click on Exposure to adjust your brightness, or pop on over to the Color panel to adjust things like hue, saturation and temperature:
How to Find Complementary Colors
Nature is a brilliant place to start, especially flowers. Then you can start to look elsewhere.
Spring will give you some amazing combinations to experiment with, as will Summer (or you could always mimic summer’s sunshine-y rays with a couple of nifty photo effects). What about an orange beach ball floating on clear blue water? Or a red bauble on your Christmas tree? It’s all about experimenting. Once you start paying more attention to color in your images, it’ll become second nature to you.
Complementary colors are the perfect starting point for improving your photography. Pairing them together doesn’t need to be overwhelming (though you should definitely remember to keep your color wheel somewhere safe!). That way, if you’re not sure about a certain combination, just check the wheel. You’ll never know unless you try.
So what do you say—are you ready to experiment with color?