How Classic Movies Use Color To Tell Compelling Stories

Whether in painting, photography, or motion pictures, color theory is one of the most important elements in art theory.  Learn what colors mean and why and investigate the power of colour as this video answers the question “How can color tell a story?”

Find more Color Theory inspiration from the movies here.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

11 Movies That Use Day For Night Plus An Inside Look At Nope’s Brilliance

“Day for night” is a set of cinematic techniques used to simulate the appearance of night while filming during the day. It’s often used when it’s too difficult or expensive to shoot at night, but it’s sometimes selected deliberately because it offers special image qualities. It’s not just technique, it’s also an aesthetic.

The same techniques cinematographers employ can be used for still images. If you’re called to explore these unique palettes, you’ll find lots of inspiration from the movies.

Some of the best examples of movies that use day for night include …

Dune 1 & 2
Mad Max: Fury Road
Pan’s Labyrinth
Lawrence Of Arabia
Passion In The Desert

Stay tuned for details on how you too can use day for night techniques.

Find more Color Theory inspiration from the movies here.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

4 Movies That Showcase Zhang Yimou’s Brilliant Use Of One Color Dominance

Looking for some color inspiration? Try Zhang Yimou’s films. This director repeatedly uses one dominant color in a movie to saturate it with emotion and symbol.

Here are four of my favorites.

Raise The Red Lantern (red)

House Of Flying Daggers (green)

Hero (white)

Shadow (black)

Find more Color Theory inspiration from the movies here.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

7 Movies That Mix Black & White And Color Masterfully

Black-and-white and full-color palettes present such different visual realities that it’s extremely difficult to combine them in a single project. Without a reason, it’s distracting, but when it’s used symbolically, it can work wonders. Below are 6 movies that do it masterfully.

The Wizard Of Oz

The Wizard Of Oz portrays Dorothy’s mundane life in Kansas in black-and-white and the dreamland of Oz in color.

Wings Of Desire

In Wings Of Desire, the ordinary world is depicted in color, while the spirit world inhabited by angels is portrayed in black-and-white.

Asteroid City

Colorization and black-and-white (plus varied aspect ratios) are used to represent different time periods.

The Purple Rose Of Cairo

Celia becomes entranced by Tom, the main character of a movie, who steps out of the black-and-white screen and into Cecilia’s color reality.


Simplistic black-and-white Pleasantville becomes increasingly morally more complex, signified by the growing presence of color in the picture. The film also uses the idea of “color” as a metaphor for the separation of people of color during the 1950s.


Using different film stocks and shifting constantly between black-and-white and color, JFK weaves real and reimagined news footage together, making it difficult to tell fact from supposition.


Color shows Oppenheimer’s subjective point of view. Black-and-white shows an objective perspective, usually through another character’s point of view.

Find more Color Theory inspiration from the movies here.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


10 Best Uses Of Color In Movies Of All Time

As this video shows, “Color is one of the most effective tools in a storyteller’s arsenal.”

When you’re choosing the colors in your still images, you can find limitless inspiration from color grading in movies. This is true for single images and for series or bodies of work. Color will not only make your images look more compelling but will also help you discover and communicate more with them.

Find more inspiration with these resources.

10 Movies With Amazing Color Schemes

50 Iconic Films and Their Color Palettes

Find more Color Theory inspiration from the movies here.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

A Brief History Of The Color Wheel


image source 


In 1666 the first color wheel was invented in by Sir Isaac Newton best known for his theories on gravity, motion, and light. (His theories on light are detailed in his seminal volume Optiks). Newton used a triangular prism to split a beam of white into a rainbow, proving that light is composed of a spectrum of hues – ROYGBIV. When he wrote down the different hues he made an influential decision to create a circle by connecting the opposite ends of the spectrum red and violet. (Unsurprisingly, if you spin the color wheel quickly, you’ll see white as the colors blend together.) Newton believed colors shared harmonious relationships with one another and went so far as to assign musical notes to each hue. Within this color wheel he rotated geometric shapes to identify different types of relationships.



