Exploring the Emotions of Color Theory: With Jamie Campfield Bates

April 4, 2018 0 Comments

Today we have a special & colorful Q&A session all about color theory!  Jamie Campfield Bates is a very talented artist who knows a lot about color, how it works in images and the emotions behind it.  I promise you’ll love studying her images as much as you love reading her tips! (Or completely drooling over her images…because that’s what I did!)  ***Interesting fact, Jamie’s husband is also a photographer, and is also named Jamie Bates! Thus, why she uses her whole name!***


How often do you look for colors when shooting?

Pretty much all the time. After light, I would say color is the thing I am most attracted to when I’m composing a shot.  Out of curiosity I just did a tally of the images on my website- and 96% of them are color! I feel like color is just about always part of the story.

Why is that?

Pick your color usage intentionally and you instantly up the impact of your images, because color equals emotion.

Example- what do you think of when you think of the color yellow?  Something happy and sunny and fun? What about blue… peaceful, expansive like the sky or cool like a body of water?  Think about green… you may think of nature or something very organic like green grass, or maybe you go toward money or jealousy.  Pink may be romantic and girly, but red is passionate, perhaps even angry. Our perceptions are influenced by a lot of factors so a color may mean something a little bit different to you than it does to me but there is no doubt that color affects our mood and evokes feelings, whether we realize it or not. There’s a reason we call someone we can count on “true blue” or say we are “green” with envy.


People who study this sort of thing say that when humans look at a photo, we are subconsciously drawn to four things- contrast, areas of brightness, implied movement, and color.  That’s the way our brain is hardwired, so why not harness that? I think we are often looking for light or action or contrast when we are shooting, and color is easy to overlook because it’s ubiquitous, it’s just there.  But using it to add impact or convey emotion is simple. Taking the emotional values of colors, using that with complementary or contrasting colors, color harmonies or clashes, color palettes, using pops of color, analogous colors and so much more, all of these things can have  a tremendous influence on how others “feel’ about the moment or scene we’ve created.

That’s why the science of color theory is so fascinating, the whole psychology of it (and I can totally geek out on this stuff!)  

Trip to Tufts and Boston, Nov 2017

What is the first thing you look for, subject or background?

Ah, that’s sort of a trick question because I shoot a lot of landscape, so sometimes my subject IS the background!  But seriously, I’d say subject. It’s that thing that makes you say, “I want to take a picture of that!” The background can be changed dramatically by just moving your feet for a different angle, shooting from above or from down low, moving in real close or even changing your exposure or aperture.  Backgrounds are malleable.

Do you set your shots up in any way, shoot on the fly, or get in a specific place and wait for the perfect moment to press your shutter?

Yes.  All of the above.  

Street musician at Decatur: Asher Danzinger

What do you look for in terms of lighting when making an image with the colors you desire?

I don’t really seek out any particular type of lighting so much as I’m interested in however the color looks in whatever light is at hand. I love the rich palette colors can have in low light, or how they look cheery in soft, bright light.  But this can also be tweaked with editing, so there’s that. When you are working with the HSL panel, especially with luminance, you get to make changes to colors that different lighting might do in nature. That can be part of the creative process.

How important is editing in your process?  

It’s important.  Editing is where you develop your vision.  My editing style is pretty natural, but every image goes through Lightroom, and many get tweaked in Photoshop too. Especially with color, editing can really help you bring emphasis to your color stories. Even how you set your white balance, our most basic adjustment, has a tremendous effect on color- do you want to go warm or cool or neutral? The same photo can have a completely different mood depending on how it is edited for color.

What gear and equipment do you use for accomplishing this?  What are your typical settings?

I shoot with a Canon 5dmiii.  I have bought and sold a LOT of lenses, but I’ve settled in now with my just a few – a Canon 17-40L, which is my fav landscape lens and sometimes lifestyle, a Canon 40mm pancake that I use for travel and street photography because it’s less conspicuous, a Tamron SP 45mm that I love for everyday, and a Tamron 90mm that I use occasionally for portraits and macro.  That’s it. And you can see what I like, it’s pretty much the true human eye view – somewhere close to 43mm on a full-frame. I tried the long lenses because I love what I see other people doing with them, but they just weren’t for me, and I don’t like the distortion of the very wide angles.

For settings, it varies because I shoot so many different genres.  But I will say I am not a wide-open shooter. I rarely shoot wider than f/4.  I’m usually around f/9 or so.

Where do you find inspiration? What do you do when you get bored of shooting the same things?

Travel, for one. I travel quite a bit, even if it’s just a day trip or a weekend.  I have also found that trying something new- the more out of your comfort zone the better- is a great way to get over those same-ol’ same-ol’ ruts!  You have to learn about it and you have to concentrate, you can’t do it on autopilot because it’s new to you, and that shakes things up. But we all get bored sometimes.  I do think that it’s ok to take some time off too, take the pressure off yourself to make great art all the time.


If you could go back in time and tell yourself some tricks for mastering color theory faster, what would you say?

Ha!  I’ll let you know when I master it!  I still learn new things every day. I guess just do your own thing, don’t be afraid to experiment or fail, and enjoy the process.  


Jamie Campfield Bates is an artist photographer living in Gulfport, Mississippi. She is co-mod of the ColorChaseChallenge on Instagram, a member of The Color Collaborative on the Click Pro Daily Project blog, and readily admits to a slight obsession with all things color.  You can find more of her stunning work on Instagram here, and her website here!

Emily Hamson

I'm a mom of 4 wild boys, who photographs mostly nature (partly because they don't run away or pull faces at me like my boys do). Being behind my camera is my therapy! In 2017 I decided to embark upon a personal photography project to find more creative ways to use my camera, and the CIC was born. I love to learn anything that goes along with photography, but I really love helping others learn new techniques even more!