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

Consider how you can use color as a code to move viewers between images and/or sets of images. Christopher Nolan’s masterful use of color in his movie Inception will inspire you to new heights.

Inception moves between five levels of reality; waking, three levels of dream, and limbo, a plane of infinite subconscious that can be entered by traveling through the deepest dream level. The differences between each dream level’s color palette help viewers distinguish where characters are as they move between layers. Color becomes more than pleasing; it becomes content, a code to be decoded.

In the highest waking and lowest dreaming layers there is no consistent color palette; they have not been designed by the dream architect Ariadne. The three dream layers that have been designed have consistent palettes.

Dream layer one’s rainy exteriors are dominated by grays, dark blues, and blacks.

Dream layer two’s urban interiors are composed of warm oranges and browns.

Dream layer three’s snowy exteriors are rendered with bright whites and grays.

Understanding the use of color in Inception helps viewers orient and better understand this complex movie.

How many ways could you apply this principle in your images?

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

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
Nope
Tenet
Dunkirk
Interstellar
Mad Max: Fury Road
Pan’s Labyrinth
Castaway
Casablanca
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.

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.

Pleasantville

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.

JFK

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.

Oppenheimer

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.

How To Use Simultaneous Contrast To Make Colors Even More Lively

Composed of two complementary color families (yellow and blue); one is light and the other dark, while one is warm and the other is cool. Together, they increase each other's intensity.

Simultaneous Contrast

You can make a color appear more lively by changing it or by changing the colors around it. Even though it remains unchanged, we see it differently. Color context can be almost as important as individual color.

These effects are part physics (measurable qualities of light), part biology (what our brains do to enhance information to better perceive the world), and part psychology (our subjective responses). While the phenomena and our responses to them are complex, we can use a few simple dynamics to produce striking effects.

The colors in the center are the same but appear different because of the colors that surround them.

A lighter surround makes a color appear darker - and vice versa.

A warmer surround makes a color appear cooler - and vice versa.

A saturated surround makes a color appear more neutral - and vice versa.

Find more on Simultaneous Contrast and Color Theory here.

3 Types Of Contrast

Luminosity, hue, and saturation, the three elements of color, offer three types of contrast to choose from.

Changes in luminosity make colors feel lighter or heavier.
Use Curves. How To Master Color Adjustment With Curves

Changes in hue bring warm and cool associations with them.
Use Curves. 4 Ways To Enhance Color Temperature In Your Images

Changes in saturation increase or decrease vibrance.
Use Saturation and/or Vibrance. How To Master Saturation In Your Images

All three, either individually or collectively, can make a color appear nearer or farther away.

Atmospheric perspective enhances the illusion of depth; lighter, warmer, more saturated colors appear closer.

Sometimes, you want to select the element you change carefully to create a specific effect.

Other times, you just want separation, and any kind of contrast will do. For maximum effect, change all three elements as much as you can while still maintaining a realistic appearance.

Nearby, Adjacent, Surrounding


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3 Qualities Of Light You Can Use To Make Your Images Glow

Color has three elements – luminosity, hue, and saturation. 

Luminosity describes a color’s lightness.

Hue describes a color’s temperature. (It’s the rainbow ROYGBIV.)

Saturation describes a color’s degree of neutrality.

All colors can be described as a combination of these three values.

Each of these elements offers a unique quality and type of contrast. (Think energy.)

While we see all three elements simultaneously, learning to distinguish these three elements from one another is a useful skill that will help you see more clearly and see more possibilities for enhancing your images.

Consider the transformations each element of color offers.

When highlights are lightened with luminosity, this image feels cooler and more brilliant.

When highlights are warmed with hue, the image feels hotter and more humid.

When highlights are intensified with saturation, the image feels more lush and fertile.

Each of these elements of color implies a different atmosphere, a different time of day, or perhaps even season, and, in this case, a state of plant growth. Color becomes a code for many different qualities, and so can offer you many possibilities for creative enhancement and personal expression.

The following examples will illuminate some of the possibilities and pitfalls for you.

 


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A Brief History Of The Color Wheel

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image source 

02_ColorWheelNewton

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.

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Runge

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.

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Munsell

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

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.

How To Master Saturation In Your Images

Saturation Is An Essential Key To The Success Of Your Images

One of the most distinctive features of a visual artist’s use of color is their use of saturation. When you think of Ansel Adams’ photographs, you think of neutral images rather than highly saturated ones. When you think of Matisse’s paintings, you think of supersaturated images rather than neutral ones. Think of your use of saturation as an essential element that will help you define your own signature style.
One of three elements of color (luminosity, hue, and saturation), saturation can give your images specific qualities of energy and light. Here are five things you can do with saturation: one, increase energy and impact; two, add complexity by revealing hidden hues; three, restore life to listless hues; four, calm colors that are distracting; or five, produce softer semi-neutral and pastel palettes.

Read more about Saturation here.

Together, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop offer an impressive, almost overwhelming, array of possibilities for controlling saturation. Do three things before you choose a tool to adjust saturation with. First, understand and develop your eye for saturation. Second, adopt a consistent strategy for exploring the possibilities it offers your images. Third, understand the differences between the tools, both how they function and the effects they produce.

Know What To Look For

Knowing what to look for will help you choose a direction, a tool, and how far to go with it. It will also help you evaluate the results you produce – and quite possibly improve them further.


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The Difference Between Painters’ and Photographers’ Color Wheels

ColorWheel_Apple_425

The photographers’ color wheel rendered by Apple.

ColorWheel_Itten_425

The painters’ color wheel painted by Johannes Itten.

 

In color theory, one of the primary uses of color wheels is to plot complementary colors.

Painters and photographers use this information to create neutral colors. Painters mix complementary colors to get more neutral hues. Photographers add complementary colors to remove color casts, making neutral colors appear more neutral.

But photographers and painters apply different complements. Photographers identify three primaries and complements; red and cyan, green and magenta, blue and yellow. Painters identify three primaries and complements; red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple. Why do they use different complements? Painters have to address the impurities in the pigments they’re mixing.

Photographers deal with pure light.

From a practical standpoint, both types of artists learn to achieve the effects they want to achieve. From a conceptual or theoretical standpoint, the difference is significant – and they share the same theories but their application of those theories differs. Photographers and painters should talk to each other more.

Photographers can enrich their understanding of color if they become familiar with the longer richer history painters have had with color, and at the same time painters can refine their theories and produce stronger effects by using photographic complements.
Physically and biologically our eyes do specific things. By using maximum hue contrast, complementary colors in close proximity to one another create optical effects: they make each other look more intense; any lines between them becomes more pronounced, often producing a light line, which can appear to flash if the eye moves back and forth across it; if made very small (like scanned pixels or printed halftone dots) they average to a neutral color. Artists use these effects to make more powerful visual statements.

Optically photographic complements are correct. You can test and prove this yourself. To do this, take advantage of the retinal after images your eyes produce. Simply stare at a solid patch of color for more than twenty seconds and then shift your gaze to a neutral field of color, like a white wall. The color you’ll see will be the photographic complement. So, if you want to take maximum advantage of the optical effects generated by complementary colors, choose photographic complements.

Finally, color theory can be very useful. Artists frequently create consistent color structures (some call them color harmonies), much like the tonal structures or scales musicians. They often use color wheels to plot these relationships (not unlike a musician plots a circle of fifths to identify musical harmonies). They draw geometric figures inside a circle of color to identify regular intervals between the colors chosen; straight lines for pairs, triangles for trios, rectangles for quartets, etc. There’s no ideal structure. Different structures generate different effects, both optical and psychological – and it’s useful to know what those are. What matters most is that a color structure is created, rather than color chaos. The colors identified as complements define a color wheel. Once again, because of the impurities in pigments, painters distort their color wheels (expanding the oranges and reducing the cool blues) to help them identify which colors to mix to make neutral or more neutral colors, but the unintended consequence of doing this is that they plot color structures on a distorted color wheel. Their ideal theories are skewed by physical imperfections.

Long after his death, it was noted that pointillist painter Seurat, who started a whole school of painters who used broken bits of complementary colors rather than blended less intense colors, could have achieved even richer visual effects if he had adjusted his color choices. Viewers experience visual effects with their eyes. And the photographer’s color wheel is aligned with our eyes.

 

Learn more about Color Theory here.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.