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Color Photography Exercises to Help You Improve Your Skills

color photography exercises

Learning to use color in your photographs well will help you, in many ways, to take better pictures. Many photographers tend not to practice with the aim of improving their skills. We all like to take good photos. Doing some color photography exercises will help you build awareness. You can learn how to incorporate color into your photographs with more meaning.

“The ability to see the quality of color and it’s different relationships is an art, as well as a skill that must be honed through continual exercise.” ~ Nevada Wier, travel photographer and author.

In this article, I want to encourage you to practice looking a the colors in your compositions. Understanding how colors in a picture interact will help you add more feeling to your photography.

cut papaya
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 55mm f/3.5, 4 sec, f/8, ISO 1600, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

Mix color theory with practical photography exercises

Understanding of color and how to use it well is a good skill to acquire. Like any skill, it takes study and practice. Getting a little theory in your head is rarely enough – you need to put it into practice to begin to comprehend it in practical ways.

These color photography exercises are designed to help you be more aware and considerate of how you use color in your photographs.

color wheel

The color wheel

The color wheel has been in use by artists and scientists since Sir Isaac Newton first developed the design in 1666. There are now many variations. But the basic color wheel can provide you with enough relevant information. It will help you understand the relationships between different colors. This basic wheel is displays three types of colors:

  • Primary Colors
  • Secondary Colors
  • Tertiary Colors
Primary colors for color photography exercises
Primary Colors

Three primary colors make up the simplest color wheel. Red, yellow and blue are primary colors. These cannot be made by mixing other colors. All other colors are combinations of primary colors.

Secondary colors for color photography exercises
Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are green, orange and purple. They are created by mixing two primary colors together.

tertiary colors for color photography exercises
Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary and a secondary color. These are:

  • Yellow-orange
  • Red-orange
  • Red-purple
  • Blue-purple
  • Blue-green
  • Yellow-green

Complementary color photography exercises

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Used together they produce high contrast and high impact.

They are:

  • Red-Green
  • Yellow-Purple
  • Blue-Orange

Find or create photos using complementary colors boldly in your compositions. You might find a red flower and frame it so you can only see grass or foliage behind it. You could slice an orange or papaya and photograph it against a blue background.

You could find two objects that have complementary colors. Photograph them against a plain, non-colored background.

Have a look around your home or garden and I am sure you’ll find things of strong primary colors that you can photograph together.

Complimentary colors example for color photography exercises
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 500mm f/11, 1/500 sec, f/11, ISO 800, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

Analogous color photography exercises

Analogous colors are sets of three colors that lie next to each other on the color wheel.

Using combinations of these colors creates a harmonious feeling in photographs. These colors often occur in nature and are pleasing to the eye. Choosing one color to dominate and the others to support will help you create more relaxing images.

This exercise may be a little more challenging because you need to find things with three colors that are close to each other on the color wheel. Don’t fret if you cannot find colors that match the color wheel perfectly – close enough is good.

You might find something of a primary blue and place it in a composition with a blue-green and green. This will create a photo with a cool, harmonious feeling. Choosing warmer colors, such as orange-red combinations, produce photos with a positive feeling.

Look around. You may find these combinations happening naturally in your garden, or you may have to create some still-life setups.

Analogous color example
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8, 1/320 sec, f/4.5, ISO 400, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

Triadic color photography exercises

A triadic color scheme is a combination of three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Red, blue, and yellow together are triadic. As are orange, green, and violet and the set of three tertiary colors.

Look to use these sets of colors with one dominant and the others to accent it. You might have a red and a blue pen on a yellow background. Or a green apple and an orange on a violet background.

Try various ways to compose your photo so that one or other of the colors is more dominant in your photos. Look for different angles or, if you can, move your subjects around and arrange them alternatively.

Triadic colors example
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8, 1/125 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

Monochromatic color photography exercises

Shades or tints of a single color used together can produce very interesting color photographs. Shades are colors with varying degrees of black added to the color. Tints are colors where white has been added.

Find items around your home or in your garden that you can create monochromatic compositions with. The color will all be essentially the same. The interest will be determined by the degrees of shade and tint you can include.

Green against green is the most common monochrome we see in nature. Or, depending on where you live and the season, it may be brown on brown.

monocolor for color photography exercises
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8, 1/320 sec, f/4.5, ISO 400, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

Think creatively

Think imaginatively as you look for different things to photograph. Try and create interesting photographs with color use as the main subject. The purpose is to learn and practice how colors relate to each other in a photograph.

When you practice anything enough, it becomes second nature. Doing these exercises may seem a little odd because you may not be taking great photos. Color photography exercises like this help you develop your color awareness more. Once you are well-practiced, you will ‘see’ color and color combinations more naturally.

So, try these color photography exercises and share your results with us in the comments section.

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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience.

Kevin is offering DPS readers a FREE copy of his new e-book Photographing People – A Guide For Shy Photographers. To enjoy more of his photography and writing, please visit his website.