Abbinamento colori

The Importance of the colors

We often look at a photograph of food that catches our eyes and makes us mouth water. I was talking about this in the article about Storytelling in food photography. The color pairing in food photography plays a key role in a story related to food. Therefore it is used to convey emotions and to entice you to perform actions. Consequently, in order to communicate in the right way through color, you have to know very well certain basic rules.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Colors

The basic colors are red, yellow, and blue, also called primary colors. They have the characteristic of not being able to be broken down into other colors. From the mixing of these three primary colors result three more: orange, green, and purple, consequently called secondary colors. And then, there are all the results from the mixture of primary and secondary colors: yellow-orange, red-orange, magenta, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-green, called tertiary colors. In total there are 12 main colors that are at the base of the so-called color wheel.

SECONDARY COLORS Orange-Green-Purple
SECONDARY COLORS Orange-Green-Purple

TERTIARY COLORS Yellow-Orange - Red-Orange - Magenta - Blue-Purple - Blue-Green - Yellow-Green
TERTIARY COLORS Yellow-OrangeRed-OrangeMagentaBlue-PurpleBlue-GreenYellow-Green


Looking at the color circle it is easy to begin to understand the combinations of primary colors with intermediate colors, which are shades. Depending on the proximity of the colors in the spectrum, their shades are similar if they come from colors next to each other or tend to gray if they are opposite color combinations. For example, yellow plus green = yellow-green or blue plus green = blue-green. Conversely than for blue and orange, which mixture gives a shade of gray, same for red and green or yellow and purple.


Only the physical colors are perfect. In our visual perception, every color is different from what it actually is. Color is constantly deceiving. Because of this, color is the most relative medium in art. Reproducing a color in painting in ancient times was very difficult because the paints of the basic colors were not perfect, but they had casts and were perceived in different ways. Even now artists mix multiple colors to get a right tone and it’s often hard to get it if it’s not calculated by a computer that accurately establishes every little nuance. On the other hand, in the digital age, technology even allows us to take an exact color sample from any surface.

Photo David Pisnoy Unsplash
Photo David Pisnoy Unsplash

Classification based on color temperature

Established what are the main colors and their shades, let’s see how the colors are classified according to the color temperature. But what is color temperature? Scientists measured the different shades of light emitted by a black-body subjected to various temperatures, establishing that at each temperature corresponds to a single hue. As a result, they associated a physical measure expressed in kelvin (K). This physical measure was called color temperature. From the temperature point of view, colors are divided in two categories: warm and cold. The so-called warm colors are red, orange, yellow, magenta and all their shades. Cold colors are green, blue, purple, blue and cyan with all their shades. The black, white and gray are considered neutral colors.

Cool and warm colors

What is the color classification for?

In the 50’s, every color and shade received a name and a code. The classification was made by the American company Pantone and the colors with their codes were inserted into a catalog in order to be consulted. In short, what is it for? To “translate” the colors in the CMYK four-color printing system. On the web, however, colors can be specified as an RGB triplet or in hexadecimal format. Color classification plays an important role in studying them, to make comparisons and determine which colors are in harmony and which are in contrast, but also to understand the emotional effects they cause on people.

Color schemes

In the end, knowing the basic theory you can start the pairing of colors to build the photography set. There are 6 color schemes that can be used to create inspiring images. These are: monochromatic, analogous colors, accented analogous colors, complementary, split-complementary and triadic. Let’s see how to apply these schemes to the sets:

Monochromatic scheme

Monochromatic colors are all the colors (tints, tones, and shades) of a single hue. How does it apply in culinary photography? For example, if we photograph limes, the backdrop will be yellow-green and all props will follow the shades of yellow-green. This color scheme in food photography is used especially for ingredients that fill the entire picture frame. Using only one color we force the eye to focus on the texture of food.

Monochromatic scheme
Monochromatic scheme

Monochromatic harmony in food photography
Monochromatic harmony in food photography
Foto di / Freepik

Analogous Colors Scheme

The analogous colors scheme is composed of colors that stand next to each other on the wheel. For example, yellow-green, yellow and yellow-orange. This color scheme will also help us to channel the focus on the texture and, if we want to use props as well, we can use the color pairing to push the attention to the surrounding environment by creating a story that tells an atmosphere or a season.

Analogous colors scheme
Analogous colors scheme
Example of pairing analogous colors
Example of pairing analogous colors Photo Michael C Unsplash

Accented Analogous Colors Scheme

An accented analogous scheme utilizes related hues lying adjacent on the color wheel with a hue directly opposite to these: yellow and red, orange and purple, or, as in the example, green and orange.

