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Fine Art Photography: The Complete Guide

Lesson 36 of 138

Color Theory


Fine Art Photography: The Complete Guide

Lesson 36 of 138

Color Theory


Lesson Info

Color Theory

So I've got this picture here, which of course has color in it, as almost all of my images do. I have images that are maybe, I would say six images that are black and white that I've ever done, out of about 720 pictures, so that's not a lot of work in black and white, so that is the one area that I won't be able to necessarily guide you in the best direction. But, a lot of these principles still apply to any type of color work that you like to do. So we've got color theory. Color theory to me is the act of analyzing color in such a way that allows you to use color to promote an emotion, or a feeling, or simply create cohesion within an image. I think that color's very tricky, because color looks different to everyone. Literally, you know, no two eyes are the same we see things in just slightly different ways. I know that I've had more than one argument with friends about, is this thing this color or that color, and is this this color or that color, and every time I see green someone el...

se sees brown and every time I see purple somebody else sees blue, and it's like, I don't know if I'm color blind or if everyone else is, who knows. So color is very subjective, I totally recognize that. But we're just gonna talk about color pairings, color uses that maybe will be beneficial to the coloring of your images as well. And I don't just mean in Photoshop, but also in set design as well. So the first thing that we have is bold color, which I, of course, I mentioned this is not an academic version of color theory, this is my version of color theory, what I have found works for me. And I like to say bold color, bold color simply being one really just striking color in an image. Something that stands out amongst the background, the something where you would look at that image and say wow, I totally get that this is about a red dress, something like that. And then we have complimentary colors, which is where there are matching colors in an image. So, let's say that you have green leaves on a tree and maybe you put your subject in a green dress. Well, I wanna make sure that the green leaves and the green dress are either very much in the same family, and that they're not contrasting in some weird way, like really bright green leaves and a really, I don't know, like, what's a green color that's really earthy? I can't think of one. Olive. Olive, thank you, olive. I like that. So I wanna make sure that they're in the same family or that they're matching exactly, and I know that with set design you can't really do that very effectively all the time. You might have a certain color leaf and you just can't find the exact color dress that matches that leaf exactly, so I like to use Photoshop to create complimentary colors, to create colors that are exactly the same, even when you couldn't get them to be that way to start. And then we have opposing colors, images that have colors that totally contrast one another where maybe you have yellow and green in the same image that are just two bold colors that maybe they don't go together, maybe they look nice but they just don't match each other, so opposing colors. And then after that we've got monochromatic colors, meaning one color in an image. It might be very literal, maybe you actually suck the color out of the image so that there is just one color left. You could go black and white with this, of course that's not monochromatic so much as it is desaturated completely, but still a form of having one color or no color. And then having color in the shadows and highlights. So, if we're thinking about images in terms of color I think that you really can't talk about color without talking about light, because all light has a color to it, and often we ignore that part of color. You know, you think okay, what's the color of the dress, what's the overall color tone that I'm going to put on this image, what's the color of the background? And yes it's easy to think about images in terms of pieces of color, right, like the color of the dress, the color of the sky, things like that, and then it's also very natural for photographers to think in terms of Photoshop, what color will I put over this whole entire image? But what about how we see light and color? Because if we're outside, let's say at midday, the color of the light is blue. We all know that, it's just blue light and that's what we see on, that's what daylight is. But if you're outside and it's 5:00 a.m. ead the sun is just rising, everything looks really orangey-yellow, because the color temperature changes. And that's how I like to see color. I like to see color in terms of highlights, shadows, and midtones, and apply my color very selectively to those areas. So that's what we'll look at. And then finally we have a color signature, which is not a form of coloring an image but it's simply to say, what if our images had a signature to them with color that we could identify, where if you looked at my pictures and you saw certain things happening in the color you would say, oh, that's Brooke's picture because I understand how she colors her images. I think that color is one of the biggest ways that an artist can stand out. You know, if you have a certain way of coloring things that's one of the quick visuals that will alert somebody to, oh, this is this person's picture. I would say that other big ones would be lighting, would be composition, format of the work, things like that, but color is a huge one. I don't know if you can just think of your favorite artist and immediately have a sense of a color palette that they like to use, and I know that I do with my favorite artists. There's someone that I love to see their images pop up online, and they're always brown, always natural cream brown tones, every single time. And it's beautiful, because you know that person. I don't have to look at the name, I don't have to look at anything, I just know because of the color. And that's what we're going to go for with our color signature. So first, here are some examples of bold color. Examples of my images where I have chosen one main color in that image, and that main color is the thing that I want you to straightaway look at when you see these