Colour Theory: Using the Power of Colour to Improve Your Photography

Everyone knows colour is central to the visual arts, photography included. But what many budding photographers don't realise is that a solid understanding of colour theory is an essential foundation for their photography.

Understanding colour theory can help you create compelling and eye-catching compositions that stand out and grab the viewer's attention. In this blog post, we'll explore the basics of color theory in photography and provide some tips for using color to enhance your images.

Colour Theory: Definition

Colour theory is the study of how colours interact with one another and how they can be used to create harmonious and visually appealing compositions.

In photography, using colour theory involves understanding the different colours on the colour wheel, as well as their relationships to one another, in order to take better photographs.

There are three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow), three secondary colors (green, orange, and purple), and six tertiary colors (such as red-orange, blue-green, etc.). Understanding the RGB colour model, the colour wheel, and the relationships between colours can help you create harmonious and balanced compositions.

Learn more about colour theory.

RBG colour model

Before you look at a colour wheel, it's a good idea to get to familiarise yourself with the RGB colour model.
Colour Theory: RGB Colour Model

The RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colour model is an additive colour model used in digital displays and imaging devices. It defines colours by combining varying intensities of red, green, and blue light.

Each colour channel can have values ranging from 0 to 255, representing the intensity of that particular colour. By blending different intensities of these three primary colours, a wide range of colours can be achieved. This model forms the basis for colour representation in digital images, computer screens, and other electronic devices.

Colour Theory: Paint explosion

Colour schemes and harmony

There are various types of colour scheme to explore, with Complementary the most well-known. Two colours that lie directly opposite one another on the colour wheel are considered Complementary. Examples include blue and orange, and red and green.

Others types of harmony include Monochromatic, Analogous, Split Complementary, Triadic and Tetradic.

Monochromatic colour schemes use three different values of the same colour, while Analogous colour schemes use three adjacent colours. Split Complements use a colour and the two adjacent tertiary colours of its complement.

Triadic colour schemes use three evenly spaced colours on the colour wheel, while Tetradic colour schemes use two complementary pairs.

There are many online tools you can use to explore colour theory – for example, this colour wheel and calculator provided free of charge by Sessions College.


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Colour Theory in your photography

Here are some tips for using colour in your photography:

1. Using complementary colours can create a sense of contrast and visual interest in your images.

Complementary colours
2. Monochromatic compositions use variations of a single colour to create a harmonious and unified image.
Monochromatic image

3. Colour harmony refers to the use of colors that are pleasing to the eye and create a sense of balance and unity in an image. Different colour schemes create harmony in different ways, giving you plenty of room to experiment and get creative.

4. Colour temperature refers to the warmth or coolness of a colour. Warm colors, such as red and orange, are associated with energy and excitement, while cool colors, such as blue and green, are associated with calm and relaxation. Paying attention to colour temperature can help you create the mood and atmosphere you want in your images.


Colour theory refers to the way different colours interact with one another. Understanding the relationships and harmonies between different colours enables you to compose and capture more interesting, pleasing and compelling photographs.

Once you understand colour theory, you'll never see colour the same way again! Even better, you're certain to see an improvement in your images almost instantly.

To learn more about colour, download our free 90-page eBook, An Introduction to Photography.

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