There are many rules to photographic composition, the rule of thirds, balancing elements, symmetry and balance etc. None of these rules are defined in stone, all can be broken or modified. Perhaps one of the most overlooked aids to composition is that of using color. By using color creatively, we can lead the viewer’s eye to the subject, create a response in the viewer or even frame an image. As with most tutorials on composition, perhaps the best way to understand what we are talking about is through the use of images.
This first example demonstrates using a bold color to draw your eye to the subject. Here, your eye is immediately drawn to the red barn despite all the beautiful shades of green going on behind.
In this shot, the bright red of the Antarctic base contrasts against the almost monochromatic mountains and sea, and despite being small in the image, the eye is immediately drawn to the base because of its color, helping to highlight its remoteness.
This image uses color in a similar way to above, with a white church against a predominately green background but because the white is not strong enough to hold the eye, I have used a leading line to aid the composition.
This image highlights the use of color with the rule of thirds with the red brick taking both the lower and left third, the blue sky taking the upper and upper right thirds and the green taking the lower right.
Similar to the above this image again uses the rule of thirds and combines it with just two colors, white and blue. The blue box in the bottom left is nicely placed at the bottom of the steps, which in turn lead your eye to the blue door.
This photograph uses the orange glow of the street lamp to frame the left side of the image, making sure our eye looks to the skyline and figures to the center and right.
Similar to above, this image taken in the Commonwealth cemetery in El Alamein uses the tree on the right to keep our eyes focused on the endless graves.
Here the eye is caught immediately by the single red flower surrounded by the sea of purple ones. By placing the solitary red flower on a third we strengthen the composition, enhancing its uniqueness.
This last image demonstrates the use of multiple bright colors to get a striking composition. Aa with many of the other examples, the image works better because it follows other compositional rules, in this case thirds and leading lines. Because there are so many colors, the use of the lamp post both takes your eye to the sign and balances the image.
Color is an often under utilized aid to composition, yet when used in combination with other rules, it has the potential to allow you to create very striking images.
Jason Row is a British born travel photographer now living in Ukraine. You can follow him on Facebook or visit his site, The Odessa Files. He also maintains a blog chronicling his exploits as an Expat in the former Soviet Union