Using Color in Visual Storytelling

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Color is an important component in visual storytelling; different colors convey different emotions. In this lesson, we discuss how different colors are used to convey different feelings.

Color

Try visualizing an static image of a group of friends having fun at the candy store. What colors do you see? Now, try to visualize the same image but knowing that something is about to happen. Now what colors do you see? Are they the same or did they change? Most likely they changed. This is why in visual storytelling, or telling a story using pictures such as in video and photography, using the right colors to tell the story evokes specific emotions. To make people feel sad, for example, many artists use a sad color palette, such as cool blues or dark oranges.

Now, let's delve deeper into some of the colors used in visual storytelling.

Reds

Red is a powerful color. Use this color to convey emotions such as anger, power, lust, and romance. The exact kind of emotion it produces depends on its context. When you see red in an image of a couple embracing, then it most likely evokes romantic feelings. But when reds are used in connection with a fight, it evokes feelings of anger and power.

For example, examine the uses of red in Fig. 1.


Fig. 1
color in visual storytelling


Fig. 1 uses red to convey a feeling of love and romance. Now look at the image in Fig. 2.


Fig. 2
color in visual storytelling


It still uses the color red, but this time, the color evokes a totally different feeling.

In a visual story about two people falling in love, red can be used to show the moment they fall in love. If you use other colors prior to their romance, the transition to red will be that much more meaningful. People will feel it and remember it.

Yellows

Yellows bring warmth and happiness if used in a happy way. For example, let's say your visual story is about a dog getting adopted. You could incorporate some yellows into the scene to show the happy occasion, like in Fig. 3.


Fig. 3
color in visual storytelling


However, yellow can also portray betrayal and jealousy, like in Fig. 4.


Fig. 4
color in visual storytelling


Use it sparingly though, as too much yellow can actually irritate the eyes because it is brighter than other colors.

Blues

To evoke feelings of professionalism, passivity, warmth, coldness, melancholy, or peace, use blue. This versatile color means many different emotions depending on its context. Just think of a nice blue sky or a really clear blue lake, like we see in Fig. 5.


Fig. 5
color in visual storytelling


The different blues bring feelings of peace and relaxation. Now, let's see blue in a business context. The color evokes feelings of professionalism and trust, like we see in Fig. 6.


Fig. 6
color in visual storytelling


You see the color blue in many professional websites, such as those for lawyers. These companies want you to think of them as professional, therefore they want you to trust them.

Oranges

The color orange can be used to evoke warm feelings and thoughts about nature, as in Fig. 7.


Fig. 7
color in visual storytelling


Orange can also be used to show something that's toxic and exotic. It's an energetic color, but not overpowering. Businesses often use orange to encourage people to purchase a product. For example, let's say you want to create a greeting card that brings out warm feelings and caters to nature lovers. You can use oranges to highlight nature scenes.

Greens

Green is another color that highlights nature and life, but in some cases, it's used to show corruption, greed, and poison. Some images use green to show health and vitality, as in Fig. 8.


Fig. 8
color in visual storytelling


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