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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chill the Mood with Cool Colors

Blue Monday, Blue Moon, blue mood, I got the blues--it seems that the color blue takes a lot of blame for people's less-than-sunny moods. I'm not so sure that blue is responsible for all the negative emotional connotations that it gets associated with, but it is true that any time that the primary palette of your photos falls into the cooler range (blues, greens, purples), the emotional atmosphere is chilled out a bit.

But cool blue and other cool colors are also considered calming colors, which is probably why so many people spend so much money to go to the Caribbean and stare at the blue sea for a week. The calming effect of blue is also the reason that interior decorators suggest painting your bedroom blue if you're looking for a peaceful retreat at the end of the day. (I guess if you're looking for passionate nights you should paint your room with hot colors.) And they say wearing a blue suit to a job interview is a good idea because blue is associated with loyalty and calmness.

Cool tones can also be a welcome visual relief on a sunny summer's day. Think about hiking up a hot steep hillside on a hot July afternoon and then refreshing yourself beside a cool blue mountain stream and resting on damp moss-covered rock. I took the photo here after a long hike on a warm summer day on the John Jay Homestead in Katonah, New York and, probably because I was tired and thirsty, was immediately attracted to the unusual blue color of the barn. I found the coolness of the blue paint and the green lawn a refreshing and welcome relief and, of course, responded to that bit of visual relief with my camera. Just looking at the scene in the viewfinder really did help chill me out a bit.

Film and television directors are masters of exploiting the secret power of color and mood and they play with our emotions like puppet masters as they shift the palette from the fiery emotional moods of reds/yellows/oranges to the somber blues/grays/greens of twilight. Next time that you're watching an action/adventure film, watch how the color palette shifts from the hot tones of the action scenes (Bruce Willis igniting the elevator shaft in Die Hard) to the cooler palette of more somber and ominous scenes (the boat Orca in Jaws drifting in the cool twilight as the shark plots its destruction).

All colors have rich and complex psychological interpretations and if you're aware of them when you're choosing your palette or searching for subjects, you can use them to manipulate or intensify the mood of your photos. The more of a particular color range you use in a scene--and the more you eliminate other colors--the more dominant and obvious the mood becomes. And don't be surprised if you come how with a card full of cool-tone subjects and someone asks why you're in such a blue mood!

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