Photograph by James P. Blair, National Geographic
This serene image by photographer James Blair succeeds all the more because of its cool blue palette. Every inch of the image says winter, peace, silence. Colors can imbue a photograph with a strong sense of mood. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: Blues tend to be cool colors, especially the blues that drift toward purple. When they dominate a scene, we feel a shiver—an emotional response to the color. One blast of yellow or red in a mostly blue scene will warm it up and change our reaction. Remember to use color creatively in an image to leave an overall impression on the viewer.
Photograph by Josh Exell, My Shot
Silhouettes against a colorful sky or background can make wonderful pictures. The trick is often to underexpose the brighter area of a photograph. The dark area and shadows don’t change in this beautiful shot by Josh Exell, but the orange is a richer orange because of the deeper exposure. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: Most of us know that sunsets can provide dramatic colors in the sky. But many people don’t realize that if they keep shooting after the brightest color seems to fade to the naked eye, a richer hue of the color may appear on film or flash card.
New York City Skyline
Photograph by Jim Richardson, National Geographic
At times, the overall color of a scene can be so different from the way we normally see it that we hardly recognize the place. Seeing lush, green Central Park in a pink fog changes it completely in Jim Richardson’s stunning view, shot from a hotel window. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: Bad weather makes great pictures. It can also make the familiar completely new. So head out in that snowstorm and find ways to shoot in the rain. Celebrate fog and sandstorm and lightning. New pictures await under these conditions.
Photograph by Tarik Mahmutovic, My Shot
The simplicity of this poignant photograph by Tarik Mahmutovic is strengthened by the way he cropped it. Nothing distracts from the basic black of the puppy’s body, so we are pulled into its mournful eyes. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: Keeping the color palette simple by cropping out any distracting background can call attention to the most important elements of a photograph. Remember, black and white are colors too.
Photograph by Jim Richardson, National Geographic
Colors are often associated with certain emotions. The eerie green of the porch against the oddly purple sky gives a spooky feeling to the whole image. Photographer Jim Richardson has wisely worked with the halogen lighting that photographers usually avoid. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: Remember that artificial lighting comes in a variety of colors. Tungsten is yellow, flash is blue, and fluorescent varies. These colors can make or break a photograph, so use them thoughtfully.
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic
It’s the colors in this abstract photograph that allow us to recognize the birds in flight as macaws. Because macaws have such bright and distinctive colors, photographer Joel Sartore was able to create a successful abstract image, one in which birds of quieter hues would have disappeared. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: Distinct colors can help the viewer recognize objects in an abstract view. When presented with this advantage, the photographer has more leeway to be creative with time exposures and motion while still allowing the subject to read.
Ballet Dancers, California
Photograph by James L. Amos, National Geographic
Like nodding flowers, these ballerinas flow together as much for the palette of their costumes as for the choreography of the dance. Photographer James L. Amos has wisely photographed from above, allowing the soft pastels of the tutus to seem suspended against the simple dark background of the floor. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: Varying colors that have the same feeling or mood in a scene can blend together to give an overall impression of color. This is true with both soft and bright colors. Setting a cluster of color against a simple background will enhance the mood.
Imperial Palace Garden, Japan
Photograph by Justin Guariglia, National Geographic
The symmetry of this lovely photograph by Justin Guariglia is interrupted and made memorable by the red umbrella and its reflection in the pond. The strength of the red in this scene balances the dominant deep greens and cool colors and is quietly echoed by a gray umbrella in the upper left corner. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: In an image with a simple palette, a splash of color can add interest to the scene. But the placement of that color in the scene must be composed thoughtfully so that it adds to the balance of the overall photograph.
Middleton Gardens, South Carolina
Photograph by B. Anthony Stewart, National Geographic
This exquisite image was photographed long ago, on a glass plate negative, by B. Anthony Stewart. Perhaps that explains the delicate palette that makes this image so very beautiful. The colors in this photograph have captured the feeling of spring in the American Southeast as well as any image I have ever seen. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: With all the exciting creative techniques made possible by digital technology, it is good to revisit old images and old techniques. It can remind us that subtlety can be far more beautiful than manipulated imagery.
Photograph by Michael Yamashita, National Geographic
Another great picture made better by bad weather. Michael Yamashita has used a telephoto lens in this situation to compress the snowflakes into patterns of white. He has wisely focused on a plane of snow, leaving the background figures slightly soft. All these photographic choices pull the viewer into the storm. We can practically feel the snowflakes on our tongues. —Annie Griffiths
Photo Tip: A telephoto lens will compress everything in a scene, including elements as small as snowflakes. And the longer the lens, the more shallow the depth of field, so it’s fun to experiment with the patterns and shapes that happen when using this type of lens.
Popular in Photography
Subscribe to National Geographic magazine and save. Print and digital editions available for as little as $12.