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10 Tips for Colorful Landscape Photography (Color Theory)

Last updated: November 12, 2023 - 8 min read
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Colorful landscape photography is all about capturing the beauty of nature. And one of the best ways to make your photos more vibrant is by using colors effectively.

And to use color more effectively, you should know a few things. Continue reading to learn how to use color theory to your advantage.

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How to Use Color Theory in Colorful Landscape Photography

Here are 10 tips for colorful landscape photography.

1. Get Into Color Theory

Color in photography plays an important role. It determines how we perceive an image. Color theory analyzes colors and their relationships with one another.

Colors have different psychological associations. (We’ll take a look at those later). Different combinations of color determine how we comprehend a photograph.

Understanding color theory allows you to predict and identify successful applications of color. You’ll get better at creating images with emotional depth and visual interest.

 A harmonious landscape shot of grass under a cloudy sky - color theory for landscape photography
The harmonious combination of blue and green cultivates a relaxed atmosphere. © Glenn Carstens-Peters (Unsplash)

2. Understand Color Theory and the Landscape

Since the invention of color photography, color has dictated how we perceive a photograph. Color theory allows photographers to assess colors and their relationship to each other.

In landscape photography, the subject matter can be monochromatic. Other scenes run the full visible spectrum.

Color theory allows landscape photographers to harness the makeup of a landscape. You’ll figure out what harmonizes or disrupts an image before you take the image. This saves you time. And it also helps you create better images.

A striking image of desert sand under a blue sky - color theory for landscape photography
The oranges and blues in this image create a striking contrast. © Pavel Barysevich (Unsplash)

3. Check out the Color Wheel

So what are color relationships? Enter the color wheel.

It dates back to the 18th century. And it’s still used by visual artists today. The color wheel is a simple visualization of colors and their connection with each other.

The color wheel contains all the colors in a readable format. It has primary colors (red, yellow, and blue). And secondary colors (purple, orange, and green). And tertiary colors (vermilion, amber, chartreuse, teal, violet, and magenta).

All creative applications of color exist within the color wheel. This allows photographers to refer to the tool as a handy guide. Here is a version below.

the color wheel
The color wheel from Wikimedia Commons

Familiarize yourself with the color wheel. You’ll understand how colors interact when placed close to each other.

This is the bedrock of color theory. It’s the visual basis on which effective color relationships are founded.

4. Get to Know Complementary Colors

Complementary colors lie opposite each other on the color wheel. They create the strongest contrast possible when used together.

They cause a visual vibration when they’re near each other and make an image pop.

Looking at the wheel, we can see that colors like red and green or blue and orange are opposite each other. These are common combinations of complementary colors.

Orange and teal are complimentary colors

Incorporating complementary colors into landscape photography creates eye-catching contrast. It presents a unique insight into the duality of an environment.

A tumultuous landscape of complementary oranges and blues - color theory for landscape photography
A landscape of complementary oranges and blues. © Avi Richards (Unsplash)

5. Split Complementary Colors

These are a variation of the complementary color scheme. Split complementary colors pair a base color with the two colors next to its complementary color.

A split complementary color scheme
A split complementary color scheme

Vermilion, whose complementary color is teal, is grouped with green and blue instead.

A split complementary color scheme produces colors with adequate contrast. But they have greater subtlety than complementary colors.

A rugged landscape featuring split complementary details - color theory for landscape photography
A rugged landscape featuring split complementary details. © Ben Carless (Unsplash)

6. Play With Analogous Colors

Analogous colors neighbor each other on the color wheel. Analogous schemes like teal, blue, and violet flow into one another. They create harmony in an image.

You can use analogous groups like autumnal reds, vermilion, and oranges in landscape photos. Or you can use marine greens, teals, and blues. These create depth and visual resonance.

An analogous color scheme
An analogous color scheme
A lush landscape under a cloudy sky - color theory for landscape
Analogous green shades make up this lush landscape. © Claudio Testa (Unsplash)

7. Try Triad Colors

Triad colors are any three colors spaced three colors apart on the color wheel. A selection of red, yellow, and blue or orange, purple, and green are triad groupings of color.

