As I mentioned in my last article, great photos incorporate one or more artistic elements or ingredients. An analogy would be like baking an apple pie. The success and quality of the pie are based on its ingredients (apples, eggs, flour, butter, sugar, cinnamon, etc.). Photography is no different. By combining the right elements (ingredients), you will end up creating more artistic photos.

Most professional photographers agree that artistic photos incorporate elements of color, form, moment, perspective, light and good composition. So, in this lesson we’re going to explore the element of color. By itself, color can make an excellent photograph, and it can do this with only one color. Combinations of yellows, oranges and reds are often referred to as warm colors and combinations of blues and greens are often called cool colors (like the Mount Chocorua photo). Nature also makes pastel colors, which are diluted and less intense, such as the light pinks and baby blues you often see in evening and morning skies.

White light consists of three primary colors: red, yellow and blue, which when projected together form white light. Mixing various combinations of these primary colors produce all the colors we see. Every primary color has its complement, or opposite color. Complementary colors (those opposite on a color wheel), like a combination of reds and blue/greens, or a combination of blues and yellows, will produce more dramatic photos due to the contrast in colors. An example of this might be a foliage scene with yellow leaves contrasted against a blue sky. Photos that display these contrasting colors will really pop. Now, take a close look at my photo of Mount Washington taken just before sunset. It contains the complementary colors of pink (alpenglow on the Presidential range) and blues, which really causes the photo to pop.

Harmonious colors, on the other hand, are similar in tone (those next to each other on the color wheel), like a combination of blues and greens in the photo of Mount Chocorua. The effect is pleasing, rather than dramatic, and allows the eye to explore other elements such as shape, texture and form.

Artists use complementary and harmonious colors to create their works of art. Photographers on the other hand, don’t have as much creative latitude as artists, but the more we understand the impact color has on a photo, the more we can look for color combinations that enhance and add impact to our photos.

Stay tuned for my next lesson, where I will discuss form (lines, shapes, patterns and texture). You may notice that most of my lessons and photos cater more to nature and landscape photography, which reflects my area of expertise. However, the lessons can be applied to all types of photography. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments.

Ron Bowman is a New Hampshire-based photographer with more than 50 years of experience photographing weddings, real estate and New England landscapes. He is a member of the Lakes Region Art Association and can be reached at His work is available to view at