In 1807 painter Philip Otto Runge reimagined the color wheel as a color sphere by painting a color globe using three primaries plus black and white, complete with cross-sectioning.



In 1989 Albert Henry Munsell created a three-dimensional model of color in the form of a central cylinder graded from black to white surrounded by a ring of possible hues.

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Adobe’s Color Wheel (Window > Color), one of the most used color wheels today, advances this tradition by refining the arrangement of complementary hues from subtractive (pigment or dye) to additive (light) ones, making color theory more precise. While sadly it does not offer a three-dimensional model, it offers other two dimensional graphs, including its classic square that plots all permutations lightness and saturation of a single hue plus a side-by-side rainbow slider to change the hue and gives numerical values for a given hue in four different color spaces – HSB, LAB, RGB, and CMYK.

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Chromix ColorThink

You can find virtual 3D color wheels in programs like Apple’s Color Sync which is designed to show and compare the shape of different color spaces or in Chromix’s Color which can also plot an image within the virtual volume. These models are even more informative because they show that color is not spherical but shaped more like a teardrop. One day we may be able to plot various shapes within them to design new color relationships and to more precisely identify the color relationships within existing images.

Follow up with Why Painters’ And Photographers’ Color Wheels Differ.

Read more in my Color Theory resources.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

All The Words Of The Rainbow



The language used to describe color has a long storied history; sometimes tied to its method of manufacture and sometimes tied to mental or emotional associations. What language lacks in precision it makes up for in expression. It’s great for poetry and marketing.

Contrast this with the numerical language of HSL (i.e. 13/48/76), which is better for precise identifying and communicating color.

Read more on HSL here.


Enjoy exploring this collection if you’re trying to find out what color a word refers to or if you’re looking for the right word to describe a color.


apple, beet, blooming, brick, blood, blush, burgundy, burning, carmine, cerise, cinnabar, claret, cherry, cochineal, coral, crimson, damask, fire engine, fire hydrant, flame, florid, fox, garnet, glowing, gules, lipstick, madder, maroon, pink, poppy, rose, rouge, rubicund, ruby, rufous, rust, russet, sanguine, scarlet, strawberry, tomato, vermillion, wine


amaranth, blush, bubblegum, carnation, champagne, coral, crepe, flamingo, flesh, fuscia, hot, lemonade, lipstick, mary kay, neon, peach, powder, puce, punch, rose, salmon, taffy, tickle me, watermelon


apricot, basketball, burnt, cantaloupe, carrot, chanterelle, chestnut, citrus, copper, coral, creamsicle, flaming, fiery, ginger, gold, marmalade, merigold, minium, monarch, neopolitan, orangatan, papaya, peach, pumpkin, salmon, salamander, sandstone, sherbert, soda, starfish, straw, sunflower, sunrise, squash, tangerine, tiger, yam


amber, banana, blonde, ash blonde, bottle blonde, strawberry blonde, bumblebee, butter, buttermilk, butterscotch, canary, corn, cream, daffodil, dijon, egg nog, flaxen, gamboge, golden, goldenrod, honey, imperial, indian, lemon, macaroon, medallion, mustard, naples, neon, ocher, orpiment, parmesan, pineapple, pollen, sandy, saffron, straw, topaz, tow-colored, tuscan, wheaten


absinthe, acid, apple, army, artichoke, avocado, aquamarine, basil, bosky, bottle, celadon, chartreuse, clover, copper, crocodile, fern, grass, emerald, evergreen, fir, forest, grass, jade, jungle, juniper, kale, kelly, leaf, lime, lincoln, lush, malachite, mint, moss, neon, olive, parakeet, pea, pear, pickle, pine, sage, sap, sea, seafoam, seaweed, shamrock, spinach, spring, terre verte, verdant, verdigris, vert, viridian


