Decorating With Photographs – Selecting Colors To Set A Mood

Jeff Colburn

If you are in charge of selecting photographs to decorate your home or business, there are several things to consider about the photographs. These include:

  • Size
  • Mounting – Frame, glass or no glass, adhered on a sheet of clear acrylic, on metal or canvas, etc.
  • Subject matter
  • Dominant colors

Selecting photographs with subjects that match the theme you want to create is important, but pay attention to the dominant colors too. Is there a big section of sky? Is that sky a mid-day blue or sunset red and orange? Do you have underwater photographs that have a blue tinge or winter scenes with lots of white?

My wife used to work in a picture framing shop. Some customers would bring their pictures in along with instructions from their interior designers as to what color mat to use. The interior designer wanted the mat to complement the room’s color scheme, ignoring what would look good on the photograph. Generally, their choice clashed with the colors in the photo, resulting in a piece of art that looked bad, and made the room look bad.

The dominant color of a photograph can be as important, or even more so, than the subject of the photograph. That’s because colors make a strong impact on our psyche. You wouldn’t paint the walls of patient rooms in a hospital bright red, but you would paint them blue or green.

If you run a high power, high energy company, red would be a good choice as the dominant color in a photograph because of its high energy, whereas an environmental company would use green or blue to mimic nature and to have a calming effect.

The same color means different things in different countries too. While red means warmth or anger in the United States, it means good luck in Africa and Europe and strength in Japan. To have a better understanding of the meaning of colors around the world, go to Information Is Beautiful and check out their infographic.

A person’s personal experience can also change the way they feel about a color. While a room with a lot of green will make most people feel calm and relaxed, some people may feel anxious or ill.

Here’s a breakdown of the meaning of popular colors in the United States.

Black is a power color that also represents evil, mystery, elegance and formality (black tie event). I’ve heard that we get about 90% of our knowledge about the world around us through our vision. Black represents the night, where we can’t see, which brings out fear in many people. Black also makes colors pop because of the contrast. That’s why many photographers use a black mat around their prints.

Blue is most often seen in the sky and ocean. It creates the feeling of trust, loyalty (true blue), intelligence, spirituality and truth. Blue creates a calming effect and can slow down a person’s metabolism.

A color’s shade can affect how it’s perceived. Light blue is often associated with health and tranquility while dark blue represents knowledge, power and seriousness.


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Gold has reflected the feeling of wealth for thousands of years. It represents prestige and wisdom. Most people also associate it with high quality.

Green is the color of plants and nature. When people see it, they feel growth, fertility, health and harmony. It represents safety as much as red represents danger. People think of money when they see this color, but it can also represent security and growth.

Dark-green is associated with jealousy and greed, while a yellow-green makes people think of sickness and cowardice. When you’re sick, do you look a little “green around the gills?”

Orange shares the qualities of red and yellow. People feel joy, enthusiasm, creativity, success and vitality. Overall, it stimulates the body and mind. Orange is also the color of some foods and fall, so it works well to represent healthy food and helps to stimulate appetite.

Purple is seen as a royal color, and has been worn by royals for a very long time. It also represents wealth, luxury, power, wisdom, dignity, creativity and magic. While light purple can feel romantic, dark purple can be gloomy.


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Red has two distinct and opposite meanings. It not only refers to war, anger, danger and strength, but also to love, passion and desire. It increases a person’s metabolism and can also raise blood pressure.

While snorkeling in Hawaii, I got too close to a rather large octopus. He stood up on the tips of his tentacles and turned bright red, and I swam away. I didn’t feel like tangling with the guy 40 feet underwater while holding my breath.

Pink and light red symbolize love, romance, joy and sexuality, where dark red is more indicative of rage, courage and leadership. It’s a good color to use to promote sports and sports related items and other activities that are highly physical.

White is the color of purity (pure as the driven snow), sterility, virginity, goodness and innocence. It represents safety and cleanliness and people feel positive about it. People in a hospital may like it because it represents sterility, or hate it because it reminds them of hospitals.


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Yellow is a sunny color, and represents energy, hope and happiness and stimulates the body and mind. Like other energetic colors, you don’t want to use too much of it in a room as it can make people a little jittery.

A dull yellow gives a feeling of caution, sickness and jealously while a light yellow represents joy and intelligence.


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Keep this color information in mind when selecting photographs for décor, especially if you want to set a specific mood in a room.

Have Fun,


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