Before we jump into the how of changing colours, let’s look briefly at the why.
You may not know this yet, but I’m a big fan of having rationale behind the choices I make in my photography. So, rather than change the colours willy-nilly and hope for the best with them, there are generally informed decisions behind why I’m changing them, and what I’m changing them to.
Also known as “monotone”. This is when the colours in an image match, or are consistent in some way.
The leaves in this image were originally tinged more green. But by shifting them to a more amber/yellow colour, they match Loki’s eyes perfectly. You’ll notice that many of my photo of Loki feature him in warmer, more orange-toned scenes, generally because of his eyes.
Using colours like this can make things harmonious, but it can also be more challenging, as you have to then find ways to make your dog stand out in a scene where he may be the same colour as everything around him. A red dog in autumn woods is a good example of this!
Contrasting / Complementary Colours
Another way to consider adjusting colours is to use opposite colours on the colour wheel.
Doing this does tend to make the dog stand out better against his background… but it can be challenging to do naturally, if you consider that the opposite colour of yellow (for example, a yellow lab) is purple… and purple isn’t often found in nature (lavender fields notwithstanding)
Again, you can use this concept not only for the dog’s coat (and keep in mind that dog’s coats tend to have undertones, as well. A black dog usually has red or brown undertones especially if they’ve been in the sun), but also for their eyes. This is especially interesting when working with a blue merle dog who has blue eyes, for example!
There is a reason you’ll often see Journey (red dog) amongst rich, deep greens. Because he stands out beautifully!
For me, there are always other things to think about:
- the season. If I’m taking photos in summer, I could easily enough shift everything to orange for Loki, but it doesn’t make any sense. Everything feels vibrant and alive. And why waste summer’s green just so the photo will match his eyes?
- the light. If I’m working with backlight, that light will be warm. I want to make use of that warmth. This can be interesting when the rest of the photo is made up of strong, rich greens.
- the scene itself. Personally, for my style, if the scene was a place that was obviously made up of green bushes, I generally want to keep those bushes green. If they already had yellow-y undertones, sure, I might make them more orange. But in general, I prefer to work with what was naturally in the scene.
Which way to take the colours in this image? A red dog with a blue eye, warm golden backlight and very green leaves. In the end I stripped a lot of the green out – I didn’t want to turn it all yellow/orange or it felt too fake, and kept everything more or less the same tones as the dog, the warm yellow acting as both analogous and complementary in this case.