Colors and tones can enhance or invoke moods in photography as different tones and beats do in music. Over the years there have been hundreds of studies conducted on the human brain and our reaction to them or in better terms the connection between colors and moods that are invoked. Studies are also showing us that colors and tones can also impact our health and well-being. Natural art, for one, seems to be a positive inspiration to healing patients.
Take this nature photograph of two new Canna Lily leaves. One leaf in the photograph is open showing all of its beautiful details while the other is still rolled up and hasn’t opened for the first time. The main color of the photograph is green, the natural color of the leaves. Green is a calm, cool color from the color spectrum. Green is usually associated with the feelings of happiness, excitement, rejuvenation, and enthusiasm. So the image in its full natural color is uplifting. However, subject matter plays a big part in the “feeling” of the photograph as well. If it were something else besides a nature photograph that we were looking at with the main color as green some other feelings may have been invoked.
Other emotions associated with the color green: confident, discerning, valuable, worthwhile, successful, surprised, faithful, important, aware, powerful, greed, relaxation, envious, lucky.
Now watch what happens when you take that color away and all you’re left with is tones. The black and white version of the nature photo, Leaves of Canna Lily has a completely different look and feel. With the nature photographs colors removed, the image is much calmer or soothing rather than rejuvenating and uplifting. It’s still the same subject but the overall feel of the photograph is different.
The same is true when you add hues to the black and white version of the photograph. In the next example I added a Goldish hue to the highlight and a bluish hue to the mid-tones and shadows to create a split-toned version of the nature photograph. Now Leaves of Canna Lily has a slightly colder appearance than the black and white version and a completely different appearance and feel than the original full color version. The cooler appearance of the nature photograph could be considered tranquil and peaceful but it can also seem somber or depressing. Here is the second trick our brain pulls on us when invoking feelings with colors. If you hadn’t seen the original version of this photograph your “feelings” for the Split Toned version would more than likely be different. In the original nature photograph we saw the bright, vivid, uplifting greens and that version is still imprinted on our minds. Now viewing the split-toned version of the nature photograph it appears “colder” and somewhat depressing, why because we are comparing it subconsciously to the previous versions. If we had viewed this nature photograph by itself it would more than likely invoke a calm or soothing feeling like the black and white version invoked.
Now let’s see what happens when we add warmer colors to the nature photograph. With this version of the nature photo Leaves of Canna Lily I added an orange overlay to give the nature photo an abstract look. Feelings that may be invoked with the addition of the orange color could be stimulating, energizing, overwhelming, daring, confusion, and anxiousness possibly startling to some viewers. Once again, our brains will play tricks on us. We all know that the leaves are various shades of green not bright construction sign orange; we have spent our lives absorbing the various colors of things.
When you alter the colors of a well-known object our mind it trying to sort out what we are looking at, thus creating a state of momentary confusion. This color Orange isn’t normally found in nature, it’s usually associated with caution in construction zones. Our minds will pick up on the “color” and quickly associates it to the feeling before it realizes the object / subject of the photograph. Once we see both color and object the feeling of the photograph may change to one of the more positive emotion like energizing and bold.
The use of color in your photographs can create different emotions in the views of your work and these emotions will vary based on the viewer. So you will never be able to create a piece of work that moves or inspires everyone the same way. Your best bet is to create what you like based on your own feelings and creative eye but keep in mind some of the feelings or emotions of the viewer. This will help you better communicate to your audience when you speak about the piece.
Leave me some feedback below on how each image makes you feel when you view them.
About the Author and Photographer:
Melissa Fague is an emerging nature and landscape photographer from Bear, Delaware USA. In just a few short years her work has been published over two dozen times and she has won multiple national and international awards for her beautiful photographs. Her most recent accomplishment is her first published photograph in an international publication with a worldwide distribution, “Landscape Photography Magazine”. Melissa is passionate about the art of photography and nature. Exploring areas and creating photographs is her form of stress relief and art therapy, but she also loves to share her visions so that others can enjoy. Her goal is to one day be ranked among the most famous nature photographers in the world. All of Melissa’s nature and landscape photographs are available for purchase, visit Pi Photography and Fine Art.