People new to photography usually go for the tonal contrast and forget about the color contrast.
Everything needs contrasts to be interesting: Life, relationships, music, art. So does photography. In it, contrasts help us isolate the subject and make it stand out.
Combining both forms of contrast can create a visually stunning image; but first we must understand what both types entail.
The tonal contrast, commonly known as the “black to white ratio” means, in layman’s terms: How wide the range of black to white is. Being the most common one and easy to understand, is also the most used.
Apply the same principle to the color contrast, just instead of tone you are going by color theory. The gist is knowing how colors work together. It’s easier than it sounds.
How do I use color contrast in photography.
One of my favorite tools for this is Adobe Kuler (Now Adobe Color), which allows you to find different harmonies between colors. Now, I’m not suggesting you use it during your shoots, but to learn the different type of harmonies and contrasts; to recognize them while out there and enhance your photographic sense.
In this picture, I’m using the skin tone as my primary color, so a teal tone would be the contrast.
This is why a proper background can make all the difference for a portrait.
Let’s say for example you find this awesome blue wall:
Not only it provides a nice composition, it allows us to easily adjust it in post, since the skin tone does not contrast so much.
After a few adjustments using the color wheel and selective color in Photoshop, with no change to the tone contrast:
The picture pops more naturally.
You can mix and match, compensate a lack of one type of contrast with another. It’s up to you and your style.