Monochromatic Color Photography Tips

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If you conduct a search on websites like Flickr, 500px, or Instagram using the search phrase, monochromatic color, you’ll see a confusing array of pictures that have been tagged with this art terminology.

Let’s begin this Quick Tip with some definitions and examples.

monochromatic color photo

Photo by Jen Theodore

Monochromatic Color

Monochromatic colors are all the colors of a single hue. Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue and extended using its shades, tones, and tints.

The above photo is a perfect example of monochromatic color found in nature.

monochromatic color explained with color wheel

Photo by Kent DuFault

Quick Tip: When you create a monochromatic color photo, it’s said to have a Monochromatic Color Scheme. The term Monochrome is interchangeable with Monochromatic when referring to color photography. However, Monochrome is also used to describe a black and white photograph. This can be confusing because we don’t think of a black and white image as having color. However, when using the term Monochrome to describe a black and white photo, the color is gray. A black and white photo is comprised of varying tones of gray from black to white.

The photograph of the window, with the window box and flowers, was tagged on a popular stock photography website as having monochromatic color.

Does it have a monochromatic color scheme?

One might be tempted to say, “yes,” because of the disproportionate amount of blue within the scene.

color wheel showing the tricolor scheme of photo

Photo by Vincent Giersch with edits by Kent DuFault

However, we can plainly see that there are three distinct color hues in this shot. This photo was mislabeled as a monochromatic color image. Instead, it relies on the composition tool known as Color Contrast. It’s actually displaying what’s known as a Three-Point, Tricolor, Color Scheme.

Why should you consider using monochromatic color in your photos?

Quick Tip: Monochromatic color creates a mood. It influences the mind to perceive certain values and situations. It also evokes a sense of unity.

Have you ever noticed that in the movies, when a scene is shot in a hot location, such as a desert, the film director will have a yellow-orange monochromatic color scheme over the entire frame? This creates the feeling of heat. How about a scene set in Alaska? Chances are it will have a monochromatic color scheme set in blue. Blue monochromatic color evokes a feeling of cold.

According to Gestalt Theory, (an advanced study on art composition and perception), our brain relies heavily upon pattern recognition to give context to the content of a photograph. The more patterns we find – for example, repeated monochromatic colors in a single scheme – the easier it is to process the image. That, in turn, makes us more likely to find the photograph pleasing.

sunset photo with monochromatic color scheme

Photo by Kent DuFault

Have you ever wondered why sunset photography is always liked and admired?

The answer is easy. These photos generally display a monochromatic color scheme!

monochromatic color scheme ruined by contrasting metal bracket

Photo by Matese Fields

Quick Tip: When creating a monochromatic photo, make sure that there are no opposing colors within the shot!

When you look at the example photo (above), where do the eyes immediately travel? They probably go straight to the metal bracket on the wall to the left. They do this because of the color contrast. The metal bracket is an opposing color (on the color wheel) to the rest of the scene, and it ruins the impact of an attempted monochromatic color scheme for this picture.

true monochromatic color scheme with metal bracket adjusted to match

Photo by Matese Fields with edit by Kent DuFault

Look what happens when the metal bracket is brought back into the monochromatic color scheme? The image now has unity, as it was initially intended.

Is monochromatic color right for every scene and situation?

Certainly not. But, when the time is right, using this knowledge will help you create a dazzling photo that will knock your viewers’ socks off!

About the Author:
Kent DuFault is an author and photographer with over 35 years of experience. He’s currently the director of content at the online photography school, Photzy.

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