images. In this case I chose all red pictures, simply because I love using red in my images and I have a lot of options to choose from. You can go on my website, you can immediately pull out all the red ones, they stand out really well. And I love using that, because first it's giving you a part of a story. As we've discussed, story is largely about the visuals that you're choosing to put in the images. So here we have four images that have a bold color in them, and that color is naturally going to alert you to a story, right? So we've got, let's see. If we look at this image here, we could say, okay, she's wearing a red dress, there are no other real colors in this image, it's just sort of neutrals in the background, dark, light, neutral, but a red dress. So what does that red dress mean in this picture, versus the one above it, versus the one next to it? How does that color dictate how you feel about the image? Particularly with that image with the candles on her head and the flowing fabric up there you have this sense that she's sort of powerful, that maybe she is very bold, is very brazen. But if I had put her in a different color, if she was wearing all white for example, you might have a very different idea of who this character is. This is why I love bold color. The other reason is because of what you can do in Photoshop. So if I have this girl with the candles on her head and the red dress, I can easily turn that into any color I want. It could be purple, green, yellow, blue, does not matter, but because it's so bold Photoshop will allow me to change that super easily, which we'll definitely cover later. Here's just another example, I thought it was fair to throw in a blue one, because I didn't have any blue examples. So we've got a blue one here too, but just the same thing, that bold color gives you a complete sense of the story. Without that color, you might not have the same sense of what this image is about. In this particular case I chose blue because I thought it looked like a blue bird, because it reminded me of freedom because that's what that color means to me. If it had been red, might not have looked so freeing in the picture. Color has a huge impact on how we see story and interpret things like that. Okay, opposing colors. So here we have four images with contrasting colors, blue and red. We've got blue dresses and a red dress, we've got blue background and red fabric, and so on and so forth. All of these also feature white as the other color, which I recognize is oddly patriotic of me here perhaps, which I didn't realize 'til just now. But, it has these opposing colors. And the opposing colors immediately look more jarring than the others, so if I go back to this one or even this slide, I find that when you have mixed colors in an image just like this, it sort of takes you a second. It's much bolder, it's much more in your face with the color. I don't have very many images with opposing colors, so it was actually quite difficult for me to choose images for this because I don't do it very often. I tend to love an image to have just one color and maybe lots of neutrals around, but I don't do this a lot, and the reason is because I find that the colors look a little bit too confusing for me. And I think that that's true with a lot of images with opposing colors, and that's why I tend to favor colors that are in the same family as one another. Rather than red and blue, maybe I would pick blue and purple that are much closer in the same family than red and blue. And then we have our complimentary colors, and these are colors that were intentionally created to be the same. In the case of the field, the red field with that red dress we've got a situation, a shooting situation where the field was not red. Can you imagine? It was yellow, and my dress was white, and the stool was red, and I wanted the dress and the field to match the stool, so I wanted to create this look of there being all the same color tone running throughout this image, when in fact that was not there to begin with. And these are choices that we make. You know, you don't necessarily have to photograph just what's there, you can create your own reality with Photoshop if you desire to. And of course you don't have to, as well. But, this is the fun thing with color for me is that something does not have to remain the color that it was to start with, and I think that's super exciting to be able to turn a field red if you want to, to be able to turn a bush red. So in the image next to that I was wearing a gray dress and the flowers were white, and I didn't like either of those things so I decided that I was going to change them as much as possible. Same with this image with the paint down here, with the blue sky. The sky was not any color, it was just a normal gray, white sky in the background, and the paint was blue, and so I ended up changing both of those colors to match one another, which I think is super important. And then we have monochromatic images here, where I've got images that are largely one color, where, yes there are some other colors in them, all of these, for example, contain white, some contain yellows, but overall there's one color. And this is probably what's easiest for a lot of photographers to do is to take an image and put one color overall on the image. Because that's what a lot of tools do in Photoshop, you know, you move a slider, a color slider, and it puts that color over the whole image, that's just what it does. But I like to do it a little bit more intentionally. I think that monochromatic images, anything where you're using one color, actually tends to be quite bold versus an image where you have lots of colors competing for attention. And then we have colors in the shadows and highlights, and this is part of my color signature. So what I have here are images where the highlights, the lightest parts of the image, are yellow. Every single one of these wherever you see a highlight, it's actually yellow, and wherever you see a shadow, it's actually blue. And it might not look like that right away, you might not look at this and say oh yeah, what colors are in the shadows and highlights? Well obviously blue and yellow. But when you start to look at more and more images and you start to compare them, it becomes very obvious that I don't have a true white or black point in these images at all. And that has become a major part of my color