Accented Analogous Colors Scheme
Accented Analogous Colors Scheme

Example of combining accented analogous colors
Example of pairing accented analogous colors
Photo by Jarritos Mexican Soda on Unsplash

The Complementary Color Scheme

The complementary colors scheme, or contrasts, includes opposite colors, such as red and green, yellow and purple, blue and orange. For example, if we have to photograph red berries and decide to use complementary colors to tell our story, we will use a green backdrop. Similarly, if we have to photograph eggplant, we will photograph them on a yellow backdrop. Or the purple cabbage in a yellow plate as in the example below. However, the use of the complementary color scheme can also be associated with white, which helps to break colors and give further contrast. In particular, we can do this by photographing red tomatoes on a white plate with green pattern and a green bottom. Or green peppers on a white napkin with red pattern on a red background. A complementary color can also be used in small quantities, just to give a hint of contrast and draw attention to a subject. Like a basil leaf on top of a bruschetta with tomato.

Complementary Color Scheme
Complementary Color Scheme
Example of pairing complementary colors
Example of pairing complementary colors
Photo © Corina Daniela Obertas /

The Split-Complementary Color Scheme

The split-complementary color scheme puts alongside a color and the two analogous colors adjacent to its complement. For example, yellow associated with blue-purple and magenta. The split-complementary harmony is more alive than simple complementary harmony where the contrast is too strong.

The Split-Complementary Color Scheme
The Split-Complementary Color Scheme
The Split-Complementary Color Pairing
Example of  split-complementary color pairing
Photo by Estodio Bloom on Unsplash

The Triadic Scheme

The triadic color scheme uses three colors equally spaced around the color wheel (120 degrees) type red – yellow – blue or green – orange – purple.

Triadic color scheme
Pairing triadic colors

The effect of the colors

How does each color interact with the human brain, and what actions does it determine? Warm colors are associated with happiness, with summer, with physical well-being. They give the feeling of warmth, welcome and a perception of urgency, stimulating haste. On the contrary, cold colors give the feeling of coldness and detachment, of tranquility, slowing down times and are associated with professionalism. Red is the main appetite stimulator. Yellow is associated with sour flavors. Green means nature, freshness and builds trust. Blue is used generally in diets because it decreases appetite. Black, brown and purple should be used with care because these colors suggest food that has gone bad. If used they should be associated with brighter colors.

Color pairing by season

Spring: green yellow, green and turquoise.

Summer: orange, yellow-orange and yellow.

Autumn: red orange, red and magenta.

Winter: purple, indigo and blue.

Pairing colors by hours of the day

Colors at dawn: blue and turquoise

Morning Color: green

Midday: yellow green and yellow

Afternoon and sunset: gold and orange

Evening: red and red orange

Midnight: magenta and purple

Night: blue-purple

Meaning of colors


Blue means respect, compassion, honor, acceptance, grace, trust, conviction, purification, faith, prophecy, patience, recovery. Blue is associated with the concept of water and the sky, stimulating the deactivation of adrenaline. In communication is used to create a position of prestige and authority, to convey trust. In the field of food is less inviting, because in nature there are few foods of this color. It is associated with fish and diet. In the packaging, however, it is used a lot because it reassures and gives a feeling of freshness and cleanliness.

The color of 2020 is the Classic Blue

“Reassuring, timeless, full of calm and security, it creates connections and gives a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit. Blue as a sky AT DUSK that offers the promise of protection and refuge, it enhances our desire to have solid foundations on which to lean and build as we cross the threshold of a new era.” Laurie Pressman Vice-President Pantone Color Institute

Light Blue

Light blue, a color of transition from blue to green, is associated with dynamism, empathy, practicality, discovery, balance, serenity, calmness, openness and understanding.


Green means growth, renewal, productivity, spiritual development, survival, prosperity, fertility, good luck, idealism, health, birth. Associated with food means natural products, health, freshness, vitality. It means the scent of herbs, of spices.


Green-yellow means awakening, exuberance, intelligence, receptivity, independence, learning, meaning, change.


Yellow means enlightenment, free expression, resolve, consciousness, warmth, optimism, extreme vitality, awareness, readiness, clarity. It is a transient color that also means change, evolution, alertness and danger. It transmits the heat of the sun. If we associate it with food it will make us think about the flavor of citrus fruits, the concept of ripe fruit, foods that stimulate concentration, good mood and socialization. Yellow exerts a stimulus on the nervous system increasing appetite, so it is often used when it comes to restaurants. It also gives a dry feeling that, if it is combined with the concept of liquid (blue/green colors) stimulates thirst. It never pairs with green when it comes to meat or fish, because it changes the feeling of freshness with that of rot, of spoiled food. In packaging it is often used, being associated to vitamins, to heat and authenticity.


It means enthusiasm, success, happiness, authority, satisfaction, confidence, influence, excitement, adventure, power, fame. Associated with food has the same connotation as yellow and orange.


It is associated with joy, home, belonging, community, hospitality, pleasure, friendship, fulfillment, family, loyalty. Relative to food it recalls spicy or sweet sensations when combined with yellow. It can be used in combination with green/blue in beverage photographs.


Orange-red conveys a concept of strength, victory, physical energy, vitality, protection, invincibility, beauty, dedication, vigilance, willpower. The whole family of yellows and oranges conveys concepts of optimism, of warmth. When orange tends very towards brown then it expresses culture and lifestyle.


