Color isn’t black and white.
There’s a secret to great video content you may have never noticed—because, honestly, when it’s done well, you’re not really supposed to. But it has a massive impact on the way you consume video content.
Like music, color is a universal language. We innately understand and relate to color on