Using color as a composition element to add mood to your photos

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Using color as a composition element to add mood to your photos

The list of elements that have a role in the composition of your photography is quite long: lines, patterns, symmetry, texture, depth of field, color… yes! Color! Have you ever considered a color like a composition element? If your answer is not, keep reading because I will give you some information that might change the way you approach color in your photography.

Colors and emotions

Colors are generally associated with certain emotions.

Red: Passion, intensity, power, strength and attention

Red roses have always been synonyms of passion and love.

Orange: enthusiasm, joy, optimism, creativity

Yellow: energy, intellect, happiness

The 3 previous colors (red, orange and yellow) are also known as warm colors. They are exciting colors. They give a feeling of high energy.

Green: nature, tranquility, freshness, harmony, fertility

Blue: calmness, peace, responsibility, confidence, trust

This photo is from The International Airport of Korea. The blue tones give a feeling of peacefulness even when the place was quite busy at that time.

Purple: royalty, extravagance, luxury, mystery

You can find purple also in nature.

The 3 previous colors (green, blue and purple) are also known as cold colors. They are considered relaxing colors. They give a feeling of calmness.

Sydney’s Opera Building is completely white, giving a sense of perfection in its shapes.

Black: elegance, formality, power, sexy, mystery

Black cats are considered mysterious animals.

Brown: stability, structure, support

Brown can give to your composition an extra sense of security.

The 3 previous colors (white, black and brown) are also known as neutral colors and they are usually great as backgrounds.

Subjective interpretation of colors

Although there are general interpretations of colors, as individual with different social background and experiences, we perceive them in different ways. I mean, there is a subjective aspect in color interpretation. The feelings a color awakes in you might be different than mines. It is for that reason that we have personal preferences for certain colors. I can give you an example of a personal interpretation of colors. According to the list, purple symbolizes royalty, wisdom, and luxury. For my mom, this color means fear because when she was a little girl she was terrorized for some religious parade in which people was wearing purple clothes. She had a life experience that completely shaped her relation with the purple color to the point that nothing at home was in this color (or any of its shades). You can probably find examples like this one in your own life.

The strong negative connotation that my mom has with the purple colors makes her dislike even the flowers in this color.

Color in your photo composition

In the moment you are composing your photo, you can stop one moment and think if you can include colors that will contribute to your composition. What do you want to say with your photo? Do you want your image to have a general feeling of balance and calmness? Then you might consider to include mostly cold colors such as green and blues and avoid as much as possible elements in warm colors.

The green table and blue cup give a feeling of calm and even a bit of coolness to this coffee. If the cup would have been red and the table orange, things would have had quite a different feeling.

If you want something more energetic, you should consider to include warm colors.

Golden hour is a perfect time to get warm images.

You can also mix warm and cold colors to get a combined feeling of warm and freshness

Change the color mood of your images in Lightroom

You can also play with the color of your photos in post processing using for example Lightroom. To do that, it is better that you shoot your photos in RAW. This photo format will give you more flexibility in the editing for changing colors.

There are different ways you can change the colors of your images. Today I am going to focus on a really straightforward one: playing with the Temperature slider. This technique will help you to get familiar with colors and moods. Once you master this one, you can get into other ways to do it, such as adding color filters or by using the split tone sliders.

You will find the temperature slider in the Develop module, in the Basic adjustments. Moving the slide to the left you decrease the temperature of your colors, meaning that you make them cooler. If you move it to the right, you increase the temperature, adding warm to your photo.

The original color temperature of this image was 4650.

You can get warmer tones by moving the temperature slider to the right. In this particular image, a value of 7119 worked pretty well.

You can get cooler tones by moving the temperature slider to the left.

Deciding which is the right color for your photos is up to you because it depends on what you felt when you were taking the photo and the feelings you want to express.

From up to down: warm, neutral and cold versions.In this photo, I didn’t like the feeling I got with the cold tones because when I took the photo it was warm and I was on a hike with friends, a quite energetic situation. the warm color version of the image express the feelings I had at that moment much better that the cool color version of this image.

Now it is your turn to experiment with colors. Tell me how do you feel about adding color to your photo composition and if you are happy with your new results! Enjoy!

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I am a biologist and a self-taught photographer based in Barcelona (Catalonia). Buddhist philosophy has a strong influence on me: I have a deep appreciation to life and I give a huge value to the little things that makes our days happier. I became a passionate about photography when I got my first camera and I understood that photography allows me to express my way of approaching life. I love learning so I am always willing to trying new things. These days I am shooting mostly nature and portraits.

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