52 Project

Using a Limited Color Palette


One ‘disadvantage’ of being a visual glutton is that colors distract you.

It’s easy to get distracted by the colorful when you are searching for images to capture. This is one reason why Southeast Asian temples, different festivals, and markets are at the top of a photography enthusiast’s list to visit or experience.

Although colorful photos are attractive, to the viewer sometimes they are confusing. The kaleidoscope is clamoring for attention; the viewer does not have an easy time deciding where to enter the image visually, and how to exit the image with ease. This is where the photographer comes in, to make the experience of viewing a photograph a lot easier on the audience.

Photographers have many ways to help audiences enter and exit a photograph. We can use composition techniques to gently guide the eye across the image. We can help using balance. We can simplify the image accessibility using only light and dark, in a monochrome. We can use contrast between the sharp subject and the bokeh background.

We can also use color to help the audience access our images. That is, instead of including a rainbow in the image, we can limit the image’s color palette.

Finding a limited color palette is a challenge and requires some visual discipline. Knowing your color complements on the color wheel is essential knowledge here, and you’re going to have to practice seeing these combinations and then making decisions about the composition so that your image framing is of the limited part of the color spectrum.

What are some things you might look for in an image with a limited color palette? Here are a few important advantages.

You can focus on shapes and patterns.

Limited color palette: using hues of the same color

The image of the trees in various hues of warm colors was set off in great contrast with the green of the rest of the forest.

The similarity between the shapes of the trees are made interesting by the variation in their hues, making the image vibrant.

You can focus on content.


Limited color palette: the color as a message.

These pilgrims praying around a stupa are wearing the shades of pious people—the monk’s wine-red robes. Set against the whitewash of the stupa, the red jumps out at us in the photo, like the fervent devotion of the praying women.

You can focus on contrast.

Limited color palette: subtle contrast in color.

You can always make monochrome images to set off high contrast subjects. But sometimes, you may want color to help you give the image an emotional facet. In the early morning mist the air turned blue and the terracotta silhouettes of the fence posts and the bare trees set off a good color contrast.

Your assignment this week is to find some images of limited color palette, and to explain your thinking on one of them that you’re particularly proud of. Why did you pick the elements in the frame? What does the color tell us about the message in the image?

Good luck! Post your work in the Imagine That Photography Tribe page on Facebook.


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