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Coloring Your Characters

Photographers can bring any color forward or push it back, depending on what other spatial tricks they use. An object with a complicated contour is more interesting and appears to be heavier than one with a simple contour. A small complex object can balance a large, simple object. Hues that are lighter at maximum saturation such as yellows, oranges, and reds appear larger than those that are darker at maximum saturation like blues and purples. When a color expands visually, it may also seem closer to the viewer than those that seem to contract, leading to the common statement that warm colors appear closer and cool colors fall back.


A color’s value is the lightness and darkness of a color. For example, imagine a red apple on your kitchen counter with one light falling on it from overhead. The part of the apple nearest the light will be lightest in value because it reflects the most light. The part of the apple opposite the light will be the deepest in the shadow and thus darkest in value.

So now let’s apply that theory from the red apple to an airplane. The same concept applies. You can use the available light to change your subject’s value. The plane pictured in Figure 4.27 looks rather menacing because the part of the plane closest to the sun happens to be the back, which makes the identifiable “face” of the aircraft elusive.

Figure 4.27

Figure 4.27. A U.S. Air Force B-2 Bomber flies with two F-117 fighter aircraft. (Photo by Andy Dunaway)

Lens (mm): 55, ISO: 3200, Aperture: 2.8, Shutter: 1/13, Program: Manual


Monochromatic refers to one color in varied tones such as varied reds or varied blues. A monochromatic color scheme uses only one hue (color) and all values (shades or tints) of it for a unifying and harmonious effect.

When someone references the word “pictorial,” I immediately think about graphic lines, repetition, and dramatic use of color. This includes the use of monochromatic color choices, as Figure 4.28 demonstrates. Throughout the image are varied shades of yellowish-orange tones. Though the brightness is varied, the color is not, which contributes to the image’s dramatic mood.

Figure 4.28

Figure 4.28. As the sky turns ominous, U.S. Army Sgt. Kyle Ellison searches the roof of a local’s house for weapons during an assault against anti-Iraqi forces in Buhriz, Iraq.

Lens (mm): 40, ISO: 640, Aperture: 2.8, Shutter: 1/1250, Program: Aperture Priority

Color movement

Color can create a sense of movement. When the values in a work jump quickly from low key to high key, a feeling of excitement and movement is created. When all of the values are close together, the work seems much calmer. When you want to create movement with color, remember to use values of pure hues as well as those of tints and shades. Movement creates the illusion of action or physical change in position (Figure 4.31).

Figure 4.31

Figure 4.31. A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer drops a GBU-38 munitions on a torture house used by al-Qaeda forces in northern Zambraniyah, Iraq. (Photo by Andy Dunaway)

Lens (mm): 116, ISO: 100, Aperture: 4, Shutter: 1/500, Exp. Comp.: -1.0, Program: Aperture Priority

Color coordination

Complementary colors are two colors opposite one another on the color wheel—for example, blue and orange, yellow and purple, or red and green. When a pair of high-intensity complementary colors are placed side by side, they seem to vibrate and draw attention to the element. Not all color schemes based on complementary colors are loud and demanding. When complementary colors are used in photojournalism like in Figure 4.32, you can take a drab topic and illustrate the subject uniquely.

Figure 4.32

Figure 4.32. A barrel full of human waste burns on the outer perimeter of a forward operating base in Afghanistan. (Photo by Andy Dunaway)

Lens (mm): 28, ISO: 100, Aperture: 2.8, Shutter: 1/125, Program: Manual

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