Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Remember learning about the monochromatic colour harmony? Well we're going to put it to the test in this post.
Monochrome works wonders to emphasize the subject — you!
When all the colours between an outfit and the surroundings are similar, your skin will have the most contrast. Eyeballs will immediately be drawn through the image to your face.
It is a very effective colour harmony for portraiture!
Let’s do an example! The client (me) wants a dark & moody tropical forest shoot. I'm obsessed with plants right now.
No, seriously. I have a problem. Anybody have the number to Tropical Plants Anonymous?
Step 1: Match Your Location
The location will be a "tropical forest", so I'm going to be working with lush, dark greens. That means I'll choose a green outfit.
If you recall from my last post, monochromatic colour harmony uses just one colour. You can vary the contrast of the photo using white (tint), grey (tone) or black (shades).
Note: there is a difference between a monochromatic outfit and a monochromatic editing style. You'll see in a minute.
Step 2: Consider Your Skin Undertones
If you have cool undertones try to find greens that are neutral or bluish green. If you have warm undertones, then try to find a neutral or yellowish green.
I have neutral undertones (both cool and warm) and also have bluish green eyes, so I'll choose an outfit that is either neutral or bluish green. I'll avoid yellowish green.
Note: it's better to match your outfit with the greens in your location vs your skin tone.
For example, if the greens in your location are yellowish green but your skin tone is cool, then choose an outfit that is yellowish green.
When editing the photos later, your photographer can more easily tweak the skin tones than different colours of green.
Step 3: Take Cues from Your Editing Style
In this example I've chosen dark & moody. I want an outfit that will shift attention to my face, so it needs to be similar to or darker than the rest of the image.
Here is the dark, bluish-green blazer I chose.
Step 4: Add Contrast
You can add contrast to the image by varying the brightness of your outfit against your backdrop and your skin. Remember, this ties into your editing style.
For this dark & moody shoot, I want to keep it simple. My end goal is to have ALL the attention go to my face. So I'll keep my outfit to one shade.
I'm not doing a full body shot. However if I DID want to have a full body shot, I'd choose pants either matching the blazer or darker.
Despite having pretty nice legs, I don't want a lot of attention going there. I want it on my face, because this is portraiture.
Step 5: Choose Your Makeup
I went all green with my makeup for the purposes of this assignment. Normally I'd wear dark red lipstick, but that would make this a little closer to a complimentary style wardrobe/makeup.
And, hey! The green is super vibey. That's what dark & moody is all about!
Notice the difference in how your eyes move around the image. In the first image, they go lips to eyes, and then linger on my eyes.
In the second one, your eyes will bounce back and forth between my lips and eyes before lingering on my lips.
My lips draw more attention when red because they provide the most contrast from the rest of the image.
The Final Image
The image above is not 100% monochromatic, because my face is not green. Instead, it's orangish red (complimentary to the bluish green I used).
If I wanted it to be strictly monochrome image, it would look like this:
I personally LOVE the green monochrome, but I know it's not for everyone. With portrait, we usually stick to normal skin tones.
Here's an example using orange monochrome. My skin looks natural compared to the green, but I don't like it as much. Can you guess why?
Location! I get the feeling of tropical lushness that I'm going for with the green monochrome.
Note: For a truly monochrome image, like above, you wouldn't even need to worry about the colour of your outfit. The only thing to pay attention to would be the difference in contrast between your skin and the shoot location.
As you can see there’s a lot to consider! That’s where your photographer comes in. Many, including myself, offer wardrobe consults, either included in packages or as add-ons.
Next we will do an analogous-style outfit. Subscribe below if you're interested in learning more about colour harmonies and outfit choice in portrait photography!