Colour is exciting!!!!!!!
See how many exclamation points I used there? That’s because it’s true. Colour is fantastic and exciting and one of my favourite things. I’m stoked to share with you!
P.S. Before we go further, an aside: We’re from Canada, so we spell it “colour” not “color”. For my American friends, don’t worry, it’s not a typo. It’s just how things are done up North. Plus I think the word looks prettier like that :)
Now, I’m by no means a colour expert. It’s an enormous field that goes back hundreds of years, and you can spend your life studying colour. In fact, it’s quite easy to become obsessed. Don’t worry though, there’s a support group.
I do, however, love design and branding, and spend a lot of time considering how important they are when running a business of any type. The fact that photography is such a visual field only serves to reinforce the importance of taking the time to carefully choose the colours you will be putting out there to represent you!
So let’s go!
Why Photographers Should Learn Colour Theory
Now, I don’t think you randomly pulled colours out of a hat when you were choosing them for your business. I suspect you fiddled around in Photoshop for a while, found a couple colour values you liked, ones that just felt right, and then you were off designing your webpage and getting business cards printed up.
That’s the way I suspect many people, artists in particular, work. They base decisions off of how they feel. I know that’s how I chose a lot of colour palettes in my time. And there’s certainly nothing wrong about doing things that way. I’m sure many a beautiful palette has been created using that method.
However, the problem with that method is that it’s not consistently replicable. Nor is there a real, foundational understanding that directs your decisions. Your decisions could vary wildly depending on whether you were feeling particularly tired, happy, frustrated, sad, nervous or just plain bored at the time you were looking at colours. Not good!
Instead, any photographer who is planning to create their own colour scheme should at least have a basic understanding of a bit of colour theory to help them make informed decisions that have purpose and meaning behind them. And yes, I really do think colour is important enough to require purpose and meaning!
And as an added bonus for your investment in learning about colour theory? It goes beyond branding, of course! You’ll be able to choose locations and colour schemes for your images that will help strengthen your skill as a photographer. Bonus!!
Why Colour Is So Important
First, let’s consider your portfolio/website/blog; it’s your online presence that will be the first point of contact for many of your clients. It usually consists of a box of content, surrounded by a repeating/solid background. These days computer monitors are simply getting bigger and bigger, which means that more of the screen will be filled up with your background.
And what is that background usually consisting of? Sometimes a pattern, or texture, but the predominant feature of a website background is almost always the colour.
Take a peek at your portfolio/website/blog and tell me how big your logo and business name are compared to the background. If you’re using a decent sized monitor, the background will almost always take up WAY more space.
So it’s easy to see that the colour of your website background will likely make a big first impression on your client. It simply takes up a lot of space and can’t help but catch your eye!
What’s even more important to understand is that colour makes a subconscious impression in the mind of your viewer. In every culture colours have meanings. They evoke feelings and emotions. It goes beyond just emotions though! Colours actually can trigger physical responses like increased heart rate, or enhanced concentration. The colours you’ve chosen are making LOUD statements about you. Are you paying attention to what they’re saying?
Another reason to consider your colours carefully is that they can become very easily recognizable. I might not be able to tell you exactly which typeface Tiffany uses, but I sure know what colour they are associated with. The logos for both Pepsi and Coca Cola have evolved a lot over the years, but the colours they use have not varied. In the event that you want to change your logo or main typeface, a consistent colour can maintain brand recognition and familiarity. And yeah, those are probably things you want.
A final reason I’ll mention is that by simply maintaining a consistent colour through all of your marketing materials, you easily create a more professional appearance. There is obviously a LOT more to it than that, but if you start off just making sure your colours are consistent in every single point of contact your clients have with you, they will have a much more fluid and enjoyable brand experience.
Choosing Your Colours
There are a LOT of great resources out there that will tell you the meanings behind different colours. I’ll link to some at the end of this section, but I won’t get into that here. What I think is more important for you to work on first is deciding what you want your colours to say.
What impression do you want to give your clients? Are you fun? Modern? Romantic? Edgy? This impression should come from your images, your branding, and your persona. So think carefully. If all of these aspects of your business aren’t aligned, you’ll give your clients a very disjointed and confusing impression.
Once you’ve taken the time to think carefully about the impression you want to give others, then it’s time to consider which colours will enhance that feel.
Here are some great articles that discuss colour meaning:
- Color Theory for Designers Part 1: The Meaning of Colour – from Smashing Magazine
- Your Brand’s True Colors – from Entrepreneur
- Color Meaning – from Color Wheel Pro
In the interest of simplicity, you might want to choose just one main colour. M
aybe two. After all, we’re photographers, not graphic designers. As important as I believe this stuff is, it’s NOT as important as getting out there with a camera in your hand and shooting! So if you’re new to this stuff, I’d suggest latching on to one or two main colours, and building around that.
Creating A Colour Palette
The finale of the whole process is putting together a complete palette to work off of. Something that will direct all your design, from your logo, to the colours of your pricing PDF, and even the tissue paper and ribbon you use. But how on earth can we create that without needing to study colour theory for hours and hours?
Allow me to introduce to you to a good friend of mine: Adobe Kuler.
Kuler is an amazing and diverse resource for creating colour palettes. I suspect it is made of unicorn laughter. Here’s a video that will give you an intro.
Extra awesome things about Kuler:
- Browse themes created by others for inspiration
- Easily create your own themes based on colour theory and crazy math formulas
- Upload any of your photos and quickly create multiple themes from it
- Creative Suite Applications (think Photoshop, InDesign, etc.) have a Kuler extension that you can activate, and access themes right from inside the program
- Download any theme as an Adobe Swatch Exchange file and import it into InDesign to work on your marketing materials (because you don’t use Photoshop for that stuff….right?? Right????)
We installed the Adobe Ideas app onto our iPad, which can take any image from your portfolio and instantly make a kickass colour theme from it. Rob made about 10 that totally blew my mind in a manner of minutes.
Maybe there’s an image you’ve taken that perfectly embodies the style and brand you are going for. Throw that into Kuler, check out the palette that comes out (you can change the “mood” of the theme and it will create even more options), and see if that fits the feeling you’re going for! (NOTE: You don’t need an iPad to do this! Just create an account on kuler.adobe.com and you can upload any image, or pull ones from Flickr that you like!)
Here are a couple I made in about 2 seconds from recent portrait sessions of ours. Pretty cool palettes, in my opinion!
- Once you’ve settled on your colour palette write down the RGB, CYMK and Hex values in a file that you can easily access any time you’re designing. Throw in swatches, as well as guidelines for how you’ve been using the colours. That way you will ensure consistency!
- Take that colour palette and show it to some friends, family, and past clients. Have them write down three words that come to mind when they see your colours. Take careful note of whether or not those words jive with the feeling you’re going for.
By this point I’ve hopefully convinced you to spend a bit of time learning about colour theory! If you choose to accept that mission, here are some great resources to get you started.
- Smashing Magazine’s Color Theory for Designers. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.
- Adobe Kuler
- Colour Lovers (be sure to check out the blog!)
- Roundup of 10 Super Useful Tools for Choosing the Right Color Palette from Web Design Ledger
- Color Theory Basics from Color Wheel Pro
- Color Theory from Wikipedia
- The New Big Book of Color
So as you can see, it’s actually insanely easy to make incredible colour palettes. If you use Kuler, and back it up with some knowledge about why and how colour is important, you’ll be on your way to a great looking brand that tells your clients exactly what you want it to! And you’ll look good doing it!
Do you love colour? Tell me about it in the comments!