Why an analogous color scheme in photography works so well

Color has a huge impact on us and affects how we feel about an image, because it influences atmosphere. How you combine colors as an element of design in photography is particularly impactful. Today we’re looking at the analogous color scheme.

Don’t worry, it’s way less technical than it sounds.

Color schemes are just recognised groupings of colors used in all elements of design, including photography.

The basic photography color schemes are:

I say basic, because color theory in composition gets a bit more complicated, but for this article we’ll stick to the simple color schemes.

Portrait with analogous colors of pink dress and purple wall
The model’s pink dress and the purple wall are analogous colors, which creates unity in the image

What are analogous colors?

This is where you see just how easy it is to decide on an analogous color scheme! To make it even easier, you’ll need a color wheel, which you can get further down.

Analogous colors are any colors that lie next to each other on the color wheel. There’s no set rule for which colors they need to be, only that they should be next to each other for color harmony.

So, you could have, for example:

  • Yellow, orange and red
  • Blue, green and yellow

How many colors in an analogous color scheme?

There isn’t a strict limit on how many colors you can include in an analogous color scheme, but the traditional number is 3.

That said, this analogous color wheel shows are your options…

Analogous colors on the color wheel

I’ve segmented out sections of the color wheel (in the center) to demonstrate a few possible analogous color schemes.

Two colors

To use an analogous color scheme of two colors, pick a color on the color wheel and choose either the color to the left or the color to the right.

Three colors

This is the most striking analogous color scheme and therefore the most popular. It’s really easy. Once you decide on a color:

  • Pick a color to the left of it and one to the right
  • Or two to the left
  • Or two to the right

Four or five colors

It’s the same for analogous color schemes of four or even five colors, although the more colors you use the more careful you need to be as using too many colors can very easily reduce impact.


Why use analogous colors in photography?

You know how some images are soothing and others feel energetic? That’s largely influenced by color.

As you look at the color wheel you’ll notice that one half is warm colors (yellows, oranges, reds) and the other half is cool colors (blues, greens, light purple).

The colors you choose will help to draw the viewer into the scene. Choose a:

  • Warm analogous color scheme to reflect heat and sunshine, or a
  • Cool color scheme to imply winter or night time

We can take analogous colors in photography a step further to influence the viewer so that they not only feel the physical heat or cold, but also the emotional impact.

Because we know that colors affect our mood, you should select colors to underline the message of your image:

  • A warm palette makes us feel energetic, happy, relaxed and can imply urgency or danger
  • A cool color palette can imply loneliness, isolation, peace, tranquility

As you can see both halves of the color wheel play a role in conveying both positive and negative emotions. The atmosphere of an image is built up in layers of composition techniques with color being just one (important) element of the overall impact.

Unlike complementary colors, which are dynamic, analogous colors are harmonious.

Choosing colors for a family photoshoot
Even the dog is connected in the family photo by wearing a pale blue bandana to tie into the the blues and greens of this analogous color scheme.

An analogous color scheme creates a sense of unity in a family portrait. It’s a visual clue that shows that they belong together, and is far more interesting than when everyone is dressed in the exact same colors. Here’s how to put together an analogous color scheme for family photos.

How to use analogous color photography composition

To make the most of an analogous color scheme, you need to think about the ratio of the colors you’ve chosen.

It’s best not to use all three (or however many) colors equally.

  • First decide which of your analogous colors will be the main color and use this color the most.
  • Then choose an accent color, or two, and use them less than the main color. These colors are there to support the main color and work well in the background.

Now let’s have a look at some examples of analogous colors in action…

Analogous color scheme examples in photography

Warm analogous colors
The same analogous color scheme is used in both these photos, so they could easily be used together, which is another reason for selecting a particular color palette for a shoot or series of shoots. In these analogous colors examples I’ve used shades of red, orange and yellow. 
Cool analogous color scheme
I like the monochrome color scheme of the before image on the left, but I wanted to make the subject stand out from the background so I added purple to the sky using the hue slider in Lightroom.
Analogous color scheme of yellow flowers, green grass and yellow clothing
The subject’s pale yellow top ties in with the analogous color scheme of yellow flowers and green grass, connecting her with the background of the image for a harmonious feeling

Wrapping up analogous color composition

Knowing how to use color as an element of design in photography composition isn’t difficult, it just takes a little thought and planning. Sometimes also a little bit of adjusting in post production.

Once you know the feeling of the image you want to create, decide on the appropriate color scheme. If necessary use a color wheel until you feel confident to work without one.

The best part is that if you know about color theory, you don’t have to figure what colors to use in a photo. Just learn about the different color schemes and then use the one most appropriate for the mood of the photo.

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If you have any questions about analogous photography, let us know in the comments.

Also, we love good news, so if these analogous photography tips will help you to choose a color palette for your next shoot, share that too.

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