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Why does color evoke such a strong opinion? Color is an integral part of our visual language. We react to color subconsciously and form strong emotional responses before we even realize it. Specific colors have long been known to evoke certain moods, feelings and reaction. Pink is used to calm drunks in jail cells and even spawned the color Drunk Tank Pink! Many sports teams paint the opponent’s locker room pink to deflate their aggression.(1)

Color trends have become a major influence across all industries. Fashionistas and home décor aficionados everywhere eagerly await Pantone’s announcement of the “Color of the Year”. They even compose beautiful prose heralding its arrival. Take a look at the blurb touting 2013’s color, Emerald. You can effortlessly feel this color!

“Lively. Radiant. Lush… A color of elegance and beauty that enhances our sense of well-being, balance and harmony.”

One of the easiest and affordable ways to add creative photo direction to your shoot is to leverage the psychology of color. With the wide array of colors now available in seamless backdrops, choosing the optimum color to convey your message is easier (and more affordable) than ever. 

Meaning of Color

Although people’s impressions of color can be subjective there are certain color characteristics that are universal.(2)


Red is an intense color associated with passion, love and even an increased appetite. Spike Lee used it very effectively in his film Do the Right Thing to visually illustrate the intensity of a sweltering heat wave. Choose a seamless color such as Primary Red when shooting food to get viewers salivating.

red seamless paperPhoto Courtesy of: Ryan Walsh, Featuring: Primary Red Seamless Paper


Yellow can be cheerful and warm such as a high-key yellow like Canary. Take a cue from the great impressionist painters who used yellow to convey feelings of anxiety in their works. (3) Try Deep Yellow seamless for a mood of unease.

deep yellow seamless paper Photo Courtesy of: Ryan Walsh, Featuring: Deep Yellow Seamless Paper


Nature abounds with hues of green. Green can also connote health or money. Mint Green seamless works well when photographing beauty and spa products or environmentally friendly goods. Use a deeper Evergreen seamless for financial services.

green seamless paper Photo Courtesy of: Ryan Walsh, Featuring: Holly Seamless Paper


Blue is the most popular color amongst men. Large corporations often utilize hues of blue since it is soothing and denotes productivity. Gulf Blue and Regal Blue seamless are perfect for shooting corporate headshots.

blue seamless paper Photo Courtesy of: Ryan Walsh, Featuring: Blue Jean Seamless Paper


Purple is historically the sign of royalty, wealth and success. Use Purple seamless for product or fashion shots that call for a touch of aplomb.

purple seamless paper Photo Courtesy of: Ryan Walsh, Featuring: Purple Seamless Paper


Orangish hues have risen in popularity thanks to 2012’s color of the year, Tangerine. Create a sense of excitement and energy with Tangelo or traditional Orange seamless.

orange seamless paper Photo Courtesy of: Ryan Walsh, Featuring: Tangelo Seamless Paper


Luxury brands, like Chanel and Prada, often turn to this color trio due to their heir of sophistication. Fashion Gray, Marmalade and Black seamless will illustrate the upscale look at your next shoot.

gray seamless paper Photo Courtesy of: Ryan Walsh, Featuring: Smoke Gray Seamless Paper

Here’s a quick cheat sheet to refer to when trying to choose your backdrop color:

  • Cool (calming): Blue, Green, Turquoise, Silver
  • Warm (exciting): Red, Pink, Yellow, Gold, Orange
  • Mixed Cool/Warm: Purple, Lavender, Green, Turquoise
  • Neutral (unifying): Brown, Beige, Ivory, Gray, Black, White

How to Use Color Effectively

Beside seamless backdrops, styling and propping a photograph can also take advantage of the power of color.


Create cognitive dissonance (such as a burly man wearing a pink outfit) that will catch the viewers’ attention.


Use bright and high-contrast colors, like yellow, to draw attention to your main subject.


Utilize the power of metaphors and emotion to tell a story. Keep in mind colors have varying meanings internationally. For instance, white is the symbol of mourning in China.

For help in styling and photo directing large set ups with lots of propping, you’ll want to learn how to create unique color combinations. Find cool color scheme ideas at Adobe Kuler or create you own palette and share with fellow creative-types. Discover even more about color from international color guru and Pantone head consultant Leatrice Eisman. Check out one of the numerous books she’s written about the subject or enroll in one of her training sessions.

Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!


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