How to Make Colors Pop in Your Portraits - Without Using Photoshop

How to Make Colors Pop in Your Portraits – Without Using Photoshop


Complementary Colors 2_1

There are a lot of really great tools to use in Photoshop, or Lightroom, to get the colors in your photos to pop, creating a more vibrant portrait. But, did you know that you can create color popping portraits, before you even open them for post-processing? It’s true!

By incorporating some of the simple things below ,before you take a photo, the color in your portraits will really stand out, and help you create eye catching photographs.

Make sure your background colors complement the subject

Understanding what colors complement each other, will really help the colors in your portraits pop. Complementary colors are red and green, orange and blue, and purple and yellow. Using combinations of these colors with your subject and background, will help create a flattering portrait.

It’s important to know the colors of the location where you are going to be shooting. If you know you’ll be at a location filled with yellow wildflowers, have your subject wear purple shades. If your background is lush green grass, with green trees all around, your subject will look best in pinks or reds. Know the area you will be shooting, and have your subject wear the color that complements that background. A complementary color palette will make your photo stand out!

Example images of complementary color schemes below, and top.

Complementary Colors_1

Use a neutral background

If your subject is wearing really colorful clothing, there is an easy way to make that color really stand out. A trick to get your subjects to really pop is to take a closer look at your background. Find an area that is plain, with neutral tones. Colorful, busy backgrounds can be fun, but they can also make a photo too cluttered, and draw the eye away from the subject, especially if they are also wearing bright clothing.

Neutral Background_1

Too much color throughout the photo won’t cause anything to pop out at you. Backgrounds that are more neutral will cause the eye to look directly at the subject, and the colorful clothing or accessories they are wearing. Look for a duller background such as: a dirt path, a mountain, stones, or anything that has a more earthy tone.

Neutral background 2_1

Use a colorful background

You can still make the colors really pop out in your portraits, even if the subject is not wearing colorful clothes. If they are wearing white, black, or neutral colors, find an area in your environment with rich color. Look around for flowers, or brightly colored walls to place them near. With your neutral subject next to bright color, the colors will jump out.

Colorful background_1

Eliminate anything distracting

Finally, before you press the shutter, make sure that there are no distracting objects in the background, that will pull the eye away from the subject. Are there other people in the distant background? Trash on the ground? Different colored cars in a nearby parking lot? If you can see them through your camera, you will see these distracting things in your final picture.

Recompose your subject so you don’t see those people in the distance. Pick up any trash that might be on the ground near the subject. Eliminating anything that will distract from the subject, will make the subject, and the colors they are wearing, pop even more.

Colorful background 2_1

If you have used some of these tips to plan your portrait, the colors should look pretty nice without doing any extra work in Photoshop or Lightroom. If you’d like, you can use those programs to enhance the color even more. Levels, hue/saturation or selective color are some fantastic tools for creating brighter and bolder colors in Photoshop. Play around with the different tools and see if you can get your portrait bright and colorful.

Please share your portraits and any questions or tips you may have on this topic, in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Emily Supiot is a child and family photographer in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition she is a photography educator for beginner and intermediate photographers and offers eCourses, tools for editing and a catalog of free photography tutorials on YouTube.

  • Juan

    Really good post. Very useful. Thanks very much.

  • Ravi Kashyap

    Is this portrait ok ?

  • Paddy

    I think it’s terrific.

  • badz

    what about this?

  • Chinky

    The photos are beautiful! The color, the skin tones, the expression on the kids faces are all perfect.

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Christo Thomas

    Amazing pictures and suggestions. Are these look OK, I just a beginner, use Canon 60D with 85 mm prime. I didn’t have these pictures in my computer so I used copies from my facebook, I guess quality may not be good as it was compressed.

