How to Use Color in Your Portraits


Most of my clients prefer at least some color studies during their session, and I love working with the complete palette that life has to offer. The process of selecting backgrounds to bring out a child’s eye color, or using color to create harmony between siblings, fuels my artistic passion.

Because colors can have such a powerful impact on a portrait, it’s important to choose wisely. Here are a few of my tips on how to implement colors successfully:

Color Harmony

In any library, you will find numerous books on color harmony and balance, and these theories (analogous colors, complimentary colors, etc.) are important when considering what colors to use in a portrait.

Over the course of my career, I have tried brights, darks, pastels and everything in between. However, depending on the subject and the mood I want to convey, I will choose the tonality of the background to compliment the image, as well as help tell the story.

Neutral tones, in particular, are very unobtrusive and can hold a viewer’s attention longer than most bright and colorful scenarios, which can overwhelm the subject. However, sometimes I work with those fun palettes to evoke a strong emotion. With my children’s work in particular, I find that I want a timeless appeal that will last for generations to come, as well as a fun carefree “trendy” look that shows what is “in” at the moment.

Using Colors to Create Different Moods and Feelings

Colors are a great way to create a mood or a feeling within an image. Soft pastels and lighter colors such as pink, white and sage green, give an image a soft and gentle feeling. On the other hand, bright colors like red and yellow can convey power or control.

Remember that colors are often associated with feelings too. For example, blue can be sad, yellow fast or happy and red can convey danger or excitement.

How Color Affects Composition

In composition, colors also play an important role in directing the eye. Warm colors (like red and yellow) tend to advance, attracting the eye to them. Cool colors (like blue and green) tend to recede, reducing their visual prominence.

Therefore, a child wearing a red sweater in a green forest will tend to stand out more than the same child wearing a green sweater in a scene of autumn leaves. Additionally, the brightness or darkness of colors can play a huge role in keeping the viewer's attention on your subject.

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Sandy - I'd love to know the lighting you used for the group shot of the kids on the couch above?  Looks like natural lighting, but usually you don't find that kind of lighting in the average living room....

Good info. Thanks.

Can we not just focus on the info in the article instead of something as insignificant as a watermark on the images? The article isn't really about the images; they're only used as examples.


Thanks for the nice comments. Because these are actual clients images I feel I do need to protect them a bit hence the banner. The clients do sign a model waiver, but I would still not like to see them on someone else's site. Sadly, that has happened to me before!

Looking forward to posting again soon!

Sandy Puc'

Good info.

Honestly handn't thought about it that much.

Good examples, too.


Great post Sandy. Thank you. I also didn't even notice the watermarking.

 I didn't even notice the "banners".  I had to go back and look to see where they  I suppose it's whatever you're used to.

Lovely and subtle use of color in portaiture, but the "" banners across the images are somewhat jarring and detract from their impact. My eye goes to the type immediately, instead of the intended pulchritude in the images. Isn't there another way to earmark them as your own without defacing them?

Beautiful examples of making the most of color in your photos and very helpful hints!   I really appreciate it!