Why You Should Limit Your Color Palette in Photography

When composing a photograph, you pay attention to how you want to place your elements in the frame. Along with placement of subject, the choice of colors is important, too. Images with too many colors can get busy and distracting. On the other hand, images with a minimalist approach to color can stand out and carry a strong message. Photographer Ted Forbes talks about how you can get effective results by limiting your color palette:

A palette, in the literal sense, is a flat surface with rounded edges that a painter uses to put paints on while working on a painting. Experienced painters usually work with a set of colors that works best for them and carries the message that they want to convey.

In photography, it is the intention of the photographer that defines the color palette. For instance, let’s have a look at the following image by Steve McCurry. This is the famous “Afghan Girl” taken by Steve McCurry using a Nikon FM2, 105mm f/2.5 lens and Kodachrome 64 film:

afghan girl image with minimal color palette

Image of the Afghan Girl taken with minimal color palette

If you pay attention to the colors in this image, you can primarily see green and reds, which are complementary colors, and then the skin tone. Even the green garment worn by the girl matches with the background. McCurry portrayed refugeesĀ  brilliantly by using this simple color palette. It has further put emphasis on the intensity in the girl’s eyes.

The idea is to be clear on your intent. What do you want to convey with your image? Once you determine that, use a limited color palette to define the mood of the image. Your next image may turn out to be iconic, as well.

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One response to “Why You Should Limit Your Color Palette in Photography”

  1. Robert Meyerson says:

    Great topic. Thanks.

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