Complementary colors are opposite hues on the color wheel. Red and green, blue and orange, and purple and yellow are the three simple pairs of complementary colors that always go well with each other, hence the term. Good color choices, and pre-planning which hues you will use, is a great method of ensuring your image tones work well together.
Using these combinations in your images will help certain elements pop and can be used to create a focal point. Opposite colors add contrast to your image and will draw attention to your subject.
You can use this technique when before you ever pick up the camera for choosing backgrounds, lighting with gels, or change your tones in post processing. You don’t have to choose only two colors, often times it just depends on the image. The trick is to pair cooler tones with warm ones.
Brooke Shaden‘s work is a great example of how color can drastically change an image. The blue eyes with the warm skin create a focal point, and there’s also a slight red tint to the hair and green in the background. These colors were most likely created in post processing. If this photo was in black and white, or used all warm tones, it would not have as much of an impact. The hues take it from a great image to an amazing photograph.
In the image below, the use of primary tones (reds, blues, and yellows) all compliment each each other beautifully. You don’t have to choose only two colors, 3 and even 4 main tones can work very well together.
Try using a color wheel and experimenting with complementary colors for your next shoot, it works every time!
You can experiment with color combinations here
Thumbnail by Brooke Shaden