Monochrome photos are an excellent way to turn an everyday image into a work of art. Shutterbugs familiar with black and white photography techniques will find comfort in this artform, as they share many attributes.
The great thing about monochromatic pictures is that there are no rules. They can add an abstract and singular look to a piece, but the idea of sharing a color throughout the frame can be used for any aspect of composition. Read our article for great photography composition tips and techniques. It can even be applied to things like portraiture.
What Are Monochrome Colors?
If something is monochromatic, it contains just one color. When we talk about monochromatic colors, we are referring to all of the hues of one color.
For example, most people are familiar with black and white photography. But when you consider what makes those two colors, they are simply hues of grey. The range of grey goes from dark black to white. A black and white photo contains hundreds or thousands of hues of grey.
Colors are made up of many shades, tones, and tints. When you take one color like pure red, and add a little black, you begin creating shades of red. The more black you add, the darker it will get. From here, you will create colors like maroon. If you add grey, you can create tones of red. And finally, if you add white, you will create tints of red like pink.
Many designers use a monochromatic color scheme when they want to make a design clean and simple. It adds elegance to the design, and by removing color data from the image or layout, it focuses the viewer’s attention more clearly on the subject and content
What is Monochromatic Color Photography?
In photography, a monochromatic color scheme is one that only features one color in the frame.
In the early days of photography, the chemical processes that made photographs lent themselves to monochromatic images. Sepia or brownish images were the norm. Eventually, technology evolved to make sharp black and white prints a reality. When we see sepia images now, they instantly remind us of something historical–it must be old to look like that.
But many photographers enjoy the look of a sepia and black and white photos today, even with the prevalence of digital full-color photography. It’s an easy way to step back in time and to make your photos have a more significant impact on your audience.
With a digital camera, most photographers now create monochrome effects in post-production instead of at the time of capture. In Photoshop, it’s easy to convert a photo into any color palette you desire.
Why Do Photographers Use Monochromatic Colors?
With so many other options available to photographers, it might not be readily apparent why anyone would bother with a monochromatic color scheme. But many photographers choose to work and edit in this style.
Novelty and Abstraction
One of the most apparent reasons for making a monochromatic image is that the result is so unique. You’re no longer capturing the world as it is, but rather how you want it to appear. While that might be the goal of all of your photography, your viewers will instantly understand it when seen in monochrome. It’s obviously not reality, so it’s up to them to interpret what they see.
Graphic designers use one-color layouts often because they’re simpler designs. That’s an important tool to have when a design is complicated. Think about detailed infographics you’ve seen, or intricate patterns and artwork. More often than not, the more details something has, the fewer colors the designer will choose to use. Why? Because removing colors instantly simplifies a design, and adding colors adds complexity.
Finally, colors cause a subconscious psychological reaction. We all have these reactions, whether we realize it or not. Here are just a few examples.
Red is the color of passion, be they love, anger, or even hate. Blood is red. Reddened flushed cheeks give away our deepest emotions. All of this means that red is deeply related to ourselves and our human interactions. It’s usually associated with negative emotions or warnings and can make a person feel uneasy or give them a sense of unrest.
Yellow is another powerful color, but it’s usually associated with happiness, joy, and sunshine. It reminds us of gold. Since it contrasts with most things, it’s used for high-visibility highway stripes and road signs. If there’s too much of it in a scene, it can be too confusing, but it communicates mostly positive emotions.
Orange is a mixed bag, however. Since it shares a little red and a little yellow, you get the results of both. It speaks to healthfulness or strength and reminds us of sunsets or fall-time colors. For some, it is a warm feeling of sitting by a campfire, while others are made uneasy by the color.
Blue shares much the same features since it is also found in nature. Blue is the color of water and the ocean. Blue and green are closely related, and many people identify blue as their favorite color.
Likewise, pink and purple are closely related. Pink reminds us of spring, flowers blooming, and femininity. It’s a soft color full of joy and possibility. Purple shares some of these characteristics, but is darker and more regal. Incidentally, purple was often associated with royalty since it was a rare and special pigment.