Girl with red pigtails. And green background. Philadelphia, 2013

If you want more bold colors, integrate both red and green into your pictures.

Opponent based color theory. Opposing colors become more intense when placed next to one another.

According to the “opponent theory” for colors, the opposing colors, when put next to one another, will intensify both colors.

For example, two opposing colors are red and green.

Strong figure to ground: green circle against red background.
Strong figure to ground: Red circle against green background.

Red vs Green // IKKO TANAKA

I’ve been studying great art, graphic design, painting, photography, and nature —and red and green is one of the most bold and enigmatic color combinations.

Color wheel theory: Dynamic tension between opposing colors. Image from CREATIVE EVERY DAY

For example,

  • Red and green Christmas colors
  • Red and green commercial products (Heineken beer, Gucci)
  • Red and green logos (Stanford, or Lebanon flag)
  • Red cherries or red strawberries with green foliage (perhaps to increase their chances of being spotted by animals to be eaten, and spread their seeds). Natural selection: the more bright vivid red fruits ended up reproducing more.

Red and green in art

Some examples in art:

Edouard Manet, green background and kid with red pants
The song of love, 1914 by Giorgio de Chirico. Red glove, and green ball.
Son of man by Rene Magritte, green apple with red tie.
Edward Hopper, woman in red burgundy, with green background.

Vincent van Gogh crab, red on green.
Matisse the dance, red figures against green background
Matisse abstract, green and red
Picasso woman, red chair against green background
Harry Gruyaert. Red and green colors

Harper bazaar cover, green butterfly and red lips of woman

Red and Green by Leonardo da Vinci

Red and green in Japanese woodcut art

The Japanese did the red and green color theory well:


Some examples from my photos:

High angle shot of red and green crosswalk. Shibuya, Tokyo 2017. Green on bottom of the frame, and red on top-right of the frame.
Ricoh GRII x Flash, 28mm, in macro mode. Bright green tones with subtle red lips
Green hair, finger nails, red lips and warm face
Philly. Portra 400 and flash. Red hair against green background.
Beauty of red tomato soup against green background
Love our high class customers. Green and red.
Girl with red pigtails. And green background. Philadelphia, 2013
Red dot on the suit in London metro. Cherry on top is the red dot, with green lines.
Woman with hand. Green, red. Chicago, 2015
Red wall and green basket inside grocery store. Kyoto, 2017
Green beans and cauliflower cooked at home in marseille with red plate. Makes the green colors pop more.

Less obvious examples, where the red (warm color) isn’t 100% red:

Green Wall Street Photo in marseille, with red-pink color on the right of the frame.

Red, Green, Blue (RGB)

In these photos, you can see how green enhances both the red and blue colors of a picture:

Headless man with blue and red jersey. The green in the background enhances both the red and blue colors.
Green in center of the frame, and the red and blue throughout the frame.

Practical takeaways:

  1. When you have the option, try to pair both red and green together, to enhance the colors of both colors. You can do this especially if you’re doing a model shoot, and can control the outfit of your subject.
  2. If you want to stand out at a party, wear an all red and green outfit (Gucci). You will certainly catch the attention of others.
  3. When you’re designing things for graphic design, city planning, or anything that requires the attention of your viewer, pair red and green together.
  4. If you’re photographing something red, use a green backdrop. If you’re shooting something green, try experimenting using a red backdrop.

Learn more Color Theory >

More Red and green inspiration


Purple umbrella on the ground with diagonal yellow line. Beautiful to me.

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