  • PeeDee

    to Ravi, Hmmm, methinks the pink flower to the left of his ear kinda pulls my eye to it first, so its kinda distracts from the face, and the face is well shot, the flower is a tad too big and bright, the smaller flowers kinda belnd in, but this bugga sticks out, just my tu-pence worth, Pete

  • Clay Foster

    I took this one of my grand daughter sometime ago. Always liked the way it looked but have never shared it.

  • Gabi

    My first DSLR and not much experience, still I find these 2 to be quite good – no edit (except for watermark and cropping). Would appreciate any feed-back 🙂

  • Emily Supiot

    Thanks Juan!

  • Emily Supiot

    I love the expression here:) The background greens seem a little neon to me.

  • Emily Supiot

    Thanks Chinky:)

  • Emily Supiot

    Cool perspective. I kind of wish that we could see a little more of her body.

  • Christo Thomas

    I agree, I learned quite a bit now on color and balancing. Problem is he doesn’t sit in place to take a picture. I guess I need some lessons on how to keep them in one place : )

  • OldPom

    This very serious looking gentleman is more representative of today’s Australian ‘traditional owners’ than the usual, unclad and dancing with painted faces for the tourists.

  • Dolapo

    Window light and my phone for a selfie moment. I consider this one of my good compositions. Rate it pls.

  • Friend2303

    wow these are absolutely drool-worthy .. love the rich colors in this. I have been working with portraiture for a year now .. and every time I see pics like these I just feel like I havent learned anything at all. Would be over the moon if I clicked few pics like these. But having said that, it would be great to know how these pics actually looked straight out of the camera so folks like me can know how far off I am. My facebook page in case any of the photographers want to stop by and provide feedback (this is not a attempt to spam or gain clicks) is

  • Charit

    boy at the backyard

  • Jenny Young

    Thanks for your tips. Your portraits are something to aspire to. This is the best I can do at the moment.

  • Arash V Nia

    The photos you posted here are all heavily photoshoped. Better to use images that is right out of camera to prove your point.

  • Since we’re sharing our photos, here’s an early portrait I did for a local singer…

  • Dave

    Nice composition but, to my eyes, it looks very processed. Eyes too white and skin overly softened. it all looks a little unreal. It is a great picture that doesn’t need all that extra work.

  • Dave

    Great shots but the eyes are not in focus. The camera has focussed on the glasses instead.

  • Gabi

    Thank you Dave! I did use manual focus, but somehow this happened for all pictures I took that day. I am near-sighted myself and every time I have to shoot, I take my glasses off. Even though on the camera’s display things may seem fine, I very often find out when I get home that my pictures aren’t properly focused. Any tips on how to overcome that? Anyone else has this issue?

  • I agree with you, actually. Like I said, it was an early portrait. These days, I offer clients 3 “levels” of retouching. Some seem to like the slightly plastic, too-smooth skin look, and others go natural.

  • Prakash Wadhwani

    Hi !! … Lovely article … a subtle yet powerful technique lucidly explained. Here’s a pic I shot a couple of weeks back.

  • me


  • Guna Raj

    Need suggestion for this potrait.

  • Guna Raj

    This is my first portrait experience,please need some guide for more better

  • Guna Raj
  • Guna Raj

    This is my first portrait experience,please need some guide for more better

  • Gabriele Cripezzi
  • Gabriele Cripezzi
  • Thank you Emily – I should have known this as an fine artist and interior decorator where balance, colour contrast and composition play a huge parts in these fields and which I was aware of and used most successfully in my days of painting and decorating. Now I am fully into photography and a natural with landscapes and macro but always found my portraits (usually happy family snaps at happy events) ‘lacking’.
    Now I know why…and yes….OF COURSE!!!…so this is great advise as I am in the throes of getting into more formal portraiture.
    So thank you so much. 🙂

  • Mauricio D’Rugama
  • jumbybird

    When in doubt, find a nice brick wall.

  • Monika Placha

    Hi Emily! I love you articles! They are soo helpful. What do you think about this photo and editing I have done?

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