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There is no doubt about it, red photography is striking and eye-catching, it’s also pretty hard to get right. Too much red and it blurs into one, too little red and there is no real impact. Red also little room for error with red photography and mistakes, just like the colour itself, will catch the eye.
When you get it right though, red photography is beautiful, eye-catching, demands to be noticed, and can’t help but stir up emotions.
It’s a confident, powerful way of expressing yourself in visual form.
The Colour Red
Red is a colour that causes a physical reaction. It literally makes our heart beat faster, increases pulse rate and muscle strength, activates our adrenaline system and increases appetite. Red also makes our actions faster and more forceful and can give the impression that time is moving faster.
That is a lot for one colour to do but it doesn’t stop there. Studies have shown that when men see women with just the slightest bit of red on they see them as more attractive, spend more money on them and are more likely to offer them help and ask more questions. Waitresses wearing red lipstick get 26% higher tips from men. Interestingly it doesn’t work the same on women proving once and for all perhaps that we are the superior sex.
Hebrew tradition says the name Adam as in Adam and Eve means red and alive.
It’s also a colour strangely associated with success. A study into football teams in the UK found that teams with red stripes in their branding and kit win more often than those without.
Red is also the colour with the longest wavelength making it more visible to us. It will make things appear closer than there are. So if you want yourself or something to be noticed, red is the colour.
Colour red symbolism
Red is used in symbolism a lot; you only have to think about the devil to understand how powerful this colour is. In ancient Rome, it was a colour so revered the word colour was used to refer to red. In China, it is associated with luck and joy.
It’s a colour that tends to denote riches or evil/danger. In the middle ages, the colour was assigned to prostitutes. Think of the scarlet letter A. Mary Queen of Scots made a statement at her execution in a bright red dress.
In Japanese folklore, it is the colour to expel demons and illness and a red door can symbolise a welcoming house. Ireland, the same door wards off ghosts and evil spirits. And in Madagascar, the burial clothing is red. In Bangladesh, the bridal gown is red.
The Chinese have 30 symbols for the colour red and even more terms to describe the shade. And in 1467, Pope Paul II ordered all robes to be changed from purple to red.
I think it is fair to say red is a colour of opposites.
Colour Red Meaning
Red, depending on its tone, can mean so much. On a positive note it can make us feel a sense of warmth, increased energy, stamina, strength, and passion. It can also make us more courageous and can be a signal for lust and rebellion.
At its worst it can make us angry, annoyed, aggressive, contradictory, defiant, tired, and overwhelmed.
For me, using red in photography is something that should be thought through. This colour can be used as a pop or go all in. It is a colour that demands to be noticed and while a pop will add interest, by going all in you are able to convey a strong emotion.
Red can elicit an emotion like no other colour can, especially if you are conveying anger, passion, danger.
It will get your work noticed more and the red colour will hit the eye before any other colour so you have to be careful.
At its deepest quality, red for me represents life. After all, it is the colour of blood but I know it does much more than that. It can fill us with a sense of excitement, urgency or make us want to cool down. It can be sexual, passionate and dynamic. Or it can be aggressive,domineering and powerful.
Think of all the words we have to describe things with red in them: red-blooded, red-neck, red-handed in the red seeing red. Red is more than just a colour, it’s a word that brings up so many emotions and thoughts.
Red in Photography
I think more so than any other colour, you need to think about placing red in a photo. It can’t just be randomly placed and forgotten about as it won’t blend into the background.
If using a pop of colour, try and think about how much you are using, where you are using it and how it fits into the picture. When using props it tends to work best if you have three props. They don’t have to be big but they balance a picture out more. Say it might be a red dress, red lipstick and a red flower in a vase. This will help disperse the eye across the whole photo rather than just focusing on one point.
Think a lot about the mood you are trying to create too, you can’t use any old model with red; the model needs to carry the red, needs to evoke the emotion you are trying to evoke. Not all models are good with sexy or angry. There is a confidence that comes with red and that needs to flow from the model too.
Plan for your red photoshoot, think about it more, think about placement, emotion, what you are trying to convey and how everything comes together.
Red Photos And Picture Ideas
There are so many ways to use red in pictures. I’ve created a Pinterest Board to give you some ideas and inspiration.
Red Photography background
When I want a red background, I tend to use a bed sheet that is red and then change the hue in editing. You could of course use painted board, a proper backdrop stand and paper, colored paper or card or if you live near a red wall, lucky you; use this.
The background colour can also be changed in editing.
