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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.

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Emily Supiot
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.

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