Emotion of Color

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” - Claude Monet

“Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.” – Pablo Picasso

“The chief function of color should be to serve expression.” – Henri Matisse

These famous artists all had something in common, their use and love for color. They used color to shape their work and to showcase the depth of human emotions. Did you know there is an actual term, Color Psychology? It is the study of how humans interact with color. Reaction to color is instantaneous, and it’s a powerful psychological tool. 

In both art and photography, the color will define the image’s mood, and manipulating your colors or color tones can change the image’s emotion for you and the viewer. 

Let’s review some key colors and how they can impact the emotions in your images. 

Blue can be seen as calming, elements of water and sky. It can also evoke sadness, such in Pablo Picasso’s works during his “blue period.” 

Green is almost always associated with nature, good luck, health, soothing. That is how the “green room” was named, a place for waiting actors to relax and get ready for a performance. 

Purple is the color that is associated with royalty, creativity, and imagination. The color purple was a hard pigment to produce; therefore, the demand was high, and only royals could purchase it. 

Red can show many emotions based on its use. It is the strongest of colors; many marketers use this color to grab attention. Look around at the brands you use, and you will see a lot of the color red. 

Orange is also attention-seeking; it is a vibrant color. The artist Mark Rothko often used the color orange to bring out emotions and energy. 

Yellow is, of course, the most bright and can trigger strong emotions. I have always heard that you should not use yellow in your child’s nursery room. It is cheery but can also be abrasive. It is also associated with appetite stimulations; think about McDonald’s. There is a reason the large sign is yellow! 

How can we use the emotions of color in our photography? 

A couple of ideas to get you started:

  • Think about color combinations if you shoot a portrait, documentary, or any staged shots. What emotions do you want to showcase, how do you want the viewer to feel when they see the image?
  • When editing, think about the color in the image. You have many editing choices that can help bring out the emotion or reduce a color’s feeling in your photo. Using the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance sliders, you can make small tweaks to impact the overall mood or tones. 
  • Use your blacks and whites to alter the depth of color in an image. Think about the color red. When shooting a red rose, you can decide to capture it in a brilliant way that expresses love. Or you could shoot it with a darker background, reduced lighting and capture it as an emotion of sadness, loss. 
  • Think about your background as well as the subject in your images. Changing the background colors can impact the subject and the overall image. Adding complementary colors or monochrome colors can affect the widespread emotion of the picture. 

Much like Monet and Picasso, we too can paint with color in our photography to bring out our subjects’ emotions. Matisse said,  “When I put down the green, it doesn’t mean grass, and when I put down blue, it doesn’t mean sky.” Matisse was able to evoke an emotional response and connect a feeling to the colors he used throughout his paintings. We, too, can do that with photography. 

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