Do background colors matter?

May 22, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

PalatePalate Many studio portrait photographers stick with a staple of grey, white, or black backgrounds for many subjects. Many experienced photographers have a working knowledge of color theory, but what if the model is dressed in basic black? As long as the subject is properly lit does it really matter if there is a departure from the basic grey?

Color can certainly influence how a image is perceived, as we can notice from the collage above. 

  • Black backdrops can be mysterious and elegant at the same time and work well for many subjects. They can be a challenge when shooting subjects with dark hair or darker pigmented skin.
  • Grey backgrounds will work well for almost any subject. It typically does not produce a distraction to the viewer and depending upon the distance of the light source, it can appear very light or almost black.
  • Red can portray a nervous, energetic, or dramatic mood. It can raise the viewers blood pressure and may be used to convey love or passion. It can also represent anger. Certainly not for every subject, and can be difficult to look at a bright red solid color for long periods. It can be used effectively in product shots to promote sales
  • Purple can represent royalty, nobility, luxury. In addition, young children are often drawn to purple so this may be a desired color with some children. Be careful though as deep purples can express depression.
  • Pinks are often feminine and can also bring feelings of love or passion. Some children also prefer the color of pink. In some cases pink can also be perceived as passive.
  • Green can represent nature, freshness, growth, healing, rest, harmony and can be considered the easiest to view. Darker greens can represent money.
  • White can often represent innocence, safety, purity, cleanliness. White backdrops are very easy to work with and even color with the aid of Gels. White backgrounds are often easy to create composite images during artistic works.
  • Yellow is almost as vibrant as red and can represent sunshine, cheerfulness, intellect, happiness. It draws immediate attention and may be effective for product shots. Darker colors often compliment yellow backdrops.
  • Blue is often associated with stability and depth and calmness. Feelings such as trust, loyalty, wisdom and confidence are often thought of when once views blue. Blue does limit appetite, so this is not the best color to use for food photography.
  • Orange can often represent energy, sun, joy. Orange to the eye can give the impression of heat such as in the tropics. It increases mental activity and often increases appetite.

Obviously, there are many variations to the base colors. When thinking of a color such as orange, a golden orange can be thought of as prestige, while a deep orange may have negative connotations. There are many tutorials on the net relating to color theory as well as how to use the color wheel when making decisions when editing images.

Color wheelColor wheel

One interesting site that one can experience an interactive color wheel is: 

Interactive color wheel

This site will allow you to experiment with a variety of colors along the color wheel and for those who are proficient with Photoshop, the site will give you the exact RBG or Hex code to enter into Photoshop to generate that color. This site can help not only photographers but also makeup artists, designers, wardrobe staff as well as a variety other members on your team.


Bob Barford is a published award winning portrait and glamour photographer based out of Pennsylvania. 




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