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A Look at Color Theory in Film Has Lessons All Photographers Should Adopt

By Bing Putney on January 3rd 2017

Color is one of the most powerful tools in a photographer or cinematographer’s toolbox. However, it often seems to take a backseat to composition and lighting. When used creatively, color can have a dramatic effect on viewers, and a powerful role in telling a story. Studio Binder has created a fantastic guide to color theory, and how it can be applied in movies, though still-photographers can also gain some valuable insights. In fact, they may be necessary elements for photographers.

The guide, videos, and accompanying e-book, discuss the idea of creating a thoughtful color palette using established color harmonies. You may be familiar with monochromatic and complimentary colors, but less familiar with analogous and triadic. With examples from well known films and directors, the guide shows us how these harmonies can be used to draw attention or alter the mood in a particular shot or scene.

Furthermore, it discusses the various psychological associations carried by various colors, and how each can be used to immediately, subconsciously communicate certain ideas or themes pertaining to a specific character or moment in a film. Uma Thurman’s yellow jumpsuit in Kill Bill is used as an example, identifying her character as hazardous and dangerous.

As photographers, we should be aware of how every aspect of an image may resonate with its viewers, and be careful and thoughtful with how we use every tool at our disposal. Particularly in today’s age of digital post processing, when we can easily alter and fine tune the colors in our photos, we should take the time to understand color theory, and how best to use these harmonies and associations to effectively communicate with our viewers.

For a primer in color theory check out these two past articles:

COLOR PSYCHOLOGY from Lilly Mtz-Seara on Vimeo.

Check out the full guide and e-book at Studio Binder.

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Bing is a professional portrait and on-set still photographer who lives in Los Angeles, and frequently travels the world to explore new and interesting cultures and pastries.

Instagram: @bingputney

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