Do you struggle to work with color in your macro photography?
Do you want to create beautiful macro images–that use color perfectly?
Don’t worry! Because in this article, I’ll share with you techniques for using color in your macro photos. These techniques will take your macro photography to the next level.
And once you’ve finished this article, you’ll never look at macro photography the same way again!
So read on.
1. Minimize the Number of Colors for Beautiful Macro Photos
Rule number one of macro photography:
Keep your shots as simple as possible.
This is often stated when talking about composition. But it’s true for colors, too!
The more colors your photo has, the more cluttered it becomes. This isn’t what you want!
Instead, you want to keep the number of colors low. I recommend that you include three colors, maximum. Two is better. And one works just fine.
Now, different shades of the same color won’t cause problems. It’s okay to have, for instance, a brighter yellow and a darker yellow.
The issue is when an image starts to look like a rainbow. It’ll overwhelm the viewer, and it will simply feel chaotic.
So keep the number of colors as low as you can.
2. Use Contrasting Colors for the Most Powerful Photos
If you want to create beautiful macro photography…
…you’ve got to know about contrasting colors.
(These are also referred to as complementary colors.)
Contrasting colors sit at opposite ends of the color wheel:
And when you pair two contrasting colors, your photos will have a sense of energy. Which is fantastic for drawing in the viewer!
Now, if you’re going to use contrasting colors, I’d recommend using an imbalance of colors.
What do I mean by this?
If you’re pairing green and red, use a lot of red…and a little bit of green.
Because large amounts of both colors creates too much energy. Don’t go there. Instead, keep one of the contrasting colors to a minimum.
It’s worth noting:
You don’t need to use colors that are perfectly opposite one another on the color wheel. Colors that are very nearly opposite work, too. For instance, red and yellow can make for decent contrasting colors. Same with green and purple.
(But the more opposite they are, the greater the contrast.)
If you see contrasting colors, use them! They make for some stunning photos.
3. Use Analogous Colors for More Subtle Macro Images
Now, it’s not always possible to find complementary colors.
But fortunately, there’s another type of color combination that works well. And they’re called analogous colors.
Analogous colors sit next to one another on the color wheel.
For instance, blue and green are a popular analogous color combination. Same with orange and red.
Now, analogous colors don’t create energy. Instead, they give your photos a sense of peace.
One other thing about analogous colors:
You can use three analogous colors together for an especially interesting pairing. For instance, blue, green, and purple are all analogous colors. And when combined, they create lovely macro photos.
In macro photography, it can be harder to find analogous colors. But they do exist!
And when you do see them, just remember:
Put them together!
4. Include Just One Color for Intimate Macro Photography
Sometimes, you’ll struggle to find nice color pairings. And in that case, I recommend you stick with one single color for the whole shot.
Using a single color makes for more intimate photos. But you need to compensate for their lack of contrast with some compositional form.
(That is, you need to have a lot of movement in your photo–lines and curves.)
One way to achieve a uniform color macro is to get in close. That way, you’ll magnify your subject, and its color will dominate the frame.
I often do this when I’m shooting dahlias:
You can also create a uniform color by finding a background that matches your subject. That’s what I did for the photo below:
However, this approach is a lot harder to pull off. The subject tends to blend in with the background, creating a confusing shot.
So I’d stick with the frame-filling technique.
I’d also like to mention:
It’s very easy to make a small mistake–and ruin your macro photo.
Specifically, you might fill most of the frame with a single color. But then there’s a tiny part of the photo that’s a different color (generally in one of the corners).
Don’t do this.
You see, having a different color at the edge of the frame creates a sense of tension. Viewers want to see more of the color–but the frame cuts off.
And it just doesn’t work.
But if you can fill the frame completely with your subject…
…you won’t have to deal with this problem. And you’ll get some stunning macro photos!
5. Use Color Repetition to Create a Dazzling Backdrop
Here’s a slightly more advanced technique for using color in your macro photos:
If you want especially compelling images…
…make sure that the color of your subject repeats in the background.
(Like an echo!)
This is a powerful color technique. The color of the subject draws the viewer in. And then the background color pulls them further into the photo!
This repetition technique is easy to use with flowers. You simply have to find a subject. Then compose the shot with another, identical flower in the background, and–voila! You’ve captured a shot with repetition.
I’d also emphasize:
If you try this technique, you should use a wider aperture (for a shallow depth of field). While you want your subject to be pin-sharp, you want the ‘echo’ to be soft. Because if the element in the background is too noticeable, it will draw the eye–and take away from the main subject.
One more thing to note:
You’ll want to do a bit of experimentation. Take several shots, with the subject and ‘echo’ placed at different intervals in the frame.
You never know when you might create a masterpiece!
Color in Macro Photography: Next Steps
Now you know the key techniques for colorful macro photos.
And I recommend you get out and start using them!
However, if you want more macro photography techniques (covering light, composition, and more), sign up for my newsletter.
It’ll make you a macro photography master–in no time!
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