signature, a part of my style. I intentionally avoid lights and darks, true highlights and true shadows, because that's very photographic to me. So if I can have images where you get rid of that, where you have a yellow highlight and a blue shadow and it's sort of all skewed a little bit gray then it looks like a painting to me, and that's my goal in photography is to trick people into thinking that they're paintings. Not because I hate photography, just because I love painting and I think it's really beautiful. So these all have yellow highlights and blue shadows, but they also have untouched midtones. So in all of these images, if you can imagine, the color was applied to the highlights, to the shadows, and nothing happened in between. So the natural color of the images remained, at least as much as you can when changing the colors this much as I did here. Which I'll show you in just a moment. Okay, so blue highlights. If I take a look at changing the highlights and the shadows you can see the shift here. So this is yellow highlights, blue shadows, untouched midtones. Then we have this one where I actually changed the highlights to be blue. So instead of keeping them yellow, I skewed them blue. Then we have this one where I change the shadows to be yellow. And this is just giving a little example of how the image can change based on highlights and shadows. It's never going to be as drastic as changing a midtone, but it's still going to be more effective visually in terms of being realistic for the viewer. So here we have just the opposite of what I normally do. This is blue highlights and yellow shadows, instead of yellow highlights and blue shadows. This is a lot of yellow and blue and highlights and shadows, but nonetheless. Blue highlights, yellow shadows so you can see the difference there, and I have the comparison here. So we've got my yellow highlight images, right, and then right next to that the blue. And you can see how it changes your perception of the image just slightly. Just changes how you see it, it changes how you see the white, changes how the shadows feel, it changes how it looks, if it looks more photographic or more painterly, and the same with these. So just making that little shift really changes how you see the image. And this is a color signature, this is my color signature. And yours might be drastically different, but it is important to think about what you naturally gravitate toward. Do you think of color in terms of highlight and shadow, or do you think in terms of midtones, which is okay. But, we tend to see light with a color, so that's something to remember. We tend to see wardrobe as being outside of that color spectrum, so when you're thinking about light and color that's not usually including physical objects in the frame. So there are many ways to see this. You've got the light color spectrum, which we're thinking about in terms of color temperature, for example, in your camera settings. You've got the objects that you're putting in the frame, they have a certain color, and then how those colors match each other within the frame. It can be a little bit daunting to think about color because it's, there's just so much to talk about, there's so much to think about. And I think that actually we don't think about it often enough. I know that I myself just get stuck in one way of creating and I don't always switch that up or think about why I'm doing something, but color is perhaps the most impactful way of creating an instant emotion in somebody with an image in terms of just a simple visual that you can change in your image, and it's also really impactful for creating a look within your work. This whole class we're talking about creating a series, and the goal is to put that series in front of somebody who will then pay you money for it, right? I mean it's, one number one goal is of course to just make images that you love. But if we're taking that a step further and we're going to do something with those images, it's probably really important that we have a signature to our images. It could be color, it could be light, it could be concept, it could be anything, but color is such a good way of doing that. So here I have that image of the bush with the white flowers that I turned red, and just a quick example of how that was built. So this was the bush, I thought it was very inspiring but then I looked back at these images and I thought, what's so great about this bush? And then I thought oh, I need to make it red, and that was my solution. And so I did. So there I am sitting in the flowers, and it was okay, it was pretty. Like, I liked this picture when I took it and I thought, oh that's nice, because I wanted to look like the flower and be very delicate, but then I thought, but that's not me, I'm not a delicate person at all and so I wanted to change up the concept. And so I started to make these changes. Just go back, so I made the dress red, a simple selection around the dress, changing the color of it, and then I did the same thing to the flowers where I selected all those white colors and changed the color of the flowers, and then I started to blend the colors together. So if I had just stopped here, something looks off, and you can tell. I mean, it's in the shadows, the shadows aren't quite blending with the midtones and the highlights, and it's all just a little bit weird right now because of what I'm trying to do with this color, and it also doesn't match exactly, either. We've got, the flowers look a little bit more pink to me, maybe? Not as deep. So I'm doing what I can to blend this image together. In this case I've added the blue to the shadows, and this is part of my signature. Changing the lighting. I've added some smoke texture in, some fog, and then I'm just doing everything I can to make the dress look like the flowers. So there is the before and after so you can see the difference, one to the next, I mean it's quite obvious what the difference is, clearly there's a lot of red in the picture and there didn't start that way, but the thing about it is that you have to think about your color theory when you're doing something like this. Yes, I could've left it all gray and white, that would've been okay and I wouldn't have been too mad about it, but instead I'm matching the colors that I'm manually putting in to that frame to make sure that it evokes a certain emotion in you when you look at it.

