5.4. Color Theory


  • Color theory gives you a set of guidelines on how to combine colors on your photographs to create visual appeal.
  • Color should be used to enhance your image, rather than distract.
  • Don’t use too many colors and choose colors that reflect your style and the type of dish you are shooting.
  • Light and bright colors are great for summer salads but darker colors are perfect if you want to create a cozy winter setup.
  • Color wheel is a wheel where all the colors are organized by hues. You can use it in a number of ways.
  • Choose your main color to start with.
  • Analogous colors. You can locate 2- 3 colors that are next to each other on the color wheel that include your main color and go from there. That would create images with calm overall look and feel to them. Examples are green and blue, or yellow and green, or orange and yellow or purple and blue.
  • Complimentary colors are the opposite colors on the color wheel that make cool and warm pairings like orange hues with blue. That works great because it creates a visual contrast which is always interesting to look at for a viewer. Complimentary color combination examples would be orange and blue, red and green, purple and yellow.
  • Monochromatic prop setup is another way to highlight the color of your food by choosing neutral plates and backgrounds of the same color. It makes the food pop while adding subtle details that help to tell a story.
  • Saturated colors grab attention. But too many saturated hues might be overstimulating. Make sure you keep the balance between highly saturated and less saturated colors.
  • Depending on what hue and luminosity you’re using, there are all types of hues and tints that you can use within the wheel to personalize your color choice.
  • Cool and warm colors determine the mood of the image. Cool colors like blue, green, magenta (add more) have calming and refreshing effect. Warm colors like yellow, orange, red (add more) create a warm and positive feel. By combining cool and warm colors in an image you create visual contrast that intensifies the coolness of cool colors and the warmness of warm colors creating visual interest and depth.
  • 60-30-10 is a principle of color proportion used in art and design that implies that the main color takes 60% of your photo, the second color adds 30% and the third color is just in subtle details. It doesn't have to be the exactly same color, you can use similar color tones and shades. You can repeat the colors of your dish throughout the frame with your props. My favorite way to do it is to add ingredients as props to create cohesiveness in the frame.

  • Here is an example of that rule: the main color here is white, the secondary color is green and the supportive color is yellow. You can see how the colors create a cohesive look supporting the healthy vibe that I wanted to communicate with this picture by making it look bright, crisp and fresh.
  • Read more about color theory on my blog.


What color combinations do you use in food photography? Try shooting using analogous, complimentary or monochromatic colors. Share the results in our Facebook group. Ask for feedback if you need it.

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