Complementary Colors in Photography
Image © Randy McKown

When was the last time you thought about complementary colors or the color wheel in general? You remember the color wheel, right? It was that thing in grade school that you told yourself you would never actually need to know. Yeah, Guess what — you need to know it now.

Complementary Colors

When two colors are mixed in the proper proportions they create a neutral color, we call these complimentary colors. To put it simple, they are two colors which are opposite one another on the color wheel. These colors contrast each other and when placed side by side, appear to be more bright and vivid than they really are. This makes them very pleasing to the eye.

You can see on the color wheel that blue and orange are opposite of one another, making them complimentary colors. That’s why I waited until the trees were filled with bright golden foliage to shoot the blue parrot in the photo above.

Sometimes you will stumble across complimentary colors completely by accident. Other times, you will have to physically modify a scene if you want to include them. In the image of the parrot, it was a matter of patiently waiting until the right time of year for the magic to happen naturally.

Complementary Colors in Photography

Complimentary colors tend to stand out and make a lasting impression on the viewer. Many corporations use complimentary colors in their logos and branding because of this. A persons sub-conscious association with a specific event or emotion can also be easily influenced through complimentary colors. For example, let’s think about Christmas. What two colors come to mind? That’s right, red and green.

When you’re out and about with your camera, keep your eyes open for complimentary colors. You never know when you might find an amazing photo in something you walk by every day.