Taking Better Photos: Part 1.0 - Introduction to Colour Psychology

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Taking Better Photos: Part 1.0 - Introduction to Colour Psychology



Taking Better Photos: Part 1.0 - Introduction to Colour Psychology

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The word "color" is spelled "colour" outside of the United States. mashedpopoto uses the Queen's English*


What is this, a post that isn't an anime figure review!? If you read my About Me page, you'll have noticed that this blog is supposed to include other things, namely my creative process for photography and not-anime figures.

It's time I hold up my end of the bargain!

This is the first of series of blog posts I'll be writing on how to take better anime figure shots, or at the very least understand what goes into a great shot. A lot of this information actually applies to other forms of photography, so I hope you get something valuable from it!

Without further ado, let's get started on today's topic.


*I won't be going too deep into the technical aspects of colour as there's already an abundance of resources for this.

Rather, I want to explore the considerations you should have when taking anime figure shots and how you can be more intentional with colour.

Oh, and this article has NSFW examples, you have been warned.*

Why is Colour Important? Storytelling!

Each of our five senses rely on their own unique set of sensations—delineating a behavioural response towards certain stimuli.

So if loudness is a sensation of hearing, temperature a sensation of touch, then I'm sure you can guess what sense colour is related to.

The window to your soul.

Out of all your five senses, sight is arguably the most important in helping us quickly obtain contextual information throughout our daily lives.

As a sensory input to sight, colour can be used to provide context, tell a story and elicit an emotional response. Let's explore this further!

Left: Café Terrace at Night. Right: The Starry Night - Vincent Van Gogh

Pictured above are two paintings by Van Gogh. How does each painting make you feel?

As I'm sure you've realised, it's not as simple as colour x = response y. The context of a colour is just as (if not) important in determining how it is perceived.

Both artworks are a depiction of France at night and use very similar colour palettes. Rather, the difference is in the brushwork—The Starry Night featuring what I'd describe as chaotic, turbulent strokes compared to Café Terrace at Night.

Consequently, the predominantly blue sky in combination with said brushwork lets us imagine an agitated Van Gogh, painting in frustration whilst the blue sky in Café Terrace is more akin to awe or appreciation of the scenery in front of him.

This is getting a bit long winded so I'll finish this impromptu Van Gogh art study by mentioning that Van Gogh's mental state was much worse when he painted The Starry Night (in a mental asylum no less) than that of Café Terrace, which was created earlier in his life.

The key idea I want you to get from this is that colour and context have an intrinsic relationship. When combined, they become an extremely powerful storytelling tool.

The beauty of photography as a creative medium is that it's ultimately up to you to decide what this context is—whether this be your own interpretation of an anime character's backstory, or the how an anime figure makes YOU feel.

Introducing an Important Ally, The Colour Wheel!

I can sing a rainbow! sing a rainbow...

The colour wheel as pictured above is one of the most important tools in identifying the most suitable colours for your own storytelling needs. It's used to determine relationships between colours, and why some parings do or don't work.

Before we can look at this however, we need to understand what each colour represents.

Warm Colours (Red, Orange, Yellow)

Red, orange, and yellow. These are the colours you may associate with passion, energy, or excitement. There's obviously more nuance to this, but let's dive deeper with a few examples:

Here's an old shot I took of Koto's Akagi. Looking back, there's a bit of green tint here but let's ignore that for now :)
While I don't play Azur Lane, I did some research on Akagi's character and understood her to be very passionate about her love for the captain (player). As such I felt an orangey-red flame would be appropriate to convey the vitality or one may even say, virility of Akagi for her beloved captain.

Here, we have a shot of Hurdle Shoujo, which happens to be very yellow. I wanted to accentuate this yellow by using… even more shades of yellow. Apart from being highly impactful, this evokes a very strong sense of energy, or even courage. Emphasis on the courage here, as Hurdle's pose and outfit are almost at odds with her confident gaze.

