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Balancing colors

Color placement is part of good composition.


The balloon in the upper foreground would seem too solitary and the image would be out of balance without the presence of the second balloon.
The balloon in the upper foreground would seem too solitary and the image would be out of balance without the presence of the second balloon.

When a portion of a scene has a large area comprised of one or a variety of colors while the rest of the image is fairly neutral, it can seem out of balance - too heavily-weighted on that side of the image.

By locating a vivid, opposing color or color mixture in the opposite side of the image, you can achieve a more-balanced look, even if the second colored object is smaller in size, as illustrated in the balloons image on the left.

In fact, if both objects were of the same apparent size, you might think that a better balance would be achieved. But, that is not the case. The picture would likely look "heavy" and unnatural, with no balance at all.


If the smaller object is a living creature (a person or an animal), its importance will offset the larger colored area, and will dominate the image.

If it is a similar object, it will be secondary in importance to the viewer because of its smaller size, but is nonetheless an important compositional element in creating balance in the scene.

When one object in the scene is overpoweringly colorful, you may need to balance it with another significant object that has less or almost no color. The banner and the lamp head provide the balance needed in this picture.
When one object in the scene is overpoweringly colorful, you may need to balance it with another significant object that has less or almost no color. The banner and the lamp head provide the balance needed in this picture.

It appears to be more natural-looking when strong warm colors dominate the foreground and cooler colors are off in the distance.
It appears to be more natural-looking when strong warm colors dominate the foreground and cooler colors are off in the distance.

Dominant color can be used to improve or detract from a composition.

A bright red, orange or even a warm yellow hue in the foreground will often appear much more natural than if it is strongly evident in the background. Blue, however, seems to be just fine when it is evident in the distance. We are accustomed to seeing bluish backgrounds, not just in scenes in nature, but also in artwork.

There can, however, be an advantage in composing an image so that a warm-colored object is apparent in the distance. It gives the illusion of bringing the background forward, which can be just the touch your picture needs to make it a great composition.


COLOR PLACEMENT IS IMPORTANT TO GOOD COMPOSITION

An object that is brightly colored will stand out in a scene that contains other colors that are in contrast to it, drawing the viewer's eye straight to it.

A relatively-tiny red canoe is the center of attention in the scene on the right. If the canoe had been a blue color more closely-matched to the water, the composition would not be as effective. A blue or even green canoe would blend more into the image, making it less obvious, removing the sense of balance in the composition.

Notice how your eye is drawn to the red canoe. A single bright color that contrasts with the mix of colors in a scene will attract the viewer's eye.
Notice how your eye is drawn to the red canoe. A single bright color that contrasts with the mix of colors in a scene will attract the viewer's eye.

Bright, contrasty colors can provide a welcome break for slide show viewers.
Bright, contrasty colors can provide a welcome break for slide show viewers.

PUTTING ON A PICTURE SHOW? CONSIDER COLOR.

If you plan to show off your pictures in a slide show or a series of prints or in some other manner where one picture after another is presented, be sure to review the presentation beforehand with color in mind.

If your series contains a number of pictures in a row that are all bluish, for example, or that all contain extremely bright and vivid colors, be sure to insert pictures between them that are opposite in hue or vividness. Insert a "reddish" picture between a number of bluish ones, or insert one or two softer-colored pictures between a pair of vividly-colored images. Your audience will thank you. The contrast you provide will keep them interested and improve your show.


Occasionally, you will come across a scene that contains naturally well-balanced colors.
Occasionally, you will come across a scene that contains naturally well-balanced colors.