Color Theory


Fine Art Photography: The Complete Guide


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.


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