Being able to capture colours well is an essential skill as a photographer, because colour will always appear somewhere in a frame when taking a photograph (unless it is completely converted to black and white afterwards).
There are literally thousands of different types of colours but they are all really just variations on a primary colour (red, yellow or blue) or a secondary colour (colours that are created by mixing primary colour such as green, orange, purple and brown).
Colour theory is a really complex topic. The simple way to think about colour in photography is to break it down into two aspects: the technical and the creative.
The technical aspect involves setting white balance to match the colour temperature of the ambient light, for colour accuracy in the final photograph.
However colour can also be used as a really powerful creative tool. Many different emotions and moods can be evoked by featuring a certain type of colour or combination of colours in an image.
This is because all colours have cultural associations that have evolved over time. For example pink and blue have been associated with gender for years, and greens and yellows have become our national colours in Australia. White and black are technically tones rather than colours but even they have plenty of colour associations, such as white for purity and black for evil.
Some colours can even have more than one association, depending on the context. For example red is a colour that symbolises passion and danger and blue is the colour of both depression and tranquility. Our job as photographers is to use these associations in our photographs so that people react emotionally to what they see.
Here are some interesting ways of capturing colour:
1) Mixing tones Use colours that contrast with one another in tone, such as warm and cool tones. This works really well for photographing horizons and landscapes, such as the photo below. Warm colours are seen as advancing, while cool colours appear to recede.
2) Colour on colour Mixing primary colours with a muted version of the same colour, creates depth in an image. Bold colours are strong and striking, while pastel versions of the same colour are usually much softer. Using two different shades of pink in the photo below of the shoes gives the photos two different visual elements - femininity and a vintage feel.
3) Multiple Colours A photo that features multiple colours (or maybe even every colour in the rainbow) is extremely eye-catching. It’s a great technique for lifestyle photography, such as capturing all the colours at a street carnival or the beach boxes on Brighton Beach as seen in the photo below.
4) Isolating Colour Featuring one colour only in a frame against a white or black background makes it the centre of attention. The photo below of the ferris wheel was taken on Valentines Day, giving the photo a sense of romance it wouldn’t have if it were taken in daylight.
Once you train yourself to start noticing colours around you and how they interact and impact on a scene, it will make a big difference to your photography.