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Color
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Color

Colors, more than any other design element, determine the emotional content of a photograph. You can establish the entire mood of a shot by emphasizing a particular color scheme: Reds and oranges are hot and exciting, ready to burn at the touch. Blues and greens are cool and refreshing, the deep runnings of a mountain stream or the freshness of new-mown lawn. Yellows warm us, from the buttery glow of morning sunlight to the romantic amber of candlelight.

You can also use colors to create specific effects. With careful framing and camera angle, you can draw attention to a relatively small but brightly colored subject against a more subdued background—an Indian woman in a colorful sari walking down a dusty path, for example. The danger inherent in color is that unless you are careful in composing your images, bright patches of color may divert the eye to minor parts of a scene.

Vibrant contrasts, particularly among bright primary colors (reds, yellows, and blues), are especially effective in creating dynamic designs. Such contrasts excite the eye, making it jump from one color to the next. In the shot of buoys, for example, the photographer has eliminated all extraneous information so the clash between colors is the predominant design element. Gentler combinations of pastels can create a lighthearted or romantic mood, while earthy tones offer a more natural or organic feel.

Whatever the use of color, weather, lighting, and exposure all influence how colors photograph. Bright, sunny days are good when you want to zap your images with Day-Glo brilliance, while overcast days produce subtle, more saturated color combinations. Exposure, too, affects colors. Conversely, you can subdue colors by overexposing by a half to a full stop.

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