The Color Complement


The day was gray and overcast. There was no sun and everything looked dull and lifeless. Without the opportunity to “shoot shadows”, I was searching for another interesting subject on which to focus. My experience has been that the most interesting images can be found behind buildings rather than on the public-facing side. As I explored the back of a restaurant, I discovered this outdoor patio area.

My attraction to this image was two-fold. My eye was immediately drawn to the interesting lines, angles and geometric shapes formed by the girders sheltering the building below. But then, it was all about the colors. That juicy orange and deep royal blue – a complementary color scheme that buzzes and vibrates with energy. In terms of the psychology of color, orange engenders feelings of vitality and warmth while blue creates a sense of protection and calm. One is perceived as warm; the other as cool. These color contrasts make for a very dynamic composition.  

But as you can see from the original image, this photograph suffered from washed-out colors and a barren and lifeless sky that added nothing. This is a situation where texture application can bring an image back to life. In this case, textures added significant  interest to the sky area. In addition, the choice of blending mode for each layer increased the color saturation, further enhancing the vibrant complementary color scheme. Now the colors almost leap from the screen. This is definitely a circumstance where the after image has been greatly improved through some Photoshop magic.

Here are the steps that I followed to rescue this drab image:

  • Silence texture, Linear Burn blend mode at 80% opacity
  • Golden texture,  Linear Burn blend mode at 100% opacity
  • Luminous  texture, Overlay blend mode at 50% opacity
  • Processed my pencil sketch action to define the edges

How do you use color in your images? Does formal color theory inform your photographic choices?


Posted on June 28, 2011, in Photography, Photoshop and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. As always I love your texture work ♥

  2. I love what the texture does to this shot and I love the concept about the back of buildings.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I really appreciate the feedback. And oh yes – the backsides are the best in terms of finding something interesting! I do hope you will stop by again.

  3. Wow, your treatment created a fantastic work of art out of a not so colourful shot !!!! that texture sure worked wonders here !!

  4. Whoo Hoo! My favourite complementary colours 🙂

    Amazing work and I’m so grateful for your ‘Texture Tuesdays’; learning so much!

    I’m also aware of my surroundings and often ‘notice’ symbolism in my environment. I love how you touched upon the combined psychological effect of the vibrant orange and the solid stability of that deep blue.

    I’m so excited by the way you SEE, Brenda and how you can share that in an educational and creative way with your readers.

    • Carole,

      In the past, I have never considered myself a fan of the color orange – it was just too “much” for me in some way – too bright, too aggressive, too overpowering. But I am trying to keep myself open to what is in front of me and not to judge. To see how things work together and try to understand what attracts my eye. And I really like the way this one turned out – the blue grounds the orange in such a way that I find the result extremely appealing.

      I am gratified that you have found my information helpful. And I appreciate it so much that you let me know.

  5. I love the graininess of the sky/background. The whole image looks almost like a painting — Andrew Wyeth meets Charles Sheeler. Love it!

    • Lisa

      Wow – two of my favorite artists! Don’t know many other people who are familiar with Sheeler’s work but I greatly admire his images – the blocks of overlapping color, the urban-industrial subject matter, the geometry and precision of his style. And such an overwhelming compliment regarding my work – I am deeply flattered that you saw something in my photo that brought to mind the names of those two amazing artists.

  6. I love Georgia O’Keeffe — especially her comment that color is what makes life worth living. She led me to Sheeler and Dove Lewis Hine — those amazing pictures of the Empire State Building construction. I did some research on the artists of the 30’s for my first novel. Much fun!

  7. Sorry, that should have been “Sheeler and Dove AND Lewis Hine.” How I love my typos . . .

    • Lisa – Lewis Hine was one of the photographers that we reviewed in my digital photography class. His shot of the mechanic working on a steam pump is one of my favorites from that era. And what a great quote from O’Keeffe – fits really well with the subject of this post.

      And if you follow Tara Sophia Mohr, she published a post this week entitled Why I Love my Typos ( which explains why you should embrace them 🙂

  8. Thanks for the link to Tara’s post. I will go back to that one a lot. I love what she writes about the passion of creating — the messy easel. Brilliant.

I greatly appreciate your comments!

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