Could you do me a favor? I want you to look around the room you’re in right now. How many different colors can you see? How is the light affecting them? What’s your favorite 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 you can use strategic color combinations and our online Photo Editor to help make your 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 you know which colors are complementary?
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.
Editing Complementary Colors
Sometimes you find a brilliant color combo to capture, only to realize that the image you captured doesn't really make them pop. That's where we come in. In the Edit panel of our online Photo Editor, you'll find an array of tools to make those colors shine. Whether it involves a simple sharpen, blurring your background to make your primary subject stand out, or enhancing the colors with our Color tool, we've got you covered.
Take this photo for instance:
It's a great capture with lots of potential if we enhance the primary colors. To do this, upload your photo into our Photo Editor and click the Color tool in the Edit panel.
You'll find that you can adjust the Hue, Saturation, and Temperature of the colors in the photo. By sliding both the Saturation and Temperature scales to the right, we bumped up the natural hues represented and make them look more complimentary in a fraction of a minute. Check out those oranges and blues!
How to Find Complementary Colors
So now that you have all this color theory engrained into your brain, what do you do with it? Looking for complimentary colors in nature is a brilliant place to start, and as you start to notice natural color combinations you'll find them in the unexpected - an orange beach ball floating on clear blue water or a red ornament on your green Christmas tree. They're everywhere, and they're totally photogenic.
So what do you say—are you ready to experiment with color?