Using color in photography to add depth and meaning

Let’s unpack it together in this photography tutorial.

A video tutorial on color and how to use it in photography to add meaning

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How to use color in photography to add meaning

Using color to add value to your photos

Color can evoke many emotions. So how can you use color in photography to add meaning?

Teo Crawford uses this video to discuss colors and what they mean when added or emphasised in photography.


How to use color in photography to add meaning

The Relationship between photography and color

Photography can be broken down into layers that work together to create the photograph as a whole. Layers include the composition (layout of elements), the subject, the lighting and the colors. 

Color is a layer that you can add, or remove from an image. Removing this layer can create something that feels more abstract than the reality we perceive.

Similarly, adding color is a way to bring your photo closer into reality. However, when color is too adjusted and edited you can begin to alter the feeling of reality either enhancing, narrowing, or even into surrealism.

What is color and how it adds meaning to photography


Color = Layers of intentionality

Colour is used in many different ways for varying reasons. Many photos simply ‘have color’.

Its not black and white and apart from adding to the layer of realism the color isn’t really doing much more for the photograph.

Images with strong colors serve to underline the feeling that the photograph is trying to invoke in the viewer. 

This can then be narrowed down to photographs that have a few intentionally chosen strong colors. It’s a stylistic choice to draw attention to the color or the subject of the photograph.

We can go even deeper with this by looking at the color pallet chosen. Is the chosen color pallet:

  • Complementary (Colors across from each other on the color wheel like orange and blue, red and green, yellow and purple)
  • Monochrome (black and white)
  • Cold (blues)
  • Warm (reds)
  • Something else?

Color adds layers of intentionality, how to use color to add meaning in photography


The Psychology of Color – what color means to us

Apart from the visual purpose, color can also have emotional meaning. This leads to the subject of Colour Psychology.

Colors often have specific connotations that can be used to give a photograph a deeper meaning, if chosen well.

For example, the color red has connoted meanings and feelings attached of warmth, strength, aggression and danger. Whereas green can represent harmony, refreshment or balance.

A prime example of this at work is that of the artist Al Mefer in his photographic series ‘Deserts of the Future’.

This series of work is focused on the subject of climate change. A deliberate shift in the oranges of the photos towards red in addition to the barren scenes chosen work to communicate his point of view.

This choice is particularly effective in the context chosen to communicate a message well beyond the photographs yet portrayed within the bleeding and suffering of nature.

Example of Al Mefer’s work:

How to use color to add meaning in photography with reds to show the danger of climate change


Colors can be used to communicate meaning or emotion

Colors can be used metaphorically in photography. (Metaphor means a meaning applied to a subject that isn’t literal)

Elevating the meaning of photography by removing the realism to use the metaphorical uses of the colors, where colors don’t just exist in a photograph – they represent something, something that impacts what we can feel.

Colors also add layers to the photograph and they lend to the perception of reality of the photograph.

When particularly intentional, color can draw focus to areas or subjects on a photograph and can even be employed to connect with our feelings and communicate a message.

How to use color to add meaning in photography the use of color psychology


When used intentionally, color can be used to add deeper meaning to photography

Next time you are taking photos or editing them, try using color to evoke certain emotions or responses from viewers in your images.

And if you’re looking to improve your photography skills, check out this comprehensive guide!

In what way will you start choosing colors to add meaning in your photography?

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