Exploring hues with hot peppers

Last week, I talked about monochromatic colors. Today, I am going to continue the journey through color theory and how it relates to “making”  photographs. But first, I need to explain something very important.

In last week’s post, I concentrated on one base hue and used different shades, tints, and tones of it to create a compelling and saliva inducing  picture. Today, I am going to add additional hues to our base hue. To do this, you need to be familiar with the color wheel.

This is the RYB (red, yellow, blue) color wheel. It is based off the RYB color model and is most commonly used by painters and designers. I could go on and on about different color models and their uses (the RGB one is what your camera uses) but for simplicity, today’s post is only going to be about the RYB model. You might have learned about the color wheel in your grade school art class, but lets take a second to review. For the color wheel to work, there have to be 3 primary colors. These colors CAN’T be made by mixing other colors together. They are the base of the color wheel. In this model, they are…

Red, Yellow, and Blue. When you mix these primary colors together, you create secondary colors…

Orange=yellow and red

Green= blue and yellow

Purple= blue and red

If you go one step further and mix a primary color with a secondary color, you create 6 tertiary colors!

Combine all of these together, and that is how you get the 12 colors on the color wheel!

Now that we have reviewed what we learned in elementary school, here is how to apply this to your food photography. Remember last week, how I talked about a monochromatic color scheme?

This image of habaneros is a monochromatic scheme with the base hue being orange. This is not a bad picture, but the pepper kind of blends into the background and gets lost. A habanero is HOT! I want to emphasize that with the color scheme in the picture. Now that we know how to use a color wheel, we can add other colors to do this! There are several different approaches to selecting you other hues to include in your image. The one I am going to talk about first, is the analogous color scheme.

This scheme is similar to monochromatic, but you are adding additional hues that are next to you original base hue. In this case, our base hue is an orange.

This base orange is somewhere between and yellow orange, orange and red orange, so adding a red background would fit into the analogous color scheme. The red background will provide us with the separation that we need to emphasize the pepper.


With the Analogous color pattern, the pepper is able to have separation with the background and an emphasis on the heat element of the pepper is there. The reds and oranges in the background and pepper are like those found in a low burning, very hot flame. This is similar to the feeling you have when you consume a habanero. Adding colors that are next to each other on the color wheel as opposed to only one base hue can help add separation to your subject from the background, as well as further emphasize the mood or message of your picture. These colors can also work as an accent.

In this image of the peppers, white is the predominant color in the background. Adding the orange and red stripes help break up the picture and add some interest. Changing the background also changes the mood of the photo. Looking at the two side by side can you tell a difference? The red background on the left definitely conveys a different mood that the white cloth one on the right. Which do you prefer?There is no right or wrong one, it is all about which one achieves your message!

This is just a dip into the shallow end of the color theory pool. I hop that this has helped and inspired you to try new things with your food photography. I will be bring you more lessons in color theory and other tips, as well as a large project that I am working on putting together. I am working on taking all the tutorial posts I have written, as well as adding additional content, and putting them together into a downloadable PDF  that will walk you through the process of “making” a picture. I will tell you more about it as I finish it, but just wanted to let you know what will be happening soon.




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  1. says

    Awesome post Taylor. The 2 images does give a different feeling. The peppers on red background makes me think that they must be hot, and also it looks like an “artistic” image. Whereas the peppers on the kitchen towel makes me think that you’re photographing them before using them in a dish.

  2. says

    I’ve said it once I know and at the cost of sounding redundant I can not thank you enough for these photo tutorials.
    They are so incredibly helpful for someone still living with a love/hate/learn relationship with their DSLR. I wish I could be your shadow for a week (or two, maybe three) but I’ll settle for absorbing your posts like a swiffer mop.

    Thanks thanks thanks T!

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