Stop the Scroll: 3 Tips for Mastering Your Use of Color

Stop the Scroll: 3 Tips for Mastering Your Use of Color

Have you ever seen those bold modern ads that just force you to stop and look? One got me this week. I was driving, and a billboard had a colossal burger, most likely shot with the 16-35mm lens, and a bold, canary yellow background with that primary McDonalds red. "I need that burger! Wait... I'm a gluten-free vegan!"  I tipped my hat to the photographer and kept driving. 

Color can be a very useful tool in your photographer's toolbox to stop the scroll and get people's attention on your work. Here are three tips that will help you grow in your mastery of color use.

Mastering your use of color by Michelle VanTine Photography

1. Choose Your Main Color and Supporting Colors Strategically

Colors have an impact, not just in the way that they can grab your attention, but in their significance and their references. There’s a whole field of color psychology. Some sort of awareness of the psychology of color is important. It will help deliver the message you are articulating. 

Here are just a few examples of the association between color and it's psychological impact 

I once had a phone interview with a potential cosmetics client who could only describe her disappointment with her recent imagery, as “they read to [her] as childish.” Having never seen the images, I pressed her on what about it read that way to her. She couldn’t pinpoint it, so I had her email me the images so that I could see them myself. The photographer crushed the lighting, sharpness, editing, and composition, but he had used all primary colors! The campaign completely read like a kindergarten classroom. Disaster. 

If you don’t feel naturally gifted with color, Coolors can be a fantastic resource for you. You can upload an image (for example, the product you’re photographing or the dress the model will be wearing) and use the generator to build palettes around that. The site also has hundreds of pre-generated palettes for you to browse.

Coolors allows you to create a palette from an image or browse hundreds of palettes with their palette generator.

This is one of many resources, but the main point is to be intentional about your color. Decide what your palette will be before going into your shoot and be intentional about your color use. 

2. To Modernize Your Color, Make It Flat

I used to drool over the Dr. Jart images and wonder how they got their colors so vibrant and matte-looking. I’m not sure how they achieve the look, but for my work, I found an easy way to get that flat, bold, and modern look: add a low opacity color layer.

On the left: SOOC. In the middle: with an added low opacity background to which I added a little noise. On the right: the finished image for the client.

The picture on the left is the SOOC (straight out of the camera). In the middle photo, I added a fill layer for the background at a low opacity. I added a little noise to the green layer and masked it to let the natural shadows come through. The right image is the finished image delivered to my client. 

The top layer is the subject. The middle layer is a fill layer at low opacity. I added a little noise to it and masked the shadows.

3. You Can Select and Change Specific Colors

On occasion, I want to work on just one color. Sometimes, clients give me a hex code that I need to adhere to for their brand identity. Other times, the prop I want to use is the wrong color, so I need to switch the color of it in post. This video by Phlearn can show you how to do that. It’s easier than you might have assumed.

Color can be a very powerful tool in your work. I hope these tips help. As you work on your upcoming pieces, tag Fstoppers and myself on Instagram (handles below) and show us your color gains. Have you had a favorite "aha!" discovery when it comes to color? Share it in the comments below. 

Michelle VanTine's picture

Michelle creates scroll-stopping images for amazing brands and amazing people. She works with businesses, public figures, sports & products. Titled “Top Sports Photographers in Miami” in 2019 (#5) and 2020 (#4), she was the only female on the list both years. Follow the fun on IG @michellevantinephotography @sportsphotographermiami

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