admiral, agean, arctic, antarctic, aquamarine, azure, baby, berry, beryl, bice, bright, beryl, cambridge, cerulean, cobalt, copenhagen, cornflower, cupreous, cyan, cyanotype, deep, denim, egyptian, electrix, erubescent, frost, ice, incarnadine, indigo, kyanite, lapis lazuli, midnight, navy, opal, oxford, peacock, persian, prussian, robin’s egg, royal, sapphire, saxe, sea, slate, sky, spruce, steel, teal, titian, turkish, turquoise, ultramarine, vivid


azure, blueberry, deep, glastum, indigotin, midnight, navy, prussian, ultramarine, woad, zaffre


amaranthine, amethyst, archil, berry, boysenberry, eggplant, grape, heather, heliotrope, iris, jam, lavender, lilac, mauve, magenta, mulberry, orchid, periwinkle, perse, plum, pomegranite, purple, raisin, royal, sangria, violet, violaceous, wine


allspice, auburn, bay, bran, beige, biscuit, bister, bottle, brick, brindle, bronze, brunette, buff, burnt sienna, burnt umber, cafe au lait, camel, caramel, carob, cayenne, cedar, chestnut, chocolate, cider, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, copper, drab, dun, dust, ecru, espresso, fallow, fawn, ginger, gingerbread, granola, greige, hazel, henna, hickory, kasha, khaki, leather, liver, madiera, mahogany, mocha, mousy, mud, mushroom, nut, nutmeg, oak, oatmeal, ochre, peanut, pecan, penny, puce, russet, rust, saddle, sallow, sand, sepia, sorrel, spice, tan, taupe, tawny, terra-cotta, toast, tortilla, umber, wheaten, whey, wood


alabaster, albino, allysum, antique, ash, bone, bleach, bright, brilliant, chalk, chantilly, chiffon, cloud, coconut, cotton, daisy, dove, eggshell, gesso, ghost, putty, hoary, isabelline, ivory, lead, lace, lily, linen, lucent, milk, mother of pearl, parchment, pearl, porcelain, powder, pure, rice, salt, snow, swan, star, titanium, vanilla, whisper, winter


aluminum, argentine, ash, cinereal, charcoal, cloud, coin, cool, cove, clam, dolphin, dove, dusky, elephant, fog, fossil, frost, graphite, grizzled, gunmetal, gunpowder, harbor, hippopotamus, hoary, lead, iron, metal, mouse, neutral, nickle, oyster, payne’s, pearl, pebble, peppery, pewter, platinum, pigeon, powder, rhino, rice, sere, silver, tin, sidewalk, slate, smoke, squirrel, steel, stone, thunder, warm


atramentous, calciginous, charcoal, coal, crepuscular, crow, dusky, ebony, flint, grease, ink, kohl, lamp, lava, jet, leather, mars, melanoid, metal, midnight, obsidian, oil, onyx, piceous, pitch, raven, sable, slate, soot, spider, stygian, tartarean, tenebrous

Read more in my Color Theory resources.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

The Best Strategy For Creating Successful Color Palettes

Illumination XXX

The vast majority of resources you’ll find for creating successful color palettes, whether in print or online, will catalog a great number of compelling color combinations with some rhyme but little reason. When you look at them, not understanding the logic behind their choices, it’s tempting to think that anything goes. (And it might in certain contexts and for the specific reasons. But which ones?) Sometimes they drift into color psychology but quickly become so subjective they lose all sense of objectivity or universality. The best of them identify visual dynamics that you can use to exert some influence over the direction takes in and gives to your images.

What I’m offering you here is different. This is a strategy. Not a rule but a tool.

Use high contrast in one element of color, medium contrast in a second, and low contrast in the third.

It could be simplified to, make one element of color dominant by consistently putting more contrast in it than the other two.

With only three elements of color, this rubric offers you three main palettes that you can draw endless permutations from plus two notable exceptions.

When you reflect on your choice of palette, you’ll gain insights into the themes contained of your images.

