How to Use a Limited Color Palette for Better Photos

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Color is likely one of the most necessary features of pictures. It will probably make or break your photos. It’s nice when nature provides you nice coloration to work with, however you additionally want to intentionally manipulate colours in your pictures, each whilst you’re capturing and in post-processing.

Among the best methods to begin experimenting with colours in your picture is to use a restricted coloration palette. In different phrases, to attempt to take photos the place there are just one or two dominant colours. Once you’ve a great deal of completely different colours issues look chaotic, like on this picture.

Whereas whenever you’ve received a picture with simply a few colours that work nicely collectively, on this case browns and greys, they give the impression of being a lot higher.

Let’s discuss a bit about how to work with a restricted palette.

The Easiest Limited Color Palette: Black and White

When individuals begin intentionally attempting to take good pictures, one of many first issues they do is convert completely every part to black and white. Why? As a result of so long as the picture is nicely composed and technically okay, it would usually look good in black and white. By decreasing every part to greyscale, you take away any distracting colours and pull every part collectively.

Let’s look return to that chaotic picture from earlier. It’s nicely composed, and there’s nothing technically unsuitable with it. The problem is that the colours are far and wide. There are greens, reds, yellows, and browns all competing for your consideration. The focus of the picture must be the man within the bar window, however your eyes are drawn in all places.

Now let’s convert it to black and white and… growth! It seems to be a lot higher. Fairly than a chaotic mess of colours, it’s an attention-grabbing road scene.

Changing photos to black and white is all nicely and good, nevertheless it has one main downside: coloration is a actually necessary a part of pictures. Nobody needs to have a look at a sundown in black and white.

Exploring Limited Color Palettes within the Actual World

To begin exploring restricted coloration palettes, you want to do two issues: mess around with restricted colours in the true world, and post-process your photos. Let’s begin with taking a look at restricted colours in the true world.

Right here’s the earlier than and after of a picture with a mannequin named Ali. She’s carrying a purple prime and yellow jacket and he or she’s sitting in a area of yellow grass with some purple flowers. The straight-out-of-camera picture already has a restricted coloration palette, and I’ve simply amplified it within the edit.

That is a panorama instance that I shot in Santa Monica at sundown. Blue and gold are two of my favourite colours to use collectively. It’s very simple to do in the event you take pictures by the ocean at dawn or sundown.

I like that shot, however lets have a look at the straight out of digicam picture.

The gold is a little much less pronounced, however the unique colours are for probably the most half nonetheless those I used within the closing picture.

The trick to taking part in round with restricted coloration palettes in the true world is to begin consciously taking a look at colours. The day I took the picture of Ali, she simply occurred to be carrying yellow and purple, so once we discovered a area with these colours too, we took a picture. The picture beneath was a lot the identical. Louie was carrying blue, so once we discovered a blue wall, it was a excellent backdrop.

It’s also possible to begin capturing through the hour or two round dawn and sundown. These instances of the day mechanically restrict the colours you’ve got to work with. At dawn and sundown you’re going to see blues, purples, golds, oranges, and yellows. For those who can create a picture with two of the colours, nice, but when there’s just one, that works too. Simply try this sundown shot beneath that’s nearly solely orange. These have been simply the colours I had to work with.

Evening can also be a nice time to discover a restricted coloration palette. The starry sky usually seems to be fairly blue, like on this picture beneath.

There’s nearly no manner to get the chaotic mishmash of colours that you simply discover within the first picture.

Submit-Processing for Limited Color Palettes

Whereas it’s not unimaginable to restrict the colour palette of any picture in submit, issues will at all times look higher in the event you’re utilizing it to enhance an already restricted coloration palette. I’m going to demo the impact utilizing Photoshop, however you are able to do comparable issues in each good picture editor.

Let’s use this picture.

It’s good, however I need to amplify the blues and yellows. For those who’re following together with your personal picture, open it in Photoshop and decide the colours you need to amplify.

Step one is to improve the saturation. To try this, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation.

Drag the Saturation slider as far to the fitting as it would go with out the picture wanting unhealthy. For me, it’s about +34 on this picture.

If you would like, you’ll be able to go in and edit the Saturation of every coloration individually or mess around with the Hues, however to me, issues look good.

Subsequent, I’m going to use a Gradient Map layer to restrict the colours much more. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map and click on on the gradient.

Double-click on the small sq. on the underside left of the gradient, then choose the colour you need for the shadows and click on OK. For this picture, I’m going with a deep blue.

Subsequent, double-click on the small sq. to the fitting of the gradient, choose the colour you need for the highlights and click on OK. I’ve gone with a gold/orange.

If you would like to alter the steadiness of the place the shadow coloration transitions to the spotlight coloration, drag the little diamond within the middle to the left or proper.

Once you’re proud of how the gradient seems to be, click on OK. Right here’s the place we’re at now.

Whereas this seems to be sort of cool, the impact is completely excessive. The ultimate step is to scale back the Opacity and alter the Mix Mode of the Gradient Map layer.

Within the Layers panel with the Gradient Map chosen, click on on the dropdown the place it says “Regular”, and alter it to “Color”.

Lastly, enter in a worth someplace between 10{bee317a2559d13a75caaf6af5f4d02a14abe32641887c9defccb6fb9d1912473} and 50{bee317a2559d13a75caaf6af5f4d02a14abe32641887c9defccb6fb9d1912473} for the Opacity.

I feel round 30{bee317a2559d13a75caaf6af5f4d02a14abe32641887c9defccb6fb9d1912473} seems to be finest for this picture.

And that’s it, we’re executed. Right here’s a earlier than and after. As you’ll be able to see, I haven’t actually modified the colours, simply made them extra dominant and attention-grabbing.

How to Know Which Colours to Use

One of many greatest stuff you want to develop when working with colours in pictures is a sense of which colours will work, and which is able to gained’t. That comes with time, however right here’s a fast information.

Any Single coloration

A single coloration nearly at all times works as a coloration palette, and it doesn’t matter in any respect what coloration it’s. Black and white photos are the obvious instance, however I’ve seen photos the place the entire thing is shades of orange, brown, inexperienced, pink, yellow, and just about each different coloration conceivable work. For those who really need to preserve issues easy, simply work in monochrome.

Sure Pairs of colours

Some pairs of colours work rather well collectively, particularly complementary colours. Listed below are a number of the predominant ones that you simply’ll see utilized in pictures:

  • Blue and gold
  • Blue and orange
  • Teal and orange
  • Inexperienced and magenta
  • Yellow and purple

For those who see a possibility to use any of those combos—say, as a result of your mannequin is carrying orange and there’s a blue wall—take it.


Color work is likely one of the issues that separates good technical photographers from nice inventive ones. It’s one of the crucial necessary instruments in making individuals really feel an emotional connection to your photos. Whereas there’s a big quantity extra to working with colours, one of the simplest ways to get began is simply to restrict the colour palettes of your photos.

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