The Color Red

A photo of red jellyfish in blue water, in Hong Kong aquarium.

Written by ian robert knight

Travel Photographer, Bangkok

Color is everywhere. We can’t escape it. Color tells us how to feel, colour helps us identify good from bad, and colour helps define our identity. As humans, we have the fortunate ability to differentiate between about 7 million colours. We can’t name them all, but we can usually tell the difference between them. And colour plays an important role in art and design. For the purposes of this post, I want to talk about the colour red. As colours go, the red is one of the most dominant colours available.

Colors can make us feel emotions. Colors like violet, blue and green are said to be cool, soothing, and passive. And the colors like red, orange and yellow are thought of as hot, strong and assertive. How we include these colors in our images will determine how our viewers respond to the photographs. Although red is not my favorite color, I understand just how powerful it is, and the emotions that it can elicit from my viewers. I try to include the color red whenever I can.
A photo of red jellyfish in blue water, in Hong Kong aquarium.
Red on blue
Take a look at this image as an example. It has only 2 colors – red and blue. When I was taking the photo, the colors were changing every 15 seconds. The color of the water was changing from the lights below, and the color of the jellyfish was changing as well, since they take on the colors of the lights that were shone on them from above. Of all the color combinations, the blue water and red jellyfish was the most impactful.
No matter how much red is in the photo, the viewer will always be drawn to it because it is dominant.
The color red works equally as well as a background and as a foreground subject. Whatever role it takes on, it will always remain a focal point in a photo. No matter how much red is in the photo, the viewer will always be drawn to it because it is dominant. In this photo, even though the main subject is the grey stone, our eyes cannot help but focus on the red ribbons in the background.
Photo of red Chinese ribbons at a shrine in Beijing, China.
What grey stone? I only see red.

Pairing with red

Colors work well when they are paired with complementary colors too. A complementary color for red is green (think Christmas, or Heineken). Whenever we can place the dominant color with it’s passive complimentary color, it helps to make the subject pop off the page.

A photo of a flower seller holding yellow flowers in the Quang Ba market near Hanoi, Vietnam.
A photo of red lanterns hanging in Macau, China.
A photo of a red wall in the Forbidden City, Beijing.
A photo of a red parrot, seen in Devil's Island.
Red fabric makes a strong statement as well. As I have spent a significant amount of time in Asia, it’s pretty easy to find. Many Asian countries include red in their national colors, and traditional clothing reflects this. If someone is wearing a red shirt or dress in a photo, it is near impossible to avoid noticing it.

Placing the color red in your images can be a lot easier than you think. It’s everywhere in our world, and everyone has a feeling about it. As photographers, our challenge is to use the color red in such a way that our viewers see what we want them to see.

How do you use the color red in your photos? Leave your comments below.

A photo of a troupe of Dragon Dancers, wearing red costumes, in Hanoi, Vietnam.
A photo of waitresses dressed in red, in Beijing, China.
A photo of 5 monks, in red robes, taken near Paro, Bhutan.

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