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Working with color in your food or product photography

Let’s talk COLOR.

As a former art school nerd, I love thinking about color. Personally, I find working with color to be largely an intuitive process but, when you do some digging, you'll find there is actual science behind why certain colors work well together.

When you feel stuck around how to approach color in your work, it's always a good idea to look at the color wheel.  Sure, you can go ahead and put random colors together until you see something you like OR you can approach it more strategically. 
But, first, let's define a few things:

Monochromatic colors are varying shades of the same hue. For example, the image below features a mostly monochromatic color scheme, with varying shades of brown.


I find that, in my own work, I don't use monochromatic color schemes very often. However, there are times when a monochromatic color story comes in really handy, and I will talk about that in the next post.

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Complementary colors are colors opposite on another on the color wheel; red/green, blue/orange and purple/yellow. Complementary colors also apply to variations on those colors. For example, pink, since it's a lighter version of red, is a complementary color to lime green.
Because they are opposites, complementary colors feel balanced and visually pleasing. 

Complementary colors:

•Create a sense of balance
•Are eye-catching and impactful
•Make things POP

Analogous colors are colors that are adjacent to one another on the color wheel, like red/dark orange/ light orange or blue/ blue-violet/ red-violet. This article has a great graphic showing analogous colors.

Analogous colors:

•Create a sense of calm 
•Are visually pleasing
•Naturally "go together"


So why is this helpful? Because when you are thoughtful about your color story, you can make more of an impact with your images. 

How? Let's say you are a food photographer shooting a feature on citrus. Since the fruit is the hero of the story, you want it to really pop. Using complementary colors here could be incredibly useful. By placing the lemons, oranges and grapefruit on a turquoise photo background, they suddenly make a much stronger visual impact.

Alternatively, maybe you are less focused on showcasing a specific product or recipe in your photography and instead want to simply create imagery that illustrates your story and feels beautiful and harmonious, in which case you may opt for an analogous color scheme. 

So, how do you begin?

First, think about your photography surfaces. The backdrop you choose for your food or product photography is a huge part of your color story. It sets the tone for the whole shot, so pick carefully. Do you want something neutral? Bold? Bright? Think about the overall look you are trying to create and then pick your photography backdrop accordingly.

Second, consider your props. The hues and textures in the props you choose should work together harmoniously and support your color story without detracting from your subject.

Third, think about garnishes. Obviously, this only applies to food photography but it's an important consideration. For example, in the photo of the cupcakes on the gray surface above, I was clear that I wanted to create an analogous color story and therefore chose various shades of gray, lavender and dark purple.You'll notice that my food stylist continued that color theme in her garnishes on top of the cakes.  It's the same in the shot above the cupcakes-- the cheese board on the rustic dark brown photo surface-- the garnish of red peppercorns on the goat cheese was chosen carefully to fit the color story.

By being intentional with your color choices you can take your images to the next level.

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