How Color Theory Applies to Kids’ Photography

tips kid's portraits color theoryColor theory isn’t something we think about a lot when it comes to kids’ photography, but it’s incredibly vital. How color works with your camera, as well as how color itself can make a portrait better, is a skill that can help you create even more memorable portraits of your kids.

Color creates a mood

In the same way that painting a room can make you feel a certain way, so can including different colors in your images. Bright colors feel happy, dark colors feel sad. Pastels are a common color scheme for portraits of kids, as they reinforce the feeling of innocence and playfulness in your photography. So when you are planning a photo shoot of your kids, consider clothing and prop colors carefully.

In the image above the yellow helps to brighten up the more somber blue/grey of the sidewalk to add a happier feel to the image.

adding color to kids portraitsWhite balance changes color

How your digital camera “reads” color changes how color can come across. Yellows can feel warm or cool, and whites can certainly feel blue or brown, depending on the settings. Learning how to set the white balance on your camera ensures that colors come across as true, and also allows you the ability to adjust settings to get a better result, if the colors captured do not ideally suit the circumstances.

It’s also key to recognize that the type of light you are photographing with has different color qualities (known as color temperature) will change how your camera records

Understanding color

We all know that every color is a mix of one or more of the three primary colors – but it’s a bit different when we’re talking about how we see color. When we see color it’s a mix of red, green, and blue light (just like a computer monitor or your television) that make up all the visible colors – your camera works in a similar fashion.

As these colors mix, they are able to create all the different colors our eye sees, as follows:

color theory portraits of kids

You’ll see that primary colors are directly opposite each other on the wheel, with secondary colors in between them. Now what you say? Now you learn how to use these colors and their relationship to your advantage in kids’ photography.

color theory in kids phtoography

Calming Combinations

Colors that are placed next to each other on the color wheel are knowns as analogous colors. When used in kid’s portrait photography these colors tend to offer a sense of calm. Think greens and blues, or yellows and oranges. When planning a photo session, you can choose these colors to impart harmony or peace – perfect for baby portraits and family sessions.

In the photo above, would you get the same calming feel if the baby was dressed in bright yellow? How about red?

Energizing Combinations

Colors that are opposite on the color wheel are called complementary or contrasting colors. When combined these colors tend to pump up the vitality of each other, making them stand out more. Red and green are a good example. When you deliberately choose complimentary colors you add energy to a portrait image.

using color theory in childrens portraits

Red and green are contrasting colors, so they help to boost each other – making for a more energetic photo.

Considering Color Intensity

To add a bit more complexity, you have to consider how bright or intense a color is when you are choosing colors or including items in portrait photography.

This doesn’t just mean how bright a color is (i.e. a pastel versus a saturated color), but it also means how we perceive the intensity of color.

Have you ever considered why reds, yellows, and oranges are typically used to warn of danger? That’s because our brains tend to give more importance, or intensity to these colors – we perceive them as brighter than blues or greens. When you are planning a photo session, consider how the intensity of these colors might affect the mood, or distract from your subject.

How Does it Work Together?

It can take a bit of trial and error to get used to incorporating color theory into your kids’ photography – but it can have terrific results. Here are a few tips:

using color theory in baby photography

Step One: Consider the Energy

What kind of energy do you want the photos to have? This will affect the intensity of color that you choose. For baby photography, whites and very light pastels are often chosen to convey harmony and peace. A baby wearing bright yellow or green might create the wrong kind of energy for the image.

In kids’ portraits, the opposite is true – you often want the energy of the photo to match the energy of the child, so bright colors like reds and oranges can be a terrific choice. But…

Step Two: Consider Surroundings

Where is the photo session taking place? You have to take into account the background or surroundings of your image when you are using color theory. For example, using the baby example above, if baby is on a white background versus a dark brown this might affect what type of clothing you want them wearing.

For outdoors, you can use colors with a bit of contrast to set kids apart from their backgrounds. An orange shirt against a red brick wall might not have as much impact as a yellow shirt. A green shirt against grass is going to be a bit…blah, so consider something with a bit more contrast (pink, yellow, light blue).

Step Three: Plan Ahead

You can’t plan the weather or even know where you’ll end up in an outdoor photography session with your kids, so plan accordingly. Pack a different-colored long sleeve, even add a light jacket in a different hue than what they’re wearing, so you can change on the fly if need be. Remember that it’s probably easier to change the surroundings than completely alter your child’s wardrobe, so choose locations that allow for a few different backgrounds that you can work with.

That was a lot of information! Hopefully now you’ll have a good idea of how to use color theory in portraits of kids to make for amazing images.

using color theory in kids photography

Color theory photo courtesy of Sailom

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