Taking Better Photos: Part 1.1 - Colour Harmony

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Taking Better Photos: Part 1.1 - Colour Harmony



Taking Better Photos: Part 1.1 - Colour Harmony

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Welcome to part two of my series of blog posts on using colour in your photography. As part one explored the what and the why, these next two sections will explore the most exciting part—the how!  (if you haven't already, I'd highly recommend going through part one first!)

Without further ado, let's get stuck right in!

🎨 Creating Palettes With a Purpose 🎨

As we had established in part one, our use of colour in any shot should be an intentional choice for storytelling purposes, as this explains or builds on the contextual foundation of our subject (in this case, an anime figure).

As a key deliverable for planning our own photography projects, we need to devise a colour palette with purpose.

Through the power of Colour Harmony!

Color Harmony is a set of rules you can apply to the colour wheel in order to create aesthetically pleasing combinations.

Let's take a look at a few of these rules.


Houtengeki - Lily Relium

Complementary colours are ones that are opposite each other on the colour wheel—resulting in strong contrast between the opposing colours.

In this shot of Lily, I used a neutral white background and pink rim lighting to create a dreamy atmosphere whithout detracting attention from Lily herself.

This also has very strong contrast with her blue eyes—drawing attention to them almost immediately!

Use complementary colour harmonies when you want something to stand out.


Split-complementary colours use two adjacent colours from the base colour's complement—also resulting in the strong contrast of its non-split cousin.

By splitting the complement in half however, the overall picture also becomes "easier on the eyes", as there isn't as much attention grabbing from a singular hue.

In the above shot of Priscilla, I used blue as a base, with red and yellow as split-complements. This allows for her red heels/ribbons and yellow hair/eyes/staff/gilding stand out amongst a cool, calming blue background.

Split-complementary colours are inherently more balanced in comparison to a bog standard complementary colour harmony. As such, they're actually pretty hard to mess up! But there's another colour harmony that's even more balanced...

Use split-complementary colour harmonies when you also want things in your shot to stand out without the impact of complementary colours.


Atlier Sophie - Plachta

Triadic colours include three sets that are evenly spaced on the colour wheel. This results in a shot that can appear both vibrant and balanced if executed correctly. Generally, it's wise to use one colour as a base and the other two as accents.

In this shot of Plachta, the figure already featured a triadic colour palette. To add more drama, I used harsher white rim lighting and a dark black background.

I could have used other neutral colours for the backdrop here here as well for a more calm, serene look whilst also staying within a the colour triad. Remember though—each colour in the wheel must equidistant, otherwise the balance can be broken and you begin approaching split-complementary territory.

Use triadic colour harmonies when you want some contrast, richness, and balance.

Square (Tetradic)

Atlier Ryza - Reisalin Stout

Square (also known as Tetradic) colours are similar to triadic ones in that they are evenly spaced, except now there are four instead of three (how very profound).

Apart from there being more colours prevalent in the shot, you also get an elevated level of vibrancy and life that isn't really as easy to achieve with other colour harmonies.

In this shot of Reisalin Stout, the figure itself already featured a square colour harmony:

  • Yellow: coat, vial, flower center
  • Red: shorts, test tubes, tabs
  • Blue: belt, vial
  • Green: base (grass, moss)

To maintain this, I chose to use a muted-green background and white acrylic panel—the last thing I wanted to do was detract from the already stunning use of colour!

The green here also helped to convey a more serene atmosphere, providing further visual balance by "cooling down" the prevalence of the warm reds and yellows.

On that note, do you notice something interesting about the shape of the square on the colour wheel?

Is it just me, or are there two sets of complementary colours!? Yes.

Due to the nature of the colour wheel, all square colour palettes will contain two warm and two cool colours. If these aren't balanced, you risk having an overdone shot (and we don't want that, do we!).

It's a bit of hack to use one base colour and smaller accents of the other three to avoid this.

Use square colour harmonies when your subject is flashy.


I hope you have a better understanding of the underlying considerations you need to make when deciding which colours to use.

Part of this decision process is balancing your storytelling vision with the objective of capturing an aesthetically pleasing shot—which when all is said and done, isn't as easy as it may originally have seemed. Thankfully, there are many tools out there which we can use to help us on this colourful journey, and I'd love to explore them further with you in the next post.

Thanks for reading!

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