Understanding the colour psychology of red — and its versatility in different shades — can help you frame a photo in a way that effectively communicates specific messages. Here’s a quick dive into the effects of red in a photo, and how best to capture reds effectively in a shot.
Love and Passion
Rawr. Love and passion are most analogous to red, because of the colour’s strong links to sensuality and desire. The human eye associates vibrant, deep reds with attractiveness; this is partly why red lipstick on a woman is intriguing. Playing up red props and muting other vibrant colours is a good way to sensualise your subject.
War, Defeat, and Dominance
Much like blood, red is linked with violence, war, and defeat, but is also a colour of dominance, giving athletes a sense of power and aggression (think Wonder Woman). In this context, red gives the viewer the idea that what has just happened was powerful, victorious, and indelible, packing a strong punch visually.
Energy, Motivation, and Confidence
An energising colour, red creates excitement by increasing heart rates, motivating people to take some form of action. This is why red is often used for sale signs. If a subject in a photo wears red clothing, it lends them an air of confidence and importance. When using red to capture energy and confidence in a frame, try to exclude or downplay other vibrant or contradicting colours like blue or green.
Ever wondered why desserts come with a cherry on the top? Scientifically proven to stimulate appetite, red can make food look more delicious. Red is often used in presentation, branding, and even ambience as visual stimuli. When styling food for a shoot, showcase red ingredients or use red props and garnishes in the frame.
Because of the colour red’s effect on heart rates, it’s widely used as a warning of danger, or to stir up our ‘fight or flight’ instinct. When bright or crimson red is shown in contrast to other colours in a shot, it creates a bold statement that excites and grabs attention immediately.
In Asian Culture
Chinese revere the colour red as a symbol of luck and prosperity. It dominates decor, especially during festive seasons. Traditionally, Chinese brides wear red, and money is given out as gifts in red packets. In Indian culture, red symbolises purity, and is also worn by brides.
In a Photograph
An intense colour on the spectrum, red should be used in moderation when capturing a moment. When there is a lot of red in a frame, use turquoise, green or blue hues to create balance.
Do you use red in your photography to convey any of these emotions? What other ways do you use red as an aesthetic and psychological tool in your photography? Leave us a comment below to share!