The triad color scheme
The triad color scheme

In landscape photography, triad colors generate harmonious yet eye-catching color schemes.

They enhance the dynamic relationship between colors in the natural environment.

A mountainous landscape under a colorful sunset sky demonstrating colorful landscape photography
A triad color scheme of red, yellow, and blue. © Simon Matzinger (Unsplash)

8. Fire Up With Warm Colors

Color theory describes the relationships between individual colors. And it groups them by their visual atmosphere.

The concept of warm and cool colors has influenced visual art since at least the late 18th century.

Warm colors are hues from red to yellow. These include the often-forgotten shades of brown, which are prominent in landscape photography.

Associated with sunlight and heat, warm colors appear closer to the viewer. This stimulates a sense of immediacy and visual activity.

In landscape photography, warm light is often best encountered during golden hour. This time of day renders the landscape in immersive, warm tones.

A landscape of predominantly warm colors - color theory for landscape
A landscape of mostly warm colors. © Johannes Plenio (Unsplash)

9. Chill out With Cool Colors

Like warm colors, cool colors have properties and associations linked to their presence. Cool colors tend to diminish into the background of an image. This makes the surrounding space appear larger.

Cool colors such as blue, green, grey, and violet evoke a sense of calm and relaxation. Blue hour occurs before sunrise and after sunset. It lends an ethereal blue tone to the surrounding landscape.

Cool-colored landscape photography has a sense of peace, quiet, and reflection.

A dramatic landscape made up of cool tones - color theory for landscape photography
A dramatic landscape made up of cool tones. © Alex Talmon (Unsplash)

10. Figure out Feelings

Color and emotion are inextricably linked. Color theory studies the relationships between colors. It can also examine how our behavior is shaped by the 7 million shades discernible to the human eye.

The viewer relies on color as a visual cue to convey the emotional climate of the photograph. You can use this to create interest and emotional weight in your landscape images. Colors can also help hint at the weather or season you took your photo in.

Here are some popular landscape colors and the emotions they evoke.


A calming color, blue, illustrates the expanse of a landscape. It inspires awe and generates visual space.

Aerial landscape photo of the sea coming into a beach - using color theory in landscape photos
Blue is a calming hue in landscape photography. © Jeremy Bishop (Unsplash)


Embodying rain, water, fog, clouds, and sky, grey is a versatile color. It evokes a sense of cold and solemnity.


As a cool color, purple has a calming effect. Rare in nature, purple has become associated with exoticism and beauty.

Stunning landscape photo of a mountainous coastal landscape at sunset - using color theory in landscape photos
Purple is rare in nature. © Mark Harpur (Unsplash)


Green is one of the most abundant colors in landscape photography. That’s because it manifests in organic life. Its cool tones create peace and tranquillity.


Red is associated with passion, anger, and love. It appears in sunsets, flowers, and autumn leaves and directs attention. Use it to guide the viewer’s eye.

An autumnal scene dominated by red tones using color theory in landscape photography
An autumnal scene dominated by red tones. © Sebastian Unrau (Unsplash)


Orange is often encountered in the sunsets of landscape photography. As a warm color, orange inspires happiness and passion.


Browns in landscape photography illustrate the earth. Brown is a visual anchor. It shows a viewer the condition of an environment.


Yellow is found in flowers, agricultural landscapes, deserts, and autumn leaves. It inspires happiness, energy, and awe.

A stunning yellowed and brown mountainous landscape - color theory for landscape photography
A yellowed landscape. © Jade Stephens (Unsplash)

Conclusion: Colorful Landscape Photography (Color Theory)

Landscape photographers work within a very diverse genre of photography. There is no single factor to dictate the positive outcome of a landscape image. But color theory is a tool that can significantly boost the impact of a photograph.

Color theory explores the whys and hows behind the colors in a photograph. Become familiar with the fundamentals of color theory. If you do, you’ll capture photographs with greater efficiency and success.

Check out our Simply Stunning Landscapes course to take your colorful landscape photography to the next level!

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