Color-Coded Kids—Color’s Role in Visual Communication

March 3, 2014

By Martha DiMeo

© Martha DiMeo 2014

When changing the color of clothing in Photoshop, edge control is key to obtaining successful results.

I recently read that throughout the 19th century, babies of both genders were dressed in long white gowns. It is only in the last century that American babies have worn color. The article would not have caught my eye had it not been for a photo request I had received earlier in the month.

A stock agency was soliciting images of infant girls with their grandmothers. Short of a bow-festooned headband or a dinosaur emblazoned onesie, how does one tell the sex of a infant? Of course, the answer is, we color-code our kids. There is no mistaking that in our society a baby dressed in pink is more than likely a girl and a baby clothed in blue is most likely to be a boy. (In the same article a children’s clothing executive was quoted in 1959 saying “A mother will allow her girl to wear blue, but Daddy will never permit his son to wear pink.) I wonder if that still holds true in 2014. But I digress.

Is Blue Just For Boys?
Getting back to the stock photo request—in my files I had this sweet and tender photo of a grandmother with her infant grandson. The pose, composition, and emotional tone were a match to the photo request. But, the blue onesie would not pass muster to communicate a female infant. The garment needed to be changed to either a feminine color, or at least a  gender-neutral color. Favoring a harmonious palette, I shied way from pink and choose the gender-neutral green to coordinate with the grandmother’s garment. Now, with a unisex color for the baby’s sleepwear, the perception of the baby’s gender would be left to the viewer to surmise—or in the case of a published photo—possibly revealed in the tagline or caption.

An unanticipated bonus of the color change is the focus it brought to the subject’s faces. By changing the blue garment to green, then lightening the faces, and removing the red color cast, the photograph is now truly about the facial expressions and the tender moment shared between a grandparent and grandchild.

Does the Color Match the Message?
In your next project thoroughly consider how color is being used. Would changing the color of objects in the photograph more effectively communicate the intended message or elicit a different response in the viewer? Need help with achieving that goal? Contact Martha DiMeo at Color is complex. ChromaQueen can help.

Martha DiMeo, Digital Imaging Specialist, is owner of, a photo-editing service company specializing in color correction and retouching for books, magazines, art publishers, advertising, and digital media. She would be happy to assist with your next color editing or retouching project. Join Martha on Twitter and LinkedIn.