Red means energy, courage, glory, passion, harvest, mature love, guidance, tenacity, inner strength, sensuality, romance. Historically red is associated with blood and fire. Is the color that scares and increases the production of adrenaline. It is considered one of the most dynamic and stimulating colors and is definitely the preferred color in the instinctive choice of food. Red food drives away boredom, bad mood and depression. A photo of the tomato can convey an important message in a campaign dedicated to the fight against cancer. Red fruits express the remedy against the aging of the body’s cells.

Food styling tip:
Lycopene is the one that gives the red color to foods and a high antioxidant capacity. Therefore, if we want to have bright red in our photos we have to be careful with cooking because the cooking increases the lycopene and the color of the food turns dark red.


Associated with creativity, originality, self-esteem, self-knowledge, perception, discernment, intuition and poetry.


Purple is intuition, inspiration, imagination, elegance, luxury, music, dreams, destiny and magic. If we want to convey a message of sophistication we will use the color purple or vintage. Purple gives the feeling of delicate scents, pleasant, but beware, the purple can also convey a message of moldy food, bitter, rotten, a feeling of discomfort or warning. In the world of food, purple is mainly used for the world of sweets.


Purple-blue means wisdom, spiritual mastery, judgment, truth, experience, dignity, virtue, maturity, long life. In the world of food it gives a touch of extravagance and fantasy like purple.

It is proven that a person’s state of mind influences his or her choices. Color is a visual processing generated by the brain, capable of generating emotions that, later, affect people’s choices.

How to choose the color palette?

Once the main color of our subject is established, we must decide which color palette we will use. How to choose it? As a basic rule in food photography we must avoid the use of many colors in order not to give the idea of clutter. Communication must be clear. Ideal would be choose two or three colors and no more than five. We can choose matching colors using the colors wheel and one of the color schemes described at the beginning of this article.

On the web there are many tools that help you generate a color palette. I will classify them into three groups: those that give the ability to extract the color palette even from a loaded image, those that generate a palette starting only from color and those where you can only choose a palette from a list.

Generators With Extractor From the Image

  1. Adobe Color – formerly Adobe Kuler, this tool generates a color palette from any basic color. If you have an Adobe account, you can save and share palettes with others.
  2. CanvaColors – with this tool you can generate the perfect color palette and discover the meanings of colors with Canva’s collection of free colors and tools. The part with the symbolism of the colors is my favorite!
  3. Coolors – one of the best tools, super fast and with intuitive interface.
  4. Colormind – is a color scheme generator that uses deep learning. It can learn color styles from photographs, movies and folk art.
  5. ColourLovers – boasts over a million color palettes.
  6. Colr – if you’re looking for a simple tool that does everything, this is for you! It can generate color palettes from a random image or search through over 17,000 color schemes.
  7. Palettr – very nice, allows you to look for palettes by season, theme or place. Unfortunately, it is very busy and does not always work.
  8. ColorCombos – Simple and designed specifically to generate a palette from scratch.
  9. Colrd – Great for discovering new palettes and color patterns. It also offers a gradient builder and a search tool that is not found in other sites.
  10. ColorHunter – If you like colors in a certain image, you can use this tool to generate a palette by uploading the respective image. But also search among the palettes previously generated in their archives.
  11. MuzliColors – Search, discover, test and create beautiful color palettes for your projects.
  12. ColorDesigner – Very intuitive tool for creating color palettes.

Color Generators

  1. Colorsinspo – is a complete resource to find everything about colors with extreme ease. It’s part of my favorites.
  2. ColorSpace – generates beautiful color palettes, shades of color and more.
  3. Moodcube Color Sphere – is a gorgeous palette generator that lets you download them to files .AI or .ACO.
  4. Color by Hailpixel – With a unique cursor-based interface, this tool offers a fun new way to generate palettes. You can hover over to change the hue and brightness and scroll to adjust the saturation.
  5. ColourCode – allows you to generate harmonies in addition to creating palettes.
  6. Sip – is a beautiful app for Mac and iPhone, allowing you to generate color schemes from photos and name, organize and share your palettes across multiple devices.
  7. Paletton – with a convenient randomize button at the top that helps you create different color schemes, beyond manual mode.
  8. CohesiveColors – is a great tool to give your color palettes a uniform look.
  9. Data Viz – a tool that allows you to use the palette selector to create a series of visually evenly spaced colors.
  10. Colllor – Generates gradients, hues, and color palettes.
  11. Khroma – uses artificial intelligence to learn which colors you like and creates unlimited palettes for you.
  12. Stairs – is a generator of color scales.
  13. Calcolor.Co – a new way to find, edit and share digital colors.
  14. Colorkit – blends colors and generates shades and tones.

Color Palette Lists

  1. ColorHunt – a seemingly endless list of trend color palettes.
  2. Color Leap – a beautiful tool that finds color combinations inspired by history. A must try!