Learning How to Shoot Vivid Color Photographs

Look for Ways to Highlight the Best Colors in Each Scene

Vladimir Godnik / Getty Images

When making the switch from point and shoot cameras to DSLRs, one aspect of the DSLR that can be confusing is understanding how to use the camera’s features to the fullest to achieve the best possible photographs.

Perhaps you want to create an image that contains a very shallow depth of field, where only a tiny portion of the image is in sharp focus from front to back, requiring a wide open aperture setting.

Or maybe you want a photo that freezes the action in a fast-moving scene, requiring a fast shutter speed.

What if you want to improve the colors in your photos? You have a few different options, some of which may be duplicates of what was available with your old point and shoot camera. Use these tips to figure out how to use the DSLR's various features to create more vivid colors in photos.

  • Importance of vivid colors. Ask experienced, professional-level photographers, and they’ll tell you a sharply-focused, well-composed photograph is the best kind to shoot. However, if your photo lags a bit in those areas but features some bright, vivid colors, I guarantee it will still grab attention. It’s smart to concentrate on a variety of aspects of a photograph, especially composition and a sharp focus, but, to ensure your photo gets noticed, don’t forget to include some great colors!
  • Use special effect options. While such features originally were limited to point and shoot cameras, many newer DSLR cameras include a variety of special effect features, which include built-in software and controls for emphasizing vivid colors in your photos. Some cameras call this setting “vivid,” “nature,” or “happy.” Using this setting, if you have it available, is a fast automatic way to ensure vivid colors in your photo. You may lose control over some aspects of the DSLR’s settings when making use of a special effect feature, including the possibility of even losing the ability to set the resolution of the photo. Or look for an HDR special effect, which will give you a greater exposure range in your images, resulting in greater color depth in some cases.
  • Look for warmer colors. You can make colors stand out by shooting warmer colors (reds, yellows, oranges) in the subject, with cooler colors (blues and greens) in the background. It also works in reverse. Those contrasts in colors can make the subject’s color appear to pop out of the photo.
  • Try shooting with a small depth of field. Using a similar technique, you can make the color of the subject pop when you use a small depth of field. Place the subject in a sharp focus and leave the background blurred, as shown in the photo included here. If the background and subject are different colors, the subject’s color should really pop, even if both the subject and background are cool colors. To achieve a small depth of field, you’ll need to make use of a lens that can shoot with a wide open aperture (equivalent to a small f-stop number).
  • Adjust the saturation levels. If you prefer more manual control over the colors in your photos, you can adjust the saturation in the photo. Just find the saturation level control inside the DSLR camera’s menus, and increase the saturation settings. Obtaining just the right saturation levels will take some practice, but it will pay off with vivid colors in your DSLR photos. Most DSLR cameras give you the option of adjusting saturation, contrast, and overall brightness in the same menu screen.
  • Underexpose the photo just slightly. You also can tweak the exposure when shooting, creating more vivid colors. This method works especially well with flowers and greenery. Have the camera determine what the automatic exposure should be while you’re focused on a green leaf. Then manually adjust the exposure setting by about two stops to the negative direction, and the brighter, warmer colors will really pop.