Creating the red aesthetic
Go as wild or as small as you want here, go monochrome red or just add a splash. Start small if you are nervous but once you start with red, like me you may become addicted.
There are so many red props you can use. I personally love red clothing but that might be a bit too much for some people. I’ve talked about flowers below but you might also want to think of things like hair accessories, red lipstick, red rimmed glasses, a red vase or a red glass. Red ribbons can also add some drama, red nails are just fabulous.
My guess is when I mention red flowers you will instinctively think of red roses. There is something about a single red rose that says more than any other flowers. Signifying passion, desire, love, romance flowers can sometimes say more than we think and can add to the mood of a photo really well.
Adding a well placed rose to a picture can really convey a message. But they aren’t the only red flowers to use.
Red Tulips I don’t see these flowers used a lot in photography they symbolise perfect love but for me this is more about happy, joyous watching TV in your pjs kind of love, very different to what the rose symbolises for example.
I absolutely adore the Ilex with their beautiful white berries and have used them in a few photos that were very simple yet very striking. They symbolise hope and luck.
If your picture is more of a delicate style of picture try using red Anemone they symbolise honesty and are given to show you care.
Amaryllis I think it is hard for any of use to associate this flowers with anything other than Christmas. I remember my mum talking about how she left the Disney park one evening when she worked there and came back to the whole park been replanted with these flowers. They however are supposed to symbolize beauty and are given as a sign of affection or gratitude.
And don’t forget the humble poppy or the eye-catching poppy field. A symbol of hope and remembrance they make a sticking photo.
Obviously, there are far more types of red flowers but I have listed just a few here. If none of these work, do some research, using the right flower in the right photo can really make a difference.
Editing red photos
For photos with predominantly red in them, I like to keep the red as true to life as possible unless it’s for a specific style purpose. I’ll keep photos with lots of red in them pretty clean and clear in order for it to stand out more.
Red is such a strong colour on it’s own that it doesn’t necessarily need a lot of editing unless you want it to. I like to keep the balance of everything in lightroom pretty neutral, so I won’t change the temperature or the tint too much.
I also like to up the saturation of reds a little bit to give them some pop.
If you’re using presets, they will likely change the red in one way or another. The goal is to make the red look as good as possible so it make take a bit of fiddling with the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance of the red (and sometimes orange) to get it looking its best.
There are surprisingly lots of colours that go with red depending on the mood or the vibe you want.
For a really eye-catching picture think of mixing red and yellow together. Just make sure they are the same tone. These are both colours that really stand out in a picture so this is bound to make one eye catching creation.
Obviously you have black for a very bold and striking picture or mixing it with black and white for even more impact.
For something rich and a littler easy on the eye mix red with navy and if the red is cooler on the burgundy or maroon shade this will add depth.
Obviously cream and white work well and makes the photo look crisp on the whiter side and more vintage on the cream side. And if you are trying to make this combination a bit warmer try an almond colour or very pale orange. Or any other pastel shades works well too.
Also grey is a colour that can work well. Making your photo more greyscale with a pop of red can have an amazing effect.
One of my favourite combinations and one I do not see often are red and green. A cheery red with a grassy coloured green. Or subdue the red and mix it with olive green this is an amazing combination and will give a more vintage feel.
If you are going for a more luxurious feel why not try gold or even a plum or burgundy colour these will all add certain richness.
Another combination I love that gives a very bright airing and spring feel is red and turquoise.
If you are looking for bright and contrasting think of mixing red with bubble gum pink or a slightly lighter pink and the same with orange, the more vibrant the more eye catching and the lighter the easier on the eye.
Red Photography Through The Seasons
Red in nature really comes to its own in Autumn. There is nothing like those red, amber, and gold tree colours. Just take your camera out and get snapping red everywhere in Autumn.
I think winter can be where the red can really pop. Think of a snowy scene with a red bobble hat and gloves or a red cape in the snow. Red clothing and snow it’s just a dream.
Obviously here we also have the Christmas holiday season associated with the red colour. And what I love is that we can start to really use deep reds such as claret and burgundy colours.
We don’t really see that much red in Summer perhaps when it gets hot we turn away from red a little. But it does have a place in Summer. Think of the humble poppy field or red outfits in the desert. It can work really well and make a statement when most people are favouring pastels.
Again we don’t see much red in spring but I think you can make a real statement with it. Think red tulips teamed with bubblegum pink.
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I hope you have found this helpful and you now feel a bit more able to use the colour red in your photos. I’d love to see what you create so please tag any photos with #beemademedoit and I’ll take a look. Let me know how your red photography goes.
And if you have any questions please feel free to ask.
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