Before I detail these five palettes …

It helps to understand some of the dynamics of color. Good things come in threes; there are three types of color, three elements of color, and three kinds of contrast.




3 Types Of Color

There are three types of color – ideal, ambient, and synthetic.

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Color Theory

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Understanding color theory will help you appreciate and make more effective color choices.


Describing Color


The Best Books On Color Theory
Deepen your appreciation and understanding of color with these books.

What Is Color Theory ? | Download
Here are the essentials on which you can base your conceptual foundation of color.

All The Words Of The Rainbow
Find the words to describe that color or figure out what that word means.

3 Types of Color

3 Elements of Color

Luminosity – Lightness | Coming

Saturation – Intensity

Hue – Color Temperature


The Weight Of Color

Transparency & Translucency

Simultaneous Contrast

Proportion | Coming

Atmospheric Perspective | Coming

Day For Night


Color Wheels


A Brief History Of The Color Wheel

Why Photographers’ And Painters’ Color Wheels Differ

How To Use Color Wheels | Coming

Graphing Color

Color Analysis


Color Palettes


An Artist’s Palette | Download
One of the most distinctive things about an artist’s work is his or her use of color.

One Strategy For Creating Many Successful Color Palettes
Most successful palettes do this one thing.

How To Find The Infinite Color Possibilities One Image Contains
The possibilities seem limitless. Explore your options before you commit to a solution.

Why B&W And Color Don’t Mix
They’re two different realities; unless you use them as a code for that, present them separately.

B&W Palettes | Download
Here are a few examples of black and white palettes drawn from the history of photographic practice.

B&W Expanding The Definition | Download
What is a black and white image?

Palette – Light | Coming

Palette – Medium | Coming

Palette – Dark | Coming

Palette – Low Contrast | Coming

Palette – High Contrast | Coming

Palette – Spotlit | Coming

Palette – Ideal | Coming

Palette – Ambient | Coming

Palette – Synthetic | Coming

Palette – Super Saturated | Coming

Palette – Pastel | Coming

Palette – Semi-Neutral | Coming

Palette – Neutral | Coming

Palette – Monochromatic | Coming

The Colors Of The Seasons | Coming

The Colors Of A Place | Coming


Ways To Improve Your Color Perception


Check For Color Blindness

Take The X-Rite ColorIQ Challenge

Play The Game – I Love Hue

Exercise – Memory
| Coming

Exercise – After Image | Coming

Exercise – Transparency | Coming

Exercise – Intervals | Coming

Exercise – Simultaneous Contrast 3=4  | Coming

Exercise – Simultaneous Contrast 4=2 | Coming

Exercise – Optically Neutral  | Coming

Exercise – Analysis  | Coming


Going To The Movies


The 25 Most Beautiful Black-And-White Movies

7 Movies That Mix Black & White And Color Brilliantly

10 Best Uses Of Color In Movies

How Classic Movies Use Color To Tell Compelling Stories

Understanding Wes Anderson’s Unforgettable Color Palettes In 10 Movies

4 Movies That Showcase Zhang Yimou’s Brilliant Use Of One Color Dominance

8 Movies That Use Day For Night Beautifully

How To Decode Color  In Christopher Nolan’s Amazing Movie Inception


The Problems With Calling Them B&W Photographs

Suffusion VIII
You may not think there’s a problem. You may think you know the difference. It’s obvious right? But is it? Do you? After a lifetime spent in the arts, I find photographers’ ability to describe color woefully limited, and this is never truer than when describing “black-and-white” images.

Most antique processes are black and white, right? Certainly, silver gelatin is black and white. But what if you tone it? Is a platinum print black and white or brown and white? Is a cyanotype black and white or blue and white? What about hand-tinted photographs? They were black and white but then they became colorful again, but it’s a different kind of color, isn’t it? And if only a little color is added is it still black and white? At what point does an image become black and white?

The problem is that having only two terms – color and black and white – for a wide array of color palettes limits not only our communication but more importantly our perception and thinking.

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