I LOVE using color in photography, and there is no time like summer to find it everywhere around you! Colorful photos are so much fun to look at and create. I’m always on the lookout for a great colorful scene or location, but I also have a few tricks for adding my own color pops to images. Here are a few tips to amp up your photos with color:
1. Look for colorful locations.
Brainstorm locations with unique pops of color and keep a running list of places to visit on your summer adventures. Think about all of the places you know of that have fabulous color — splash pads, waterparks, county fairs, berry patches, arcades, playgrounds, and ice cream shops — and go visit with your camera in hand.
Currently on my list to visit is a local ice cream shop with a rainbow wall, a berry farm and our local nursery. Research your city for fun walls, buildings, nature areas, etc. that would be colorful to photograph. I constantly use Google image search to look at photos of businesses to get a glimpse of what they may have on the inside or outside with photographic potential for color. I’ve been known to choose one place over another solely for the color factor!
Bring your camera or GoPro everywhere! Nothing is worse than finding a gem of a location and being without something to capture it with. Sometimes you can find magic where you least expect it, like I did with this rainbow game at Dave and Busters. But remember, the best camera is the one you have with you, so never shy away from capturing a photo with your phone!
2. Add color to your scene.
You might not always find what you are looking for in a given location. So if that’s the case, go ahead and add in some color yourself. Here are a number of quick and easy ways to bring color pops into your images:
One of the easiest ways I add color to any photo is by stocking my kids’ closets with clothes that are colorful. We own all things bright, rainbow and colorful for a reason! Don’t forget about swim suits, jackets, rain boots and other accessories like umbrellas, hats and sunglasses.
If you know you’ll be out on an adventure, dress your kiddos in a coordinated way that will mesh well and coordinate with your environment.
Toys and props
Find colorful toys and other props that your kids want to play with and add them to your photos. There’s no better time than summer to find loads of colorful options. I have a small obsession with pool floats, as they are the perfect accessory for pool and underwater images. You can also try sand toys, chalk, hula hoops, beach balls, tents and giant rainbow sprinklers.
Next on my list to try is using multicolored straws to create a yummy bokeh rainbow effect, like in this image by photographer Erica Williams.
When using larger items, such as the sprinklers, set yourself up for the best success by timing your shoot for the best light of the day. Nothing beats sprinkler bokeh in the yummy golden light!
Food and sweet treats
Using color in photography can be delicious! And, if there’s any time of year that’s prime for all things colorful and sugary it’s summer: Popsicles, candy, ice cream, lollipops, bubble gum — you name it, and my kids would be over the moon to snap a pic with a sweet treat in hand. Plus, ice cream parlors and sweets shops often have colorful walls or decor that make for great colorful photos.
Don’t forget the detail shots! Get the close-up shot of the giant ice cream cone your kiddo is devouring (or letting melt in their hands). The same goes for trips to the berry picking patches. Grab close-ups of those bright red strawberries against the green fields.
Go on flower adventures in a field, take a trip to the greenhouse, check out the lake or pond near you and make campfires. These are all great locations for adding color in photography. Practice shooting at all times of the day to capture the natural color around you, including bright blue skies, and gorgeous sunsets!
Two ways to use the color wheel for help:
1. Complementary colors
When you look at the color wheel, the colors opposite each other are the most complementary to each other. When choosing which swimsuit my daughter would wear with her mermaid fin, I intentionally chose the red stripes as I knew pairing the green and red together would help draw the eyes to her and not have her fin get lost in the colors of the water. The boldest statements you can make when using this strategy would be red/green, blue/orange, and purple/yellow.
2. Analogous colors
Analogous colors are those that are next to each other on the color wheel. I often find myself using analogous colors when deciding on outfits to complement a scene. If I don’t have something that is complementary, my next go-to is to use something that will coordinate well. In my lupine flower field shot, a bright yellow dress would have certainly popped quite a bit more than the light pink she wore, but since pink and purple are so close to each other in the color wheel, the colors work well together and created a soothing image for the eyes.
3. Get creative with colorful compositions.
Look for creative angles:
When using color in photography, snag the safe shots and then start to think outside of the box on how to fill your frame and showcase that color. Get up close and then go wide, stand on a step stool and shoot from above, look for creative angles. Remember, pool and underwater photography isn’t JUST about diving under the water!
As your kids are playing, envision what various angles and vantage points could look like and go for a variety. Chances are you might create some wicked magic when you think outside the box. One of my favorite creative images from this past year is the below image of my husband and daughters. I held the GoPro up as high as I could and removed EVERYTHING in the scene later in editing so that it appeared they were flying into that water.
Use creative lenses for unique shots.
My favorite lens for fun shots is the Sigma 15mm fish-eye lens. It’s fun to play with the distortion and try unique angles and perspectives. I love it for outdoor images because it captures color and skies beautifully.
If I’m not wanting the distorted wide angle but still want to capture the whole scene, the Canon 24-70mm is my typical go to. I can get the whole scene at the 24mm end, and I have the flexibility to zoom in.
Both of these lenses capture color and sky details — summer musts for me — so well. Most of the photos in this very article were captured with one of those lenses, or with my GoPro (which I use for all things in, near or under water).
Use leading lines, fill the frame, grab a fish-eye lens for ultra-wide-angle fun, and don’t be afraid to get close! Distortion and unique framing can be so fun when using color in photography.
Use one of the prop suggestions above and play around with movement. When you’re using color in photography, a twirly dress, a jump into the water, scarves, capes, running, bike riding, throwing things in the air and water splashes can add to the energy of the photo. Combine movement with unique angles or creative lenses to add even more fun!
Give yourself a color challenge.
Whenever I’m feeling uninspired, I remember these tips for using color in photography, and I think of how many of my favorite images are of my kids just being kids. From there, it’s easy to add a colorful prop or think of a colorful location.
Try focusing on one color in your photography for a week. Chances are, if you go on a color hunt you will be more aware of that color and you’ll find it in places you least expect. Create goals and prompts to keep you pushing yourself to use color in photography.
Photos by Jenna Sefkow