Photography Topics
Video Topics
Beginner Mode
Show Pro Topics

πŸ“· 🎬 What is Good Color?

For fun, let’s first check your Color IQ.

  • Hue: What you call the color’s name, like “red” or “teal”.
  • Chroma/saturation: The color’s purity or intensity.
  • Value: How dark/light the color is; the color’s luminance.

Good Color = Good Design

My favorite way to discuss good design is to start with this.

YOU determine colors’ meaning

Associating discrete connotative “values” to color is counterproductive in my opinion. Take the color red for example. We all know red symbolizes love and sensuality. And danger. And good luck, or a funeral color depending on where you’re from. It’s definitely important in filmmaking to set up the audience with intentional associations around a given color, but don’t expect them to all immediately feel the same specific thing when you use that color. There’s a bit of evidence that certain colors can trigger consistent physiological responses, but I advise against assigning inherent ‘meaning’ to colors.

Color Schemes

We can’t talk color theory without paying tribute to the various ‘color schemes’.

  • Complementary: Colors opposite each other on the color wheel.
  • Triadic: Colors equidistant on the color wheel.
  • Split Complementary: Colors adjacent to the complement.
  • Analogous: Colors next to each other on the color wheel.

Once we start mixing primary colors together we get secondary colors, which combined yield tertiary colors. If you’re into traditional painting then look further into that, but there’s a reason I don’t explore it here. Go into Photoshop and mix red green and blue together. It’s an additive (RGB) system right? So it should yield white? I see far too many digital color classes going over these ‘foundational’ color concepts when they don’t apply to the way most software processes color.

I offer a similar caution on choosing “harmonious” colors for your color scheme based on these ‘rules’. Don’t be overly worried about choosing which colors “go together” based on abstract formulas or systems.

O’Connor’s Color Research and Application says it best with this formula:

Color harmony = f (Col1,2,3,…,n) β€’ (ID+CE+CX+P+T)

Translation: Mix a variety of very personalized factors together (individual differences (ID) like age or gender; Cultural Experience (CE), Context (CX) which is your environment when seeing the color; Perceptual effects (P); and Time (social stigma of a given era could influence your interpretation of red for example). All of those factors combined with a given color (the first part of the formula) show us that positive reaction to color, or an interpretation of “good” color is a function of all of it. In short, you can’t quantify what makes good color so trust your own instinct and hope that it mirrors your demographic’s.

Here are two underutilized resources for applying some of these concepts of color theory:

Your own visual sense will tell you what looks right and wrong. Also remember that on a bigger shoot there’s a reason production designers and teams of visual people centralize around a color scheme. Without that work on the production side, your ability to do much in the color correction side is quite limited. So after all that, here’s my advice:

Limit your options. It’s a tried and true piece of design advice, and for a professional result, very often it’s less about which colors you pick, and more about being selective and consistent with a determined color palette.

When we talk about color in video, color correction includes two major priorities, one technical, the other aesthetic:

  1. Meet the technical demands of the deliverable specification. Values must be within legal range and gamut appropriate to the intended method of distribution. Shots should feel sufficiently similar and balanced such that continuity is not disrupted.
  2. Establish a creative grade or “look” per the demands of the DOP and director.
Scroll to Top