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The 1 step you can do to make your photos stand out on overcrowded social media platforms!

Coffee on and brewing:

Hello lovely folk, how are you all today. I am in the best of moods and it is all because of this week's topic!

Colour Theory. Or more specifically, colour harmonies.

Me, basking in all the colours!

Queue looking up lots and lots of amazing images of beautifully coloured items. Also queue looking up so much stationary. What I learned this week, and what maybe I secretly knew the whole time, my stationary addiction stems from the fact that it photographs so beautifully and it comes in so many colours that you can always create beautiful images.

Of course this can be true of any product, but there is something so satisfying when all the markers in a display are organised by colour.

Anyway I have digressed so far from where I meant to be, so let's go back. This week I will be looking at colour theory, specifically one area of a huge complex area called colour harmonies, what they are and how to use them for more impactful photos in your social media and online visuals.

Coffee brewed, let us dive in: What is colour theory?

Colour theory is the concept of organising colours by how they are perceived based on both scientific and artistic reasoning. It is a huge and complex area pulling in knowledge from physics and almost all forms of arts. However, it is almost never taught in photography and certainly rarely considered by photographers.

Sir Issac Newton created perhaps the most known aspect of Colour Theory in the form of the colour wheel in 1666, (according to wikipedia and pretty much every blog I have ever read on this topic). So it certainly is not a new concept but one that is critical to any form of visual media. It is also one they has developed due to us shifting from physical to digitial forms of colour. Sir Issac Newton never had deal with screen contrat and brightness I can tell you! Nor did he ever suffer the frustration of when his picture looks one way online and totally different once printed. But again I am digressing - all these colours have me a flutter and out of focus, but thanks to last month we knwo now lots of ways to gain focus.

So let us cover the key concepts of colour theory that are neatly summarised in the colour wheel. To start with you have three categories of colours, primary, secondary and tertiary.

Primary colours are colours that can not be mixed or created. They are the most basic colours or building blocks for all other colours.

Primary colours - Blue, Red and Yellow

But why these colours? Well, like photography being about light, so is colour. All the colours that we perceive are actually light waves that are processed by our eyes and brains and interpreted as various colours.

How cool is that? And it gets even cooler.

Humans can only see the primary colours but our brains can recognise mixes of these three colours and create over 10million colour variations.

We are lucky with our three colours and millions of variations, a lot creatures like fish, spiders and cats only see two primary colours. Of course some creatures see more than us, such as birds that can see up to seven colours. Just imagine how colourful the world would be with seven primary colours! How many variations they must be able to see?

So secondary colours are the first level of these variations. By mixing the primary colours you can get three more core colours - Green, Orange, and Purple/Violet. These are 50:50 mixes.

Secondary colours - Green (blue & yellow), Orange (red & yellow) and Purple (blue & red)

Finally tertiary colours are a 50:50 mix of a primary and a secondary colour (or 25:75 mix of the relevant primary colours). Of course from this you can keep mixing different mixes till you get to the 10 million or so that our brain recognises but I will stop at three levels of mixing!

Tertiary colours - Blue Green, Red Orange, Yellow Green, Red Purple, Yellow Orange, Blue Purple!

How can I utilise that in my photography? By using Colour Harmonies.

Ok so we now know that there are all these colours and they look nice on a wheel but how can I utilise this in my photography?

Well now the fun begins. By having the colours organised in the wheel we can easily pull out different combinations that have distinct impressions. These are called palettes or colour harmonies depending on which field you are coming from. Choosing the right colour harmony will take any photo from meh to WOW. So let us look at the most common harmonies.


What is it: Complementary harmonies include two colours directly opposite each other on the wheel.

How to use it: They are always high contrast and energetic but can be overwhelming or blinding if overused. They can be good for inspiring action and conveying strength but also can be very dramatic and aggressive. They are often seen as quite amateurish and undermine a professional impression. They also are not a good harmony choice when text is involved. I would recommend using this harmony to choose a composition where colour is blocked and not repeated too often and in proportion so as not to overwhelm the image as a whole.

Split complementary

What is it: The same as a complementary harmony but one of the colours is replaced by the colours either side of it!

How to use it: It still has good contrast but there is less tension or aggression with this combination. It is a way to have impact without going overboard and can be useful when you want to introduce a third colour. But all I said for complementary harmonies applies here too, just slightly toned down each time.


What is it: A triad is a selection of three colours that are evenly spaced on the wheel.

How to use it: A triad is a good option when you want a strong contrast with less of the over the topness of the complementary harmonies. It results in a more balanced feeling but still has more energy or dynamics to it than the analogous harmonies. It is also a good option when you want to include more colour options in your design.


What is it: A tetrad is a selection of four equally spaced colours in the wheel.

How to use it: Similar to a triad, it is a good option when you want contrast but not too much tension in the image. Again, like the triad when you want more colour options a tetrad can be a good way to go.


What is it: Analogous harmonies are three colours beside each other on the wheel.

How to use it: Analogous has low contrast which results in a calming effect. It is often found in nature so you know it must be good. It is instinctively pleasing to the eye and conveys positive emotions of calm, peace and happiness. It just has this amazing soothing effect. Which means we will look longer at this than something (eg complementary harmonies) that are more in your face. It is the easiest harmony to use successfully but bare in mind the low contrast so good lighting and utilising other elements such as textures will be required to provide the contrast to maintain visual interest and details or what you are photographing.

So there are the 5 most established harmonies in descending contrast order. As contrast goes down, so does the drama and choosing the right harmony that has impact and drama to make your image stand out without being obnoxious is the key to success.

Why is any of this important? It can lead to better branding and ultimately more sales.

So now with this new information you can keep an eye out for colour combinations that will work for your business, brand and products. “People decide whether or not they like a product in 90 seconds or less. 90% of that decision is based solely on color. So, a very important part of your branding must focus on color.” - quote stolen from internet unable to find original source.

If you create a lot of green products it might be worth investing in colours from the colour harmony of your choice. As well making more informed choices about your prop colours, how to lay them out and organise the set up can also be informed by this information. All resulting in an image that will stand out on social media and make people instinctively like it more.

Can’t wait to see all your images popping online and standing out from the crowd.

Final sips of coffee:

That is a lot of options and information so I will stop here for now. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of colour theory and colour harmonies. What we have discussed here is all hue based - aka pure colours. For those keen for more you can go deeper into colour theory and start to look at tones(greys), tints (whites) and shades (blacks) being added into the mix! or just wait till next week for my next blog which cover just that!

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