In a world filled with so much color, it’s a shame that we don’t find more ways to utilize it in our art. While neutral backgrounds and black and white photographs have a clean and classic aesthetic, there is something to be said about how color can be a storytelling device or a creative component to your imagery. Being able to add color or see how to capture vibrant colors in photography starts from understanding a bit of color theory and how to apply it to your photography. Take for instance the color wheel:
Studying opposing colors helps you better understand which colors work together in a scene that can help train your eye to see them in elements you are shooting it. Understanding the color wheel can also help dictate what colors your clients should wear in order to pop in certain scenes rather than blend in. Seeing color in everyday scenes starts by studying images training your eye to notice how color is being used, once you’ve trained your eye you can even start adding color into scenes to make them more complex and elevated.
Let’s discuss a couple of ways of how to capture vibrant colors in photography with the help of some of our insanely talented community of photographers from our Lightroom Education & Lightroom Presets Facebook group:
1. Colored Gels – Off-Camera Flash
Part of using colored gels with flash means discerning the difference between using gels for corrective or creative purposes. Most wedding and event photographers are used to having a CTO gel on hand for indoor shoots to match the ambient light from overhead ceiling lights in order to correctly portray skin tones with accurate color. However, colored gels can be added to bland & boring scenes to make for a more interesting image. You can even combine in-camera white balance shifts with colored gels to enhance or alter the colors of your skies.
“For this image of my client Alyssa, I wanted to make it look like she was under the bright stadium lights instead of standing in my portrait studio. I decided to create the colors of her team using two MagMod MagGels to achieve these beautiful bright pops of color behind her and sprayed atmosphere aerosol in front of them to really help the color spread. The colors make the image more personal to her because they are the same as her team and highschool. We took several variations of this image in different stances and kept the color pallet the same to look killer in her album spreads.”
“I have always wanted to do a boxing session with a female boxer, but I wanted to use someone that actually knew how to box and not just a model wearing gloves. Searching Instagram, I found this model via a local boxing club and she was very much down to do it. As soon as she brought out her gloves, I knew that I wanted to do a color or gelled shot. I wanted to make sure that it was more than just a “boxing” pic and the red color just helped up the “intensity” of the shot. To give the background some more interest, I used a red gel behind her with smoke (aerosol atmosphere). Selecting a wide-angle lens to create some distortion, I gave her the nod to just work the bag and I just fired away and ended up catching my favorite shot of 2019! This is a three-light setup; gridded beauty dish from above, gridded strip box from camera left and the third light with a gel and just a standard reflector.”
“Shot on a Nikon D800 with 50mm f/1.4G and Lit with 3 Profoto B2 lights. 1 in a large soft box (white) behind the deep red paper from savage universal shooting through the circle cutout. 1 camera left with a blue gel and 1 camera right with a red gel.”
“2. Color Temperature – In-Camera White Balance
Color temperature is a numerical system for measuring color on a warm-to-cool spectrum. Often times we shift to Auto White Balance to save time and have one less menu item to worry about but there is so much creative potential that lies in varying your color temperature in-camera. To help you better understand how to shift your white balance in-camera, we made a quick one-minute tutorial!
“When you are shooting in the Caribbean, the color of the water is absolutely everything but sometimes, you need to break up that expanse of blue with some other color to help tell the story. As we were exploring the island, we came across this incredible little graffitied boat sitting in the waves. The power of that intense yellow color playing against the complimentary teal and blue waves gives warmth and emotional impact to the image that stopped me in my tracks.”
“This photo was taken 15 minutes post-sunset on an extraordinarily cloudy day. The color you see here is real! Sometimes our Blue hour turns into a purple hour. I’ve only ever seen it a couple of times in the decade I’ve lived here, and I was so happy to be shooting on a day when it was happening!”
3. Color Toning – Post Production
A great way of how to capture vibrant colors in photography that may or may not have existed in your natural scene is to edit or enhance in post. While some disagree in altering the natural state of a photograph, it can be argued that editing is all part of the creative process. There are three ways to edit color in Lightroom and endless possibilities with Photoshop.
“Instead of implementing colored gels to add color to my frame, I decided to work with the colors and tones of this image to emphasize the warmth of the sunset. Even though it’s such a small part of this frame, the orange glow from that rectangle ended up being the inspiration to make this image have a strong warmth. I used the Visual Flow Preset System to dial in the right tones and used the Dark Mode preset specifically to underexpose the image. I then cooled down the couples’ skin tones to make sure they weren’t looking like oompa loompas and this was the final result!”
