Learning to use color in your photographs well will help you, in many ways, to take better pictures. Many photographers tend not to practice with the aim of improving their skills. We all like to take good photos. Doing some color photography exercises will help you build awareness. You can learn how to incorporate color into your photographs with more meaning.
“The ability to see the quality of color and it’s different relationships is an art, as well as a skill that must be honed through continual exercise.” ~ Nevada Wier, travel photographer and author.
In this article, I want to encourage you to practice looking the colors in your compositions. Understanding how colors in a picture interact will help you add more feeling to your photography.
Mix color theory with practical photography exercises
Understanding of color and how to use it well is a good skill to acquire. Like any skill, it takes study and practice. Getting a little theory in your head is rarely enough – you need to put it into practice to begin to comprehend it in practical ways.
These color photography exercises are designed to help you be more aware and considerate of how you use color in your photographs.
The color wheel
The color wheel has been in use by artists and scientists since Sir Isaac Newton first developed the design in 1666. There are now many variations. But the basic color wheel can provide you with enough relevant information. It will help you understand the relationships between different colors. This basic wheel is displays three types of colors:
- Primary Colors
- Secondary Colors
- Tertiary Colors
Three primary colors make up the simplest color wheel. Red, yellow and blue are primary colors. These cannot be made by mixing other colors. All other colors are combinations of primary colors.
Secondary colors are green, orange and purple. They are created by mixing two primary colors together.
Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary and a secondary color. These are:
Complementary color photography exercises
Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Used together they produce high contrast and high impact.
Find or create photos using complementary colors boldly in your compositions. You might find a red flower and frame it so you can only see grass or foliage behind it. And you could slice an orange or papaya and photograph it against a blue background.
You could find two objects that have complementary colors. Photograph them against a plain, non-colored background.
Have a look around your home or garden and I am sure you’ll find things of strong primary colors that you can photograph together.
Analogous color photography exercises
Analogous colors are sets of three colors that lie next to each other on the color wheel.
Using combinations of these colors creates a harmonious feeling in photographs. These colors often occur in nature and are pleasing to the eye. Choosing one color to dominate and the others to support will help you create more relaxing images.
This exercise may be a little more challenging because you need to find things with three colors that are close to each other on the color wheel. Don’t fret if you cannot find colors that match the color wheel perfectly – close enough is good.
You might find something of a primary blue and place it in a composition with a blue-green and green. This will create a photo with a cool, harmonious feeling. Choosing warmer colors, such as orange-red combinations, produce photos with a positive feeling.
Look around. You may find these combinations happening naturally in your garden, or you may have to create some still-life setups.
Triadic color photography exercises
A triadic color scheme is a combination of three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Red, blue, and yellow together are triadic. As are orange, green, and violet and the set of three tertiary colors.
Look to use these sets of colors with one dominant and the others to accent it. You might have a red and a blue pen on a yellow background. Or a green apple and an orange on a violet background.
Try various ways to compose your photo so that one or other of the colors is more dominant in your photos. Look for different angles or, if you can, move your subjects around and arrange them alternatively.
Monochromatic color photography exercises
Shades or tints of a single color used together can produce very interesting color photographs. Shades are colors with varying degrees of black added to the color. Tints are colors where white has been added.
Find items around your home or in your garden that you can create monochromatic compositions with. The color will all be essentially the same. The interest will be determined by the degrees of shade and tint you can include.
Green against green is the most common monochrome we see in nature. Or, depending on where you live and the season, it may be brown on brown.
Think imaginatively as you look for different things to photograph. Try and create interesting photographs with color use as the main subject. The purpose is to learn and practice how colors relate to each other in a photograph.
When you practice anything enough, it becomes second nature. Doing these exercises may seem a little odd because you may not be taking great photos. Color photography exercises like this help you develop your color awareness more. Once you are well-practiced, you will ‘see’ color and color combinations more naturally.
So, try these color photography exercises and share your results with us in the comments section.