Emotional Impact of Color in Landscape Photography – Part 3

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Continued from Emotional Impact of Color in Landscape Photography – Part 2

A lot has been written about color theory, and there have even been a few articles written about how color theory relates to landscape photography. But, what really fascinates me is not so much the science of color, but the psychology of color. Why do we emotionally respond to certain colors and color combinations, and, furthermore, how can we use that knowledge to make more meaningful images that go beyond a pretty postcard picture.

In my last two articles, I discussed the emotive properties of primary and secondary colors in landscape photography. But nature doesn’t limit her color palette to just the hues found in the rainbow. After all, black and white images pack plenty of emotional punch that goes beyond color, composition and subject matter. A masterful photographer will understand how to balance the emotive qualities of black versus white in order to achieve a specific mood. And I cannot neglect to give a nod to two colors you won’t find in the rainbow, but are certainly part of a landscape photographer’s color palette — brown and pink. Yes, pink!


Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a place with a dark history. Located in Yosemite National Park, it was once a beautiful valley comparable to Yosemite Valley before the Tuolumne River was dammed to create a reliable water supply for San Francisco. I used black here to emphasize the sad history of this place.

Representing power, elegance, and death, black packs a lot of emotional punch for a color. It is the color that demands to be taken seriously. However, black is actually the absence of color — a mysterious quality which is why it is often associated with the unknown or the negative.


Morning Slumber

By choosing to frame this flock of Whooper Swans against the white background, I was able to isolate the birds and emphasize the purity of the scene.

White is generally considered a positive color, associated with innocence, light, cleanliness and spirituality. In landscape photography, think snow, rushing white water, puffy white clouds and white-capped ocean waves.



These snags, although separated by some distance, seemed to me like two figures dancing in the fog, their boney fingers reaching toward one another. The use of shades of gray stresses the male/female interplay.

Gray may be a neutral, dingy color, but it can have powerful effect when used for mystical, moody effect. Light grays are associated with the feminine while darker grays are considered masculine. Because gray is made up of both black and white, it carries some of the attributes of both — the strength of black and the purity of white.


Mono Lake Dressed Up In Pink

Soft, pink puffy clouds have a feminine feel, which is contrasted by the hard-edged, spiked tufas jutting out of the pink water of Mono Lake.

Pink is a delicate color, full of feminine charm. Unlike red, which can excite the senses, pink  has a calming affect. It symbolizes love and romance, caring, tenderness, and acceptance. In nature, pink is not an uncommon color, with shades varying from sunsets, to watermelon, and flamingo-pink to coral.



I wanted to convey the simple, understated elegance of the lines and texture of this small scene. The uncomplicated color palette — in particular, the presence of the color brown — lends a kind of quiet sophistication to the image.

Brown is a humble color. The color of earth, wood and stone, its simplicity evokes a sense of wholesomeness, stability, dignity, and humility. Brown certainly has a place in landscape photographs, and although it may be considered “dull” by some, it shouldn’t be overlooked for its dependable qualities.


This image might otherwise seem flat except for the depth created through the use of warm and cool colors. The blue hue in the shadows subtly draw the eye into the forest.

Cool vs. Warm Colors

Cool colors, such as blue and green, generally have a calming effect on us, while warm colors, like yellow and red, are more exciting, but can be agitating if over used. Cool colors also perceptively recede in space while warm colors advance. Understanding how we perceive warm and cool colors can help you create the illusion of distance in your landscape photos.

Using both warm and cool colors in your image can create exciting color contrasts. Think blue shadows with warm, sunlit highlights. Using colors from the opposite side of the color wheel — complimentary colors — is the most contrast you can achieve within the confines of the color wheel. Purple and yellow. Blue and orange. Green and red.

Even though at any given moment, nature decides what color pallet you have to work with, as a landscape photographer you still have a lot of control over what you want to convey emotionally. By bringing an awareness of the emotive properties of color to your photography, you can begin to integrate this knowledge into your workflow, leading to more meaningful and impactful images.

Check out the following tutorials on Visual Wilderness:

  • Color Management Tutorial Cover

    True Colors

  • Vibrant Colors

  • Working with Color


About Author Charlotte Gibb

Charlotte Gibb is a contemporary fine art photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area specializing in landscapes of the Western United States. Her images are often taken in familiar places for the well-versed landscape photographer, but she prides herself on her keen an eye toward the subtle and sometimes overlooked beauty of the natural world. Charlotte earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and has exhibited her work in several solo shows throughout California. Her darkroom, long gone now, has been replaced with digital darkroom tools, and her style has evolved from a somewhat journalistic approach, to one that pays tribute to the natural world.