4. Colorful Scenes
Don’t want to use color or add it in post? Another way of how to capture vibrant colors in photography is to simply look for it within your scenes. Often times we look for neutral backgrounds to not overpower our subjects but try straying out of your comfort zone and seeing how color can be part of your storytelling. These image examples either used a colored product or found scenes where color exists to help balance out the image:
“My partner Hector Vazquez and I executed this shot for our LGBTQ couple after they expressed how they wanted to incorporate smoke bombs into their wedding. We knew this had to be executed after dark, as their ceremony was closer to sunset. We decided to incorporate their entire bridal party, each person holding 2 colored smoke bombs, to essentially make a rainbow. We placed a MagSphere behind the group to light up the smoke bombs, and a MagGrid on an AD200, camera left to illuminate the couple. Our couple fell in love with this shot, and it has now become one of our staple display images. We love working with LGBTQ couples, and love to show diversity in our imagery.”
“There are few dog breeds that look more dynamic in photos than a Dalmatian. Their striking and instantly recognizable black spots on a white background are a joy for many artists. The dogs’ owner and I opted to photograph the dogs with brightly colored powder applied to their bodies, which poured off them as they ran and jumped in my studio. The powder amplifies the action, the color draws the eye, and the strobes freeze everything with crisp detail. These factors make this image one of my favorite and most successful photos.”
“This image was from our smoke bomb photography tutorial. It took some time to mess around with the position of the smoke bombs so that you could still see Shiv, but ultimately it ended up working out!” Smoke bombs are a great way to add color to your image while also adding a whimsical or mystical element to your scene.
“If you take a look at my work I am constantly using and adding color into my images. I saw a piece of crazy shiny wrapping paper at Hilary & Katie’s wedding and thought “I wonder what would happen if I photographed through it?” And this was the result!”
“I used the colorful painting behind the bride as a vibrant, geometrical background to make the photo more unique than most “hairspray” photos. The color in this photo is what makes it so good!”
“Vibrant colors routinely find their way into my work. This sculpture is only of my town’s only public art pieces and had been something I wanted to incorporate into a photo when the opportunity presented itself. The bride had met her partner in Peru while traveling and for a while, her family had no idea who this person was…only that they brought out the vibrancy in her. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight her while keeping them a mystery. It could be a person of any gender, race or color and that mystery contrasted with her joy and the color is what pulled together a strong and fun image.”
“When I first met up with this couple for their engagement session they were both dressed in black. It was also cold and rainy outside so we were forced to come indoors for the shoot. So right from the start, I knew I wanted to bring in lots of colors to brighten up the look and feel of the session. No better way to feature and contrast their black outfits than placing them against vibrant colored walls. Previously, before the couple arrived I scouted our location. I came across the entrance to the bathrooms which had bright blue and orange walls with extra-large gender restroom emblems. I knew immediately I was going to use that for the shoot but I wasn’t exactly sure how I would do this. It’s in a dark area of the venue and management does not permit tripods or light stands on the property. They are not fond of big flashy lights either. Nonetheless, when I saw the couple’s dark outfits I went straight to the bathrooms with them. You could imagine the look on their faces when I told them I wanted to shoot there. Anyway, when we arrived I had to figure out a way to use just one handheld speedlight so I wouldn’t get in trouble with management. I posed the couple by each emblem but with their backs to the colored walls illuminated by the light fixtures. These lights created even more contrast between the wall and their dark outfits. The colors were brighter and the couple almost had a silhouette feel to their bodies. I then had my wife hold the light from camera left with a MagSphere and MagGrid. I had her feather the light so it could reach both of them without casting on the wall too much. In a perfect world, I would have preferred more than one light but if I was going to get this shot we had to go with what was possible at the moment. We had to take several shots because we kept getting interrupted by customers wanting to use the bathroom. Honestly, it’s a miracle they didn’t call the security guard on us.”
“Incorporating color for this couple was a must! I wanted to show off their fun, youthful, goofy sides! Venice Beach area is full of murals and art that are unique and colorful. I knew it was the perfect place to do a morning session with this couple. For this photo, I saw the colorful lines and knew that it would be a great photo to try a reflection shot with. The laughs were all them! Just a super fun-loving couple!”