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  • Writer's pictureAmy L Smith Photography

Color Theory: Analogous and Monochromatic Colors

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Earlier this Spring, I was fortunate to be able to write a post for Creative Inspiration Community as they continued on their color theory challenge. I focused on analogous and monochromatic colors as they applied to me and my body of work. It was a fun Q&A format that touched on many different aspects, from shooting to post-processing. I am happy to share the blog post from CIC with you here on my blog -- Thanks for visiting!



This week, we start our focus on analogous and monochromatic colors in our color theory challenge.  The definitions of analogous and monochromatic as found in Kathleen Cashman’s April 6th tutorial post on color theory are as follows: analogous colors are found next to each other on the color wheel, whereas a monochromatic scheme describes a gradient of saturation, highlights and shadows of a single color.

To help us see this in action a bit more, I’ve asked Amy Smith to share some of her thoughts on how she uses analogous and monochromatic colors in her amazing landscapes and flat lay images!

Once you are aware of the various color schemes, they begin to appear all around you. We all know that nature is full of amazing colors. Often times. they are shown in complimentary schemes, but now and again, true analogous and monochromatic scenes can be witnessed and they are truly magnificent! Creating these color schemes yourself in your subject matter may be easier than finding them in nature, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful or impactful!

How often do you look for monochromatic/analogous colors when shooting?

It totally depends on what I am shooting. Nature and landscapes are pretty much determined for us. Just like you, I shoot what I like and what moves me or strikes me at that moment. Many times, I am drawn, and moved to capture a scene based on the colors I see. If I am shooting food or a flat lay composition, the colors are totally dependent on the vision I have in my head and how I can best make that come to life to match that idea I have in mind.

What is the first thing you look for, your subject or your background?

In landscape/nature images, often times, the subject is the background, or you have whatever is there naturally to include in your frame…perhaps some amazing bokeh or beautiful light. Which more often than not, works out perfectly, because that’s just how nature is a lot of the time! With still life, food, flowers, etc., I would say the subject/theme is the first thing that comes into consideration and then I begin to fill in the background and frame with items that fit in and help to fulfill that vision I am trying to make a reality, be it minimalist or a more involved/busy composition.

Do you set your shots up in any way, shoot on the fly, or get in a specific place and wait for the perfect moment to press your shutter?

Set up and preparations are totally dependent on what I am shooting. Food, flat lay, still life and inanimate/static subjects are playing a part of a picture I have in my head that I am trying to create and capture an image of, so quite a bit of thought and set up goes into it – sometimes more, sometimes less. While shooting, there can be a lot of swapping of positions of elements, vantage point changes, light modifier changes, adding and subtracting of items to make the composition “just right”. In landscape and nature shots, there can be a little bit of both on the fly and set up. Depending if you are, for example, on a hike and a scene unfolds or a landmark appears and grabs your attention, or if you are at a specific location at a certain time to capture a sunrise or sunset.

How do you capture the perspective that you do?

I have climbed on ladders, leaned out of windows (nothing too extreme, of course), stood on a truck, laid down on the ground and hid behind things – whatever it takes (within reason) to get the shot! I do use a tripod to do flat lay so that the vantage point/perspective is consistent from frame to frame. I also use a tripod when shooting landscapes when needed due to light availability and shutter speed restrictions.

What do you look for in terms of lighting when making an image with monochromatic/analogous colors?

Landscapes tend to make you be at the mercy of the light available in the atmosphere…there are things you can do within your exposure triangle settings to boost the light in your image, but that can cause unwanted issues that are difficult to deal with in post processing and ultimately producing an image that doesn’t match your vision or what you were trying to capture in the first place. Shooting with enough light in the first place, or having the proper tools (flashes, filters, tripod, etc.) to help you deal with the light, or lack thereof, is key to capturing the colors of the scene you are attempting to capture in the first place.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself some tricks for mastering this faster, what would you say?

Oh my, to be a master of anything!… I am so happy with how far I have come in the past few years. I have loved the challenge and process of learning, growing and creating, not to mention the friendships and connections I have made – it’s been life changing! I have so much more to learn – I hope it never ends!

How important is editing in your process?

Editing, to me, is a way to polish and enhance what I have in camera. I start in LR with global adjustments and then into PS to do more specific fine tuning and cloning if needed. Personal style is constantly evolving and changing...that's how we grow. It is up to the artist and their vision as to how they wish the audience to view and see the image, whether muted and serene, or vibrant with a lot of contrast. For my nature and landscape images, I strive to show and share what it is I saw…what drew me in to take a photo in the first place.

What gear and equipment do you use for accomplishing this?

I have a Canon 5D Mark IV, which I shoot with almost exclusively, as well as a 70D. For landscapes, I mainly use a wide lens, my 11-24mm or my 24-70mm. Occasionally I will use a longer lens, but where I am and what I am attempting to capture is what dictates that. For food, flat lay and still life shoots, I usually use my 24-70mm, my 35mm or 50mm, along with my 100mm macro for detail shots.

What are your typical settings?

For flat lays, I usually set my aperture first, which is normally a higher setting, as I want everything to be sharp and in the same focal plane. I use a tripod so my shutter speed can be slower. I also try to keep my ISO as low as possible to avoid any noise. I like to shoot a bit more wide open on some of my food shots to isolate one of the items in the frame, while some of the other elements fall off but are still part of the story.  With landscapes, depending on the light I am shooting in, I sometimes use bracketing (setting your camera to take a series of shots consecutively at different exposures in order to capture the full range of highlights and shadows in your scene) or a filter to get the desired effects I am after.

Where do you find inspiration?

I am an avid food network watcher (to my husband and sons’ dismay) as well as a collector of cookbooks and various food magazines. Additionally, I live in Alaska and spend a lot of time at a lake in northern Indiana during the summer, so I am lucky enough to just have to look out the window or walk outside!

What do you do when you get bored of shooting the same things?

That’s the beauty of dabbling in several different genres — I never get bored! When the weather is bad or unchanging for what seems to be months, I can bake or gather some things to arrange and shoot!

What is something you’d like to learn in the future?

I am continuing to learn and get more efficient at shooting and editing video.

Monochrome photos are an excellent way to turn an everyday image into a work of art. Monochrome images range from classic and timeless black and whites to abstract avant-garde compositions. Here's another great resource on monochromatic colors to read, brought to you by

Amy is a food, product and brand photographer/videographer, based in Anchorage, Alaska. She also loves to capture her surroundings as true to real life as she can. Whether she’s in the mountains, at the lake, or with family and friends, her main goal in her work is to depict and share the beauty, emotions and genuineness of the setting and view, as well as the interaction of her subjects as though her audience was right there with her experiencing it firsthand.

When she’s not photographing pretty food, nature’s beauty, and happy families, Amy enjoys running and fitness, along with baking and DIY crafty projects. Her favorite pastime, however, is spending time with her husband David, their two sons, Lucas and Jacob, and their beloved dogs, Sampson and Sadie.


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