How to Apply Color Theory to Your Photos

Sometimes the colors in a photograph just don’t mesh. You may not be able to notice it right away; the photo just seems off for some reason. But it could be as simple as the fact that the colors don’t complement each other. So, how do you know which combinations of colors you should be using together to make your photos pop?

Here, Aaron Nace talks about color theory and, even better, shows us how we can alter colors in Photoshop to really make an image work visually:

As Nace explains, understanding color theory is super useful because you’ll then be able to recognize what colors work best together and make for the most pleasing images.

Using a color wheel, like the one offered by Adobe Color (formerly Kuler), will help you find the best combinations. If you’re focusing on two colors, you’ll want to choose colors that are opposite each other on the wheel; and if you’re going for three colors, then you need to go for the triad.

photoshop color wheel triad

Adobe Color CC is a great resource for photographers.

Applying Color Theory in Photoshop

You can take a screenshot of the color wheel and open it in Photoshop to use the colors on the wheel in your images. Nace uses a stock photo to demonstrate how to do this.

  1. Create a new layer, go to Select and click on Color Range.
  2. Use the eyedropper tool to click on the part of the image where you want to change the color.
  3. Use the eyedropper or brush tool to take the color you choose from the color wheel and fill in the selection with the new foreground color.
  4. Make sure to change the blending mode to color so you don’t just have a flat, solid color without natural shading.

complementing colors photo

You can use the same steps to change all three colors that match up on your color wheel. Also, you might want to adjust opacity if the colors seem excessively saturated; bring them down to make the image look more real and natural.

What other tricks help you use color effectively in your images?

For further training: The Fundamentals of Photo Editing

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One Comment

  1. Danisa Rais says:

    Great tips! It is very important to know the theory to transform one color to another in Photoshop, otherwise your images could get worse.

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