I recently came across an intriguing word I never encountered – chromotherapy. It dates back to ancient European and Asian culture and uses color to heal. It’s still used today in alternative medicine. In that color is such an integral part of photography, the word piqued my curiosity. Already knowing that specific colors convey specific psychological feelings and evoke certain moods, it made me think more deeply about the relationship. While I’m not convinced that looking at a given color will rid myself of a headache, there are givens when it comes to the psychology of color and how it impacts the way a viewer perceives an image. Therefore it’s beneficial that you, as a photographer, learn its psychological impact to help convey a mood in a photograph.
To some degree the perception of color is subjective but there are a few givens. For instance, cool toned colors are green, blue and purple. Warm toned colors are red, yellow and orange. Cool tones tend to emit feelings of tranquility and calmness while warm tones run the gamut from anger to warmth depending on their saturation. Different cultures view color in different ways so the above is not universal. The following aspects of color psychology relate to the western world.
Black: Power / Strength / Stability / Grief – Black is associated with power in how it relates to clothing. The CEO of the company wears a black suit or black dress. It’s also the color that makes the wearer appear thinner. Graduation gowns are often black. Grief is psychologically depicted with regards to black mourning garments.
White: Purity / Cleanliness / Innocence – White is certainly the color of innocence. A bride on her wedding day wears white and when a baby is baptized, the suit is white. A white picket fence symbolizes a safe and happy home. Pure thoughts are often associated with white.
Red: Notice me / Speed / Anger / Love – Red provides psychological diversity given the symbol to which it’s connected. For instance, it could mean love with regards to Valentine’s Day. Speed is associated with a red sports car. It’s documented that more speeding tickets are issued to drivers of red cars. Red is associated with stimulation in that it triggers endorphins in the brain. Anger and rage are often represented by red.
Yellow: Happiness / Optimism – Yellow tends to spur creative thoughts in addition to bringing promise to the future. It’s mentally stimulating and jump starts the nervous system. With its strong connection to the sun, its psychological connection suggests good times, happiness, warmth, and laughter.
Blue: Calm / Tranquility – Blue causes the body to produce chemicals that are calming. Blue is seen as a trustworthy color. Its most common association is a clear blue sky. The psychological connection is a blue sky day is calm and peaceful therefore it connotes these feelings when viewed.
Green: Nature / Growth / Harmony – Green is the predominant color in the natural world giving it a refreshing quality. It’s a soothing color to view. With its strong connection to nature, it provides a tranquil psychological impact.
Orange: Fun / Energy – Orange tends to stimulate activity and one’s appetite. It also connotes a feeling of change – think fall color. If its hue leans more toward the red side, it creates excitement. If it leans more toward the yellow, it’s more tranquil.
Purple: Royalty / Wealth – Purple is often associated with royalty as it’s the color of kings and queens. The royal robes were often purple. Along with this concept is the connection to wealth as the kings and queens were rich. Additionally, sophistication is a characteristic of purple. Purple can be both uplifting and calming depending on its hue and saturation.
Reaction to color is instantaneous and it’s a powerful psychological tool. It’s used to influence a buyer in advertising, produce calm, make someone work more energetically, and send positive and/or negative feelings. Learn how color does this and apply the knowledge to your photography to influence the way a viewer looks at your images.