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How Do I Use Colour Accents to Draw Attention to a Subject?

There are many different ways to attract viewers’ attention to a main subject: Leading lines, using bokeh, symmetry, and so on. Here’s a new technique to try: Skillful use of colour. (Reported by: Tomoko Suzuki, Digital Camera Magazine)

Night shot of warmly-lit corridor under a bridge with Ferris wheel in the background

EOS 6D/ EF50mm f/1.8 STM/ FL: 50mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/18, 13 sec, EV-1.7)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight


How I took the shot

Key elements
Main subject: The orange-toned corridor under an elevated bridge
Secondary subject: The Ferris wheel on the right
Click here to learn more about main and secondary subjects

I waited until the Ferris wheel turned purple. Using a split composition, with the pillars as the boundary, further emphasised the contrast between the two parts of the scene. As there were many light sources, I used exposure compensation at EV-1.7 to prevent blown highlights.


The underlying concept: Use complementary colours to accentuate subjects

The colour wheel is an important concept for anyone who works with visual art, photographers included. It shows the relationships between different colours, and you can use it to find colour combinations that look good together.

There are different types of such colour combinations, and it can be very fascinating to learn more about them. For this shot,  the combination of complementary colours was the key.

What are complementary colours?

Colour wheel indicating blue and orange as complementary colours

Complementary colours are those that are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel. According to colour theory, these opposing colours create maximum contrast with each other, making each other appear brighter and more prominent. 

Red maple leaves on top of larger, green leaves

If colours that are the exact opposite of each other appear in the same shot, both will appear more vivid, as you can see from the red and green leaves here. 

In practice, you can get good results even if the colours are not exact opposites

All you need is for one colour to be close to the actual complementary colour of the other. For example, in the main image, my main subject was orange, which has blue as a complementary colour on the colour wheel. But as you can see, the purple Ferris wheel does quite a decent job of making the orange elements attract more attention.

Also see: Enhancing the Impression of Nightscape Shots with the Colour of the Secondary Subject


Try it the next time you want to draw attention to a particular subject! If you like the results, share them with us on My Canon Story and you might get featured!

Need more inspiration for using colours? Check out:
Abstract Photography: Using Colour

For other exciting ways to capture city nightscapes, see:
One Location, Two Looks: Abstract Nightscapes – Tranquillity vs. Vibrancy
EOS M5 Shooting Techniques: Night Cityscapes (Note: Can be tried on other camera models too!)


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Tomoko Suzuki

Tomoko Suzuki

After graduating from the Tokyo Polytechnic University Junior College, Suzuki joined an advertisement production firm. She has also worked as an assistant to photographers including Kirito Yanase, and specializes in commercial shoots for apparels and cosmetic products. She now works as a studio photographer for an apparel manufacturer.