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How can we know what harmony is unless we see what isn't harmonious? Contrast helps to define one thing that's separate from another. Here's an image that shows a palate that's not harmonious, the reason, each color is a hue not related to any of the others. The effect is a jumble of colors here, and people there. All calling for our attention. What if we apply a layer of color to the photo? Suddenly, it feels more harmonious as the elements are connected by a single color.
But we still can't distinguish one thing from another with any real clarity. All the colors and elements seem related, but still equal. If you decide that the woman in the front should be more important in the image, we could make her shirt darker or more vibrant than the rest, or cooler, or warmer. All of these things make her stand out. But what if we bring in a color that is not in any way related to the photoshop layer as a way to make the woman stand out? It should be a color that is outside the tribe, like a compliment, not related in any way to the layer color.
Notice that it creates tension in the harmonious image. Using a color outside of a family of related harmonious colors in small quantities and with careful consideration can create vitality and focus in an image. Let's try the same thing with a different person. Now he is the element that pops and cries for our attention. In each case, it's the opposite color, a complement, sitting in an otherwise harmonious world.
If you want to downplay the color's otherness just a bit, we can layer a small amount of the color into shadows, or other areas of the piece. Sometimes it helps to anchor the outside color to something, without going so far as to cover everything with the interloper color. Creating balance, harmony, and connection is a way to make all the parts in a piece come together as a whole, but if there is no distinguishing other who does not belong, Too much harmony can equal visual boredom.
Think of a party where everyone is very similar. What makes it more fun? An infusion of people who are not a part of the tribe and have distinct differences. These differences add contrast to create dynamic energy.
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