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Understand Color in Photography to Upgrade Your Content

Color in photography is especially important when it comes to product photos and marketing assets. Learn more about color theory and why it should be leveraged by your brand.

We live in a world where color photography is right at our fingertips. Editing and improving our original photographs is also readily available. This opens the door and lens to taking beautiful pictures with our mobile phones and devices wherever we are.

Even high end 35 mm cameras have an automatic setting, allowing anyone to take professional-looking photos. Technology has taken us out of the dark rooms of yesteryear and the time-consuming film development process and launched us into snapping pictures to enjoy in a snap!

What is color photography?

Photography is the art and practice of creating images by recording light either electronically or chemically. Color photography, unlike black and white monochrome photography that employs only shades of gray, uses media to capture and reproduce colors. Photography plays an important role in both our personal and professional lives.

Today’s consumer expects their favorite brands to wow them with creative content, professional photographs, and visually appealing graphics. There is tons of noise out there competing for your attention. It's just like an ongoing competition and you want to do everything you can to win.

Where did color photography begin?

Let’s go back in time and answer the question. When was color photography invented? This information will help you understand where it all started and appreciate how far we have come. It all started a very long time ago during the 17th century when Sir Isaac Newton split a ray of sunshine revealing seven colors of the spectrum. This opened the scientific door to others seeking the answer, too. It was more complicated than you might imagine, but one thing was certain. It was all about light.

Black and white photography continued as the norm for nearly 200 years after Newton's discovery. Then, in 1839, when everyday folks became bored with black and white photos and lost their patience waiting for science to come to the colorful rescue. They used their creativity and ingenuity and began using paints to add color to black and white photos. If there’s a will there’s a way, right? Then, throughout the world, different inventors, including James Clerk Maxwell, Louis Lumière, Auguste Lumiere, and Thomas Sutton had a hand in making color photography a reality.

According to Wikipedia, the foundation of all color processes, the three-color method was by James Clerk Maxwell in 1855, and the first color photograph was produced by Thomas Sutton for a Maxwell lecture in 1861 where this three-color method was introduced.

Back in the day, taking photos of any kind was extremely difficult, expensive and time-consuming. Photography was left to the professionals, who had to use large cameras, lights and other heavy equipment. As time marched on, more technology was introduced, until 1935 when Kodak Research Labs invented Kodachrome, which became well known for developing photos featuring rich warm tones and sharpness. Kodak enjoyed this popular process for more than 70 years.

Then, an Eastman Kodak engineer, Steven Sasson developed the first digital camera which opened the door to more inventions and technology, leading to the 1990’s when computers, digital cameras, and mobile phones became mainstream, took over the market and became a part of our everyday lives. Today, nearly 200 years from when it all began, color photography is at our fingertips, and a tool to help us build our brands and businesses.

Tips for shooting color in photography

Color in photography is the key to striking eye-catching results. A great color photo is a combination of art, science and individual style. This is where you can use photos to build and grow your brand. Color can help you tell your story and build your brand when used consistently. Take a look at some basic tips to help you take amazing color photographs.

Select a color palette

A color palette is a combination or set of colors you use to build your brand and create a positive user experience. There is no right or wrong with the colors you choose, but it’s important to note that a color wheel exists that will help you see colors work and look great together. A color wheel showcases primary colors, red, yellow and blue. These colors combine with a neighbor color to create secondary colors, green, purple and orange. You can use a color wheel to easily select a color palette. Other easy ways to select a color palette are online resources like Canva, Adobe Color, ColorSpace and Mailchimp, which provide ready-to-use templates that include color palettes.

Create a color balance

Warm colors are usually blends of orange, red, yellow. These colors comfort each other psychologically and are viewed as comforting and inviting. They are also linked to things like hunger. Famous brands that use warm colors, including red, in their marketing are Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Wendy’s.

Cool colors are blends of green, blue, and magenta and are associated with calmness, refreshment, and wisdom. Neutrals, including white, silver and gray are in this category. Hospitals often use a cool color palette in their branding. Social media giants, Facebook and Twitter both have blue logos, Starbucks uses green and Apple uses neutrals.

Select a visual appealing background

Your entire photograph matters. This includes the background.

Less is more when it comes to an effective background. If your focus is a product or person, the concentration should be on that, not what is happening in the background…that is unless this is part of your marketing strategy. A plain, neutral backdrop is an ideal situation for a staged photo. If you are outside, the sky or long fence, for example, will provide an effective background.

Instead of taking the picture up close and personal, especially when taking a photo of people, create some distance between the background and the subject to give the effect of dimension. This will also create a blurred effect in the background, which is visually appealing. Another idea is to zoom in on the product or part of the product so nearly all the background is cropped out of the photo, eliminating any distractions. This is great for product photos.

Get to know your light

The amount of light you use in your photography is essential in creating a mood or personality. When you are inside a studio, for example, you can experiment with lighting fixtures that feature a variety of light levels, flash lighting and other manipulations to get the right look.

There are amazing tools on the market today to help you get the perfect light for your shot. Lighting allows you to create soft shadows, brilliant colors, moody effects and more. This takes practice and as you become familiar with what works, it gets easier over time. If you are taking photos outside, natural lighting is your friend. The time of day will provide different amounts of light for you to experiment with and master. For example, it is best to position your product or model towards natural light. If a person is your model, pose them away from looking into the sunlight. It will cause them to squint and possible unwanted shadows.

How do you edit color in photos?

Any color in photography is easy to correct. It is common practice to fix what you might not like in original color photography. Magazine editors have mastered this technique and so can you.

There are many free tools available to help you in your photo editing journey. They are easy to use and allow you to crop and resize an image, adjust the contrast and exposure, adjust the sharpness and even edit the colors. There are also features to add elements to your photo like graphics, photo inside a photo and more.

Simply download the original photo into the program and let the magic begin. There are many popular free tools that give you the opportunity to make your photo exactly how you want are Canva, Adobe Photoshop, Gimp, Lightroom, and Mailchimp Photo Editor. Many mobile phone cameras include the editing feature right inside the camera, making editing instant and right at your fingertips.

Mailchimp's Creative Assistant has amazing tools in one location to assist you to build and grow your brand. Our Content Studio provides easy-to-use tools that allow you to do everything necessary to create effective marketing content.

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