color can be such a powerful ingredient within a picture that other elements are effectively drowned out by the bright hues. But although this works well with some subjects, there are plenty of others where you don’t want to take such a brash approach. Sometimes you want to use color more conservatively—to provide a subtle image where other elements can come to the fore. You don’t always have control over the colors of your subjects, but you do get to choose what pictures to take—and of those, which you keep and which you delete. Even if you cannot directly control the environment, the number of colors in a scene can often be controlled; you can do this simply by altering your viewpoint
to find an alternative background. The secret to achieving harmonious
colors is to keep it simple. The most radical approach is to limit yourself to shades of just a single color—creating an almost monotone image. Remember that white and black do not count—so these can be thrown freely into the composition without any risk of upsetting the subtle effect that you are trying to achieve.
A more adventurous approach to harmonious color combination is to mix hues that are made up using similar amounts of the same primary color. Think of the sequence of the colors of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. You will not go wrong if you combine neighboring colors from this
sequence. So shades of yellow and green will work fine—as will blues and purples. It goes without saying that pastel tints will create more gentle compositions than bold, pure versions of the same color. But, of course, color combination is ultimately a matter of personal taste—just as when decorating a room in
your own home. You will discover that you can be more
adventurous with natural colors and still get pleasing combinations. The flowers in a vase can be from different ends of the spectrum and still work together harmoniously—but an arrangement of plastic objects with similar hues will not be as restful on the eye.
The intensity of a color that is badly placed in a shot can be reduced in a number of ways—should this work in favor of the composition as a whole. Soft, indirect lighting—such as that provided on an overcast day, or found in areas of shade, will weaken the saturation and strength of colors.
Areas in the background that are the “wrong” shade can also be weakened by using camera settings that throw the area out of focus—because this will reduce saturation . Slight overexposure will also have the effect of reducing saturation, just as slight underexposure can be used to provide an increase in color intensity. You can also apply these effects later, with a digital image manipulation program.