Color is one of the most important aspects of photography. It can make or break your images. It’s great when nature gives you great color to work with, but you also need to deliberately manipulate colors in your photos, both while you’re shooting and in post-processing.
One of the best ways to start experimenting with colors in your image is to use a limited color palette. In other words, to try and take images where there are only one or two dominant colors. When you’ve loads of different colors things look chaotic, like in this image.
Whereas when you’ve got a photo with just a few colors that work well together, in this case browns and greys, they look a lot better.
Let’s talk a bit about how to work with a limited palette.
The Simplest Limited Color Palette: Black and White
When people start deliberately trying to take good photos, one of the first things they do is convert absolutely everything to black and white. Why? Because as long as the photo is well composed and technically okay, it will normally look good in black and white. By reducing everything to greyscale, you remove any distracting colors and pull everything together.
Let’s look go back to that chaotic photo from earlier. It’s well composed, and there’s nothing technically wrong with it. The issue is that the colors are all over the place. There are greens, reds, yellows, and browns all competing for your attention. The focal point of the image should be the guy in the bar window, but your eyes are drawn everywhere.
Now let’s convert it to black and white and… boom! It looks a lot better. Rather than a chaotic mess of colors, it’s an interesting street scene.
Converting images to black and white is all well and good, but it has one major problem: color is a really important part of photography. No one wants to look at a sunset in black and white.
Exploring Limited Color Palettes in the Real World
To start exploring limited color palettes, you need to do two things: play around with limited colors in the real world, and post-process your images. Let’s start with looking at limited colors in the real world.
Here’s the before and after of an image with a model named Ali. She’s wearing a purple top and yellow jacket and she’s sitting in a field of yellow grass with some purple flowers. The straight-out-of-camera image already has a limited color palette, and I’ve just amplified it in the edit.
This is a landscape example that I shot in Santa Monica at sunset. Blue and gold are two of my favorite colors to use together. It’s very easy to do if you take photos by the sea at sunrise or sunset.
I love that shot, but lets look at the straight out of camera image.
The gold is a little less pronounced, but the original colors are for the most part still the ones I used in the final image.
The trick to playing around with limited color palettes in the real world is to start consciously looking at colors. The day I took the photo of Ali, she just happened to be wearing yellow and purple, so when we found a field with those colors too,…
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