Cool Colours (Green, Blue, Purple)

And here lie your cool colours. As you might expect, these colours provide an opposite effect of their warm cousins: giving a sense of calm, relaxation, and professionalism. Example time!

Here stands Baseball Girl. In the background, it may initially seem that I used green and blue to signal the grass and sky. Yes, this isn't incorrect, but there was actually more thought into this than you might think.

Much like Hurdle, I wanted to convey a bright, happy atmosphere with this shot. So why didn't I just use warm background? In this instance, I felt that the figure already had more than enough excitement - any more would be too much, especially with the sparkles added in post. So as it turns out the cooler colours here help to balance things out considerably.

Have a gander at this shot of Scáthach. To quote Lulu from League of Legends, "Yup, that tasted purple!". To make purple, one must combine red and blue (as it is a secondary colour). Consequently, purple represents a bit of both warmth and coldness, depending on the context. The purple almost evokes a sensual professionalism. Scáthach is hot, and she knows it.

I wanted to maintain this sense of sophistication, so I doubled down on the purple backdrop. In spite of this, we get a glimpse of Scáthach's passion in the red shade of her eyes, which I decided to also bump up in post.

Neutral Colours (Black, White, Gray)

Finally, we have our neutral colours. While neutral may imply that these colours are somewhat weaker and only serve to make other colours pop, this is not their only use case and can be extremely powerful tools when used intentionally. Let's see this for ourselves, shall we?

Here's a shot of Alter's Lala. As I'm sure you've noticed, there is a lot of black in this shot. As a colour, black can signal elegance, mystery, or even death depending on the context. In this case, it's sort of all three; let me explain. Lala in this figure is all about contrast: an innocent expression whilst lifting up her skirt, pink hair and green eyes being complete opposites of each other on the colour wheel, you get the picture.

The only natural contrast I could continue here was black and white.

Aaaand I've just made this post definitively NSFW. With the previous examples though, was that even a question already?

Here we have a shot of Sakura Hina sitting in a very interesting pose. In Western cultures, the colour white generally signals purity, innocence, and virginity (hence why wedding dresses are traditionally this colour). As it happens, we also see fragments of these signals in Sakura's seemingly innocent/confused expression. You know, apart from the fact that she's baring her breasts.

Once again, the word of the day here is contrast. Considering that Sakura's outfit is primarily white, and her aforementioned expression evokes innocence, I wanted to further emphasise this by making the background an almost blinding white - stacking the odds a bit more towards purity. Not that it'll do much when she's dressed like that.

On why you should care.

And that brings us to the end of this post. The key takeaway I'd like you to get from this is to consider the context colour can provide to a viewer of your photography. The thing about anime figure photography however, is that some of that context has already been decided for you.

Our work in this sense is inherently derivative, meaning that we're creating something based on an original creation (this actually begins to delve into copyright law, but that's not what I'm trying to say here). This in my opinion makes it even more important to be thoughtful of how we photograph our figures, as a certain proportion of creative potential has already been claimed by the creators of the figure you're photographing.

Of course, it's not as simple as "I only have X creative potential left because the original illustrator, figure sculptor/painter and manufacturer have claimed Y". It means you can create something that's aesthetically pleasing by taking out your phone and snapping a shot of a figure sitting on your desk. In fact, this is what most people do!

To make it VERY CLEAR, there is no problem with this.

However, if you've made it this far then I assume this isn't you. Otherwise, why did you click on an article about taking better anime figure photos? ask yourself:

Out of respect for the creators and myself, am I satisfied with merely taking a "snapshot" of my figures?

If the answer is yes, then I'm sorry for putting you through all this word vomit, hope you got at least something valuable out of it (I'm considering adding a gallery section to my site for people who don't want to read my half-baked ideas)

If the answer is no, then welcome aboard and let's take better photographs together. Because while every shot we take will be inherently derivative, you can do your best to make something transformative.

p.s. this is a the first part of a series, and the next parts will be on the different tools and rules for picking colours using our good friend the colour wheel. Please look forward to it!

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