Color meanings – using colors to express concepts

lor meanings - using colors to express concepts

Color is a very powerful means of expression. In photography, you can use color to set the mood, draw attention or accentuate the content. Selecting the right color can help you convey the mood and express the concept of the photograph. If you know about color meanings, you get a great tool to make your conceptual photography stronger.

Colors can be divided in 3 main groups: warm, cool and neutral.

Warm colors include red, orange, yellow, and variations of those three colors. They are generally energizing, passionate, and positive. Use warm colors in your photos to reflect passion, happiness, enthusiasm, and energy.

Cool colors include green, blue, and purple. They are usually calming and relaxing and convey a sense of calm or professionalism.

Neutral colors include white, black, gray, brown, beige (tan), and cream (ivory). They often serve as background. They can also be used on their own or combined with brighter accent colors. Their meanings and impressions will be greatly affected by cool or warm colors that surround them.

The perception of color can be very subjective and depends on personal experience and cultural background. But there are some common color meanings:


Love, passion, romance. Fire, heat. Anger, rage, violence, warfare, blood. Bravery, danger.

In India red is a color of purity, in China it is a color of good luck and in South Africa it is a color of mourning.


Energy, happiness, health, vitality. Vibrant and energetic, friendly and inviting.

In its muted forms, orange can be associated with the earth and with autumn, with the changing seasons, as well as change and movement in general.


The brightest and most energizing of the warm colors.

Happiness, joy, optimism, excitement. Warmth, sunshine. Prosperity, riches, power. Hope. Deceit, cowardice. Sickness.

Softer yellows: gender-neutral color for babies and young children. Light yellows: calm feeling of happiness. Dark yellows and gold-hued yellows: antique, sense of permanence.

Yellow represents courage in Japan, mourning in Egypt and hope in the West.


New beginnings, youth, renewal, growth, nature. Peace, calmness. Energy. Balance, harmony, stability. Wealth, abundance.

Envy, jealousy, lack of experience.

Brighter greens: energizing and vibrant. Olive greens: natural world. Dark greens: stability and affluence.


Calmness, responsibility. Sadness, melancholy. Coolness, cold. Security, peace. Supernatural. Spirituality, religion.

Light blues: refreshing, friendly, relaxed and calming. Bright blues: energizing, refreshing. Dark blues: strength, reliability (corporate color).


Creativity, imagination. Royalty. wealth, luxury.

Dark purples: wealth and royalty. Lighter purples (like lavender): romance.

In Thailand, purple is the color of mourning.


Mystery, unknown. Power. Elegance, sophistication, formality.

Evil, death, fear, grief.

In western cultures black is a color of mourning. In Japan however it is a color of honor. It’s also associated with rebellion in some cultures, and is associated with Halloween and the occult.


Conservative, formal, professional.

Dark gray: moody, depressive. Light gray: peaceful, modern.


Purity, cleanliness, virtue, innocence, simplicity. Harmony, silence. Surrender. Light, truth. Healthcare.

In Japan white is the color of mourning.


Nature (earth, wood, stone). Wholesomeness, warmth. Reliability, stability, steadfastness.

Tan or Beige: 

Conservative. Piety. 

Cream or Ivory: 

Calmness, elegance, purity. Sense of history.