The Psychology of Color in Photography

Author: Joel Wolfson


I went through my best selling fine art images and found that most of them had a predominant presence of yellow in them. Why would that be? Because colors affect us both psychologically and physiologically. Yellow imparts a sense of warmth, cheerfulness and comfort. It is welcoming and stimulates mental activity. So it makes sense that more people would buy the images that impart these attributes and emotions. Color alone may not make your photograph a success but colors and their meaning are often overlooked by photographers.

The next time you’re shooting color photographs, think about what the colors in the image will impart to the viewer. How colors affect us is an extensive topic and I don’t claim to be a psychologist- but below is a condensed list and guideline you can use as another tool to help you convey what it is you’re trying to get across to the viewer. There are many studies and articles published online if you want to research it more. In the meantime here’s my quick guide for photographers:

Red– action, passion, danger, heat, love. Increases metabolism and respiration rate.

Blue– tranquility, calmness. Decreases metabolism.

Yellow– warmth, comfort, cheerfulness. Stimulates mental activity and is welcoming.

Green– growth, freshness, renewal, harmony. Most restful to the human eye.

Orange– movement, joy, creativity, energy. Increases oxygen supply to the brain.

Purple– power, prestige, creativity, ambition.

I would like to note that psychological aspects of color will vary with different cultures. These differences may be narrowing due to the internet but what I’ve discussed here is based on studies and information gathered in the United States and Canada.

Joel Wolfson is an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.