Roses have been cultural symbols for a long time. In ancient Greece, they were associated with the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. When the Romans took over, they used roses to represent their love goddess, Venus. Later, when the Roman Empire was Christianized, roses began to symbolize the Virgin Mary – the white rose for her purity, and the red rose for her charity.
Since then, roses have been a source of inspiration for writers and artists of all kinds, including photographers. Only now, they don’t represent people or goddesses; they represent emotions. Just take a look at the following quotes that use roses to express ideas and feelings:
“What is in a name?
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
— William Shakespeare
“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
— Abraham Lincoln
In modern Western culture, each rose color symbolizes a different emotion or idea, so if you want to give someone a rose, you have to be careful which one you choose.
This symbolism applies to art and photography, too. If you photograph a red rose, your photo will have a different “feel” than a yellow rose, even if the composition is the same. That’s because the two colors have different symbolic meanings, which viewers might think of when looking at your photo.
Photographing Roses in Different Colors
Below are four different rose colors that are commonly photographed, along an explanation of their symbolism and beautiful photos to show the feel of each color.
Of all rose colors, red is the most popular one to photograph. That’s partly because it’s a striking color that easily stands out, and partly because of its powerful meaning. In many cultures, a red rose symbolizes love and passion, making it a common gift on romantic dates, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day.
In other words, a photo with a red rose can have a sensual or romantic feel, even if that’s not what you intended. Maybe you were just attracted to the bright red color, but your viewers will see romance behind that deep red.
Pink roses are another popular color to photograph. They can be as eye-catching as red roses, only they don’t carry the same symbolism. While they do communicate a type of love, it’s a sweeter or more elegant romance compared to the passion of the red rose.
The symbolic meaning of pink roses also changes depending on the shade of pink. Dark pink roses traditionally represent gratitude, while light pink roses express sympathy. Both show appreciation or admiration – though you could argue that all roses show some kind of admiration.
Yellow and orange roses are less frequently photographed, perhaps because they’re harder to photograph well. Because green and red are complimentary colors, red and pink roses stand out beautifully against the surrounding green leaves and stems.
Yellow and orange roses don’t have that advantage. Yellow works well with purple, and orange works well with blue. Nevertheless, they can be lovely photography subjects, especially if you take a close-up or macro photo. They communicate joy and friendship and show love without the romance (though orange roses do hint at something more than friendship, as a bridge between yellow and red).
White Roses or Roses in Black and White
White roses are often used for weddings, as they symbolize pure love and unity. Long ago, they carried the same meaning as red roses, associated with love goddesses, but now they’re more virtuous. They don’t have the passion and sensuality of red roses, but instead carry honor, purity, and reverence.
White roses can be challenging to photograph because they lack the bright color of other roses. They work well as background flowers (in portraits, for example), but if they’re the main subject, you have to be especially careful when composing the photo. If too much of the surrounding greenery is in the image, viewers could be distracted by the lush green, as it’s more striking than plain white.
One way to address this problem is to photograph the roses in black and white. Then, the white rose will stand out, even if it’s surrounded by color. Its white petals will be a lovely contrast to the dark background.
You can use this technique with other colors, too. For instance, if you want viewers to focus on the flower’s shape and shading rather than its color, you can shoot in black and white.
Many of the above photos were selected from our Flickr community. Got a beautiful rose photo? Share it with the group so we can appreciate it!