In the last two posts, one of my suggestions was to take your photos in black and white to make it easier to really see the contrast, whether that be high or low contrast. But…we live in a world of color, right? So, it will be important to learn how to get some good color contrast in photography!

We’ve been focusing on something called tonal contrast. Basically, this is the contrast within white, black, and the grays in between. When you dive into color contrast, you’ll be looking at the difference between the different color hues within your photo frame.

Your photo may have both types of contrast within it. For example, if you capture a photo of a yellow butterfly on a blue-violet flower, the natural lightness of the color yellow will appear bright next to the natural darkness of the color blue-violet. 

Different color combinations affect photos in different ways. You can’t talk about color contrast without bringing out the color wheel, so check out the image below and note that the most contrast you can get will come when you use complimentary colors. Complementary colors will give you high contrast while using colors next to each other on the color wheel, monochromatic or analogous colors, will give you low contrast.

color wheel

In this article, we’ll focus on creating high color contrast, but there is certainly a place for using more muted, analogous colors as well. Below are 3 tips to help you as you explore capturing some high contrast, complementary colors in your photos:

1. Use as few colors as possible. 

If you’re shooting a portrait, pay attention to what your model is wearing. For example, if they are wearing an orange jacket, consider placing them in front of a muted blue-grey wall to help them stand out!

If you are shooting a still life, it is easy to control the amount of color you allow into your frame, but it gets tricky if you’re outside and using natural light. One way to get around this is to make your frame smaller. Position yourself so that the objects in your photo are in front of a simple background that is a complimentary color to your object. It also helps to make the background a muted color. The image below uses light and bright hues of red (pink) in front of a muted forest green color.

few colors

2. Find a simple solid colored background

I touched on this in the first tip, but this deserves its own definition. A solid background is key for not only creating good color contrast, but creating a sense of simplicity in your photo. This is key! The less that your viewer has to focus on, the better! The image below is leaning on the muted greens in the fense to make the red wagon and the red-orange in the boy’s shirt pop!

SOLID Background

3. Break a monochromatic color scheme

One simple way to create some emphasis with color contrast is to set up a scene with mostly one color (monochromatic) and then add a pop of the opposite color (its complement). This is a great way to attract attention to your photo! In the photo below, we are not only contrasting the stark difference between red and green, but also the rough texture of the grass with the smooth plastic of the bucket.

monochromatic break

Post editing

Your post editing will look very similar to your post editing for high contrast. The concepts are very similar. You’ll want to use the levels to eliminate the dull color and add contrast as you go!

If you like this photoshoot idea, we’ve got a free photography assignment project page that goes along with this article. Click the button below and enter your email!

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