Class Description

Creating a great photo for a client is one thing - but turning your passion and ideas into a series that is shared, shown, and sold is a whole different business. If you do it right, you’ll be shooting what you love all the time. Learn how to choose which ideas to create, how to turn your concept into a production, and steps to getting your work seen and even sold in Fine Art Photography: A Complete Guide with Award-Winning Photographer, Brooke Shaden.

This is an all-inclusive workshop that provides the tools you need to run a successful and creative business as a fine art photographer. You’ll learn creative exercises to find and develop your ideas, how to create an original narrative, how to produce your own photo series, post production techniques and skills for compositing and retouching, how to write about your work, ways to pitch to galleries and agents, and how to print your pieces so they look like art.

This workshop will take you on location with Brooke as she creates a photo series from scratch. She’ll walk through every step for her photo shoots including set design and location scouting, she’ll cover techniques in the field for capturing your artistic vision, post-production and compositing techniques, as well as printing and framing essentials.

She’ll round out this experience by discussing all of the details that will help make your career a success like licensing, commissions, artists statements, social media plans, gallery prep, and pricing your work.

This comprehensive course is a powerful look into the world of fine art photography led by one of the world’s most talented photographers, Brooke Shaden. Included with purchase is exclusive access to bonus material that gives exercises and downloads for all of the lessons.


  1. Class Introduction
  2. Storytelling & Ideas
  3. Universal Symbols in Stories
  4. Create Interactive Characters
  5. The Story is in The Details
  6. Giving Your Audience Feelings
  7. Guided Daydream Exercise
  8. Elements of Imagery
  9. The Death Scenario
  10. Associations with Objects
  11. Three Writing Exercises
  12. Connection Through Art
  13. Break Through Imposter Syndrome
  14. Layering Inspiration
  15. Creating an Original Narrative
  16. Analyze an Image
  17. Translate Emotion into Images
  18. Finding Parts in Images
  19. Finding Your Target Audience
  20. Where Do You Want Your Images to Live?
  21. Create a Series That Targets Your Audience
  22. Formatting Your Work
  23. Additional Materials to Attract Clients
  24. Which Social Media Platforms Will be Useful?
  25. How to Make Money from Your Target Audience
  26. Circle of Focus
  27. The Pillars of Branding
  28. Planning Your Photoshoot
  29. Choose Every Element for The Series
  30. Write a Descriptive Paragraph
  31. Sketch Your Ideas
  32. Choose Your Gear
  33. How to Utilize Costumes, Props & Locations
  34. What Tells a Story in a Series?
  35. Set Design Overview
  36. Color Theory
  37. Lighting for the Scene
  38. Props, Wardrobe & Time Period for Set Design
  39. Locations
  40. Subject Within the Scene
  41. Set Design Arrangement
  42. Fine Art Compositing
  43. Plan The Composite Before Shooting
  44. Checklist for Composite Shooting
  45. Analyze Composite Mistakes
  46. Shoot: Black Backdrop for White Clothing
  47. Shoot: Black Backdrop for Color Clothing
  48. Shoot: Black Backdrop for Accessories
  49. Shoot: Miniature Scene
  50. Editing Workflow Overview
  51. Add Fabric to Make a Big Dress
  52. Edit Details of Images
  53. Add Smoke & Texture
  54. Blend Multiple Images Into One Composite
  55. Put Subject Into a Miniature Scenario
  56. Location Scouting & Test Photoshoot
  57. Self Portrait Test Shoots
  58. Shoot for Edit
  59. Shoot Extra Stock Images
  60. Practice the Shoot
  61. Introduction to Shooting Photo Series
  62. Shoot: Vine Image
  63. Shoot: Sand Image
  64. Shoot: End Table Image
  65. Shoot: Bed Image
  66. Shoot: Wall Paper Image
  67. Shoot: Chair Image
  68. Shoot: Mirror Image
  69. Shoot: Moss Image
  70. Shoot: Tree Image
  71. Shoot: Fish Tank Image
  72. Shoot: Feather Image
  73. View Photo Series for Cohesion & Advanced Compositing
  74. Edit Multiple Images to Show Cohesion
  75. Edit Images with Advanced Compositing
  76. Decide How to Start the Composite
  77. Organize Final Images
  78. Choosing Images for Your Portfolio
  79. Order the Images in Your Portfolio
  80. Why do Some Images Sell More Than Others?
  81. Analyze Student Portfolio Image Order
  82. Framing, Sizing, Editioning & Pricing
  83. Determine Sizes for Prints
  84. How to Choose Paper
  85. How to Choose Editions
  86. Pricing Strategies
  87. How to Present Your Images
  88. Example Pricing Exercise
  89. Print Examples
  90. Licensing, Commissions & Contracts
  91. How to Keep Licensing Organized
  92. How to Prepare Files for Licensing
  93. Pricing Your Licensed Images
  94. Contract Terms for Licensing
  95. Where to Sell Images
  96. Commission Pricing Structure
  97. Contract for Commissions
  98. Questions for a Commission Shoot
  99. Working with Galleries
  100. Benefits of Galleries
  101. Contracts for Galleries
  102. How to Find Galleries
  103. Choose Images to Show
  104. Hanging the Images
  105. Importance of Proofing Prints
  106. Interview with Soren Christensen Gallery
  107. Press Package Overview
  108. Artist Statement for Your Series
  109. Write Your 'About Me' Page
  110. Importance of Your Headshot
  111. Create a Leave Behind & Elevator Pitch
  112. Writing For Fine Art
  113. Define Your Writing Style
  114. Find Your Genre
  115. What Sets You Apart?
  116. Write to Different Audiences
  117. Write for Blogging
  118. Speak About Your Work
  119. Branding for Video
  120. Clearly Define Video Talking Points
  121. Types of Video Content
  122. Interview Practice
  123. Diversifying Social Media Content
  124. Create an Intentional Social Media Persona
  125. Monetize Your Social Media Presence
  126. Social Media Posting Plan
  127. Choose Networks to Use & Invest
  128. Presentation of Final Images
  129. Printing Your Series
  130. How to Work With a Print Lab
  131. Proofing Your Prints
  132. Bad Vs. Good Prints
  133. Find Confidence to Print
  134. Why Critique?
  135. Critiquing Your Own Portfolio
  136. Critique of Brooke's Series
  137. Critique of Student Series
  138. Yours is a Story Worth Telling


April S.

I tuned in for most of Brooke's lessons in this course and watched some of them more than once as they were rebroadcast. First I want to say that Brooke is a very good instructor. Her easy-going, friendly, down-to-earth, somewhat quirky manner cannot be mistaken for unprofessional. She is very prepared, she speaks well (not a bunch of hemming and hawing), she is thoughtful, she is thorough, she is very relatable and at ease, and she is definitely professional in her presentation. I really thought when I first tuned in that it would mostly be background noise while I was at work, sound to keep me company. Not because I didn't like Brooke but I really didn't think I was into fine art photography nor did I think I cared about the business side of things much. Not now anyhow. I was really wrong. Brooke sparked a deep interest in me to delve into fine art photography, to consider creating images for myself, from my imagination. In fact, I realized that this was something I'd been thinking about for a couple of years though I hadn't put a name to it (the idea of creating pre-conceived images based on my own creative goals). I gleaned many little treasures from her about image sizes, working with printers, different types of paper, selling, interacting with galleries, and so much more. I may not need all of what she taught right now because I'm definitely headed in another direction at the moment, but she planted ideas and information in my head that I know will be useful at some point. Things I may not have thought of on my own, but that seed is in my head now so when the time comes, I'll know. I'd really like to buy her course but at the moment, with the holidays right around the corner, it's not in my personal budget. I'm grateful to have caught the live and rebroadcast lessons though, and her course is on my list to own. I think it's a great reference to be consulted over and over again, not watched once and forgotten. Kudos Brooke for really putting together an excellent course.

Ron Landis

I'm retired now, but spent decades in the people and training business. Brooke is extraordinary! Even though this course is extremely well organized and she's left nothing unattended, she moves through it with friendly conversational manners and without a sense of it being stilted. It's as though we are all her friends, not students, as she shares her heart and passion with us. What a joy it is to listen to her. And what a clear, unambiguous command of her subject. Wow! She explains it with such ease using explanations and techniques that won't overwhelm artists just starting their portfolio or the Photoshop-squeamish among us; but despite its simplicity her resulting art is breathtaking and beyond original. I wish more of my professors at school were as engaging. This was by far my best buy at Creative Live yet.

Angel Ricci

When the title says comprehensive, it means comprehensive! I loved every part of this course. It's inspirational, motivating, and insightful towards creating art work. Even if you are not necessarily considering a fine art specialty, the concepts discussed in this course are applicable to many areas! I find this super useful as a videographer and photographer and look to apply all of these exercises and concepts for my personal and business work moving forward. It is lengthy, but you will not regret a single minute. Brooke Shaden is an amazing artist and educator. I recommend keeping up with her work, presentations, and any future courses that may come in the future.