Any photographer, whether he be a traveller or not, should know basic colour theory in order to convey successfully feelings and emotions through the pictures he produces. Often we forget about his concept, both because we rarely have time whilst travelling to reflect much on our shots and because sometimes we take for granted things that we shouldn’t.
So let’s look at how to use natural colours to our advantage to obtain travel photographs that convey emotions and truly pay homage to the wonderful places that exist on our planet.
It is not easy to explain colour theory in simple terms, given that it is a combination of psychology, physics and vision. Here below, we will try to provide some theoretical information, supported by practical examples.
Colours: primary and secondary
First of all, we must begin with an understanding of the instrument: colour. The primary colours are yellow, red and blue: from mixtures of these three, you can obtain any colour on the spectrum. If you use two primary colours in equal measures, you get secondary colours. Therefore, yellow and red give you orange, red and blue give you purple and yellow and blue give you green.
To summarise, there are six primary and secondary colours in all:
Considering only these six colours, let’s analyse their psychological features and their relative photographic function.
Yellow is a colour that stimulates mental processes and increases warmth. It is a bright and luminous colour that tends to attract attention. It is the colour of wealth (gold) and of danger: warning signs are often in this colour. In nature, yellow is the colour of the sun and of flowers and is thus associated with the rebirth of spring, vitality and brightness.
The ochre of the desert and of fields of ripe wheat are strongly associated with the idea of the vastness and immensity of open spaces.
Orange is created from yellow and red and has a very wide spectrum. It is the colour of spirituality but is also a vibrant and bright colour that conveys feelings of cheerfulness and joy and attracts attention if it is captured as a detail in a bright shade. Spread throughout the frame in its subtlest shades, it conveys a feeling of security and calm (autumn woods or sunset).
Red is the colour of fire, blood, passion and love. It is the brightest of all the colours and is that which conveys the strongest emotions. Danger and prohibition are communicated using this colour. In photography, including a red detail in the frame means that you want the attention to be focused on that particular element.
Historically, purple is a sign of wealth, success and wisdom. As it is obtained using red and blue, it also represents the balance between the earth and the sky, conveying a feeling of peace and tranquillity. In its brightest shades it invokes cheerfulness, whilst in its darkest shades it arouses sadness.
Blue is the colour of the sky and of the sea and is universally associated with tranquillity and calm. It is man’s favourite colour and is often used to convey a feeling of cleanliness and order. Winter, ice and cold are associated with shades of blue. Photographs of a deep blue sea on a day with a clear blue sky symbolise stillness and serenity.
Green is the symbolic colour of Nature and represents life and security. A ubiquitous colour, it has different meanings according to the location: in the desert, it is the colour of the life-saving oasis; in temperate climates, it symbolises the new life of spring; in cold climates, it means protection from the rigidity of the seasons.
This overview is just a brief introduction to colour symbolism, and the use of colours in photography can be expressed in a much more complex and complete manner. However, ultimately, to each colour and its corresponding shades can be associated a feeling and a mood. Bearing in mind these simple concepts, you can choose to exclude or include a detail in your frame, in order to better convey the desired emotion.
Leo and Vero
Leo and Vero are two tireless travellers who love to discover the world by bicycle. After ten months cycling through Southeast Asia, they returned to Italy, but still dedicate their every spare moment to cycling, travelling and photography. They have travelled far and wide but are convinced that the best journey is always the one they have yet to make… “Because travelling is to remember the past, live the present and dream of the future.”
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