Be a bit more like IKEA?  What is he talking about, you’re saying to yourself.

Well, if I say to you ‘Ikea’ what springs to mind?  Flat pack furniture, funny names, meatballs, getting lost in the car park ……. and maybe blue and yellow.  Which are the colours of the Swedish flag; and seeing as the company is Swedish isn’t that why they’re used as the brand colours?  Well maybe, but blue and yellow also happen to be complementary colours.  And that’s what I want to talk about today.

There are certain pairs of colours that simply work together.  The classic two are Red and green.  Or blue and yellow.  That’s because they’re called Complementary Colours i.e. they complement one another.  If you look at the diagram below (it’s called a Colour Wheel), you’ll see that they are on opposite sides to one another.  Basically, colours on opposite sides work well together.

And what does that have to do with photography?  Well, one way of making your photos look more striking is to use that knowledge.  Why do so many Christmas pictures look so good?  One reason is that they contain lots of red and green (a complementary pair).  A similar thing is happening with the landscape photo below – here, the rays of the rising sun redden the leaves on the tree, which complements nicely with the green grass in the field.  

The same is true of photos that contain blue and yellow, or blue and orange.  It’s one reason why sunsets always look good – it’s that contrast of blue sky and orange sun.  Or, put another way, a cold colour and a warm one.  They just look good together.  You get a similar effect if you take a photo of a building lit up as night begins to fall, as in the photo below.    Most indoor lighting is quite warm, or has a yellow-orange glow.  Daylight becomes colder (i.e. more blue) as it gets close to sunset.  So, keeping that in mind, and choosing your time of day carefully, you can take a photo of a building that looks more striking than one shot in bright sunshine.

Shot of office building at dusk showing complementary colours of blue sky and orange lighting

Of course, the same principles of complementary colours apply during daylight hours too!

Yellow metal crane contrasted against bright blue sky. An example of complementary colours

It’s the contrast of the yellow metal of the crane against the bright blue of the sky that works in this photo.  Imagine it on an overcast cloudy day – it just wouldn’t work would it?

So, next time you’re trying to make your photos stand out a bit better, see if you can use complementary colours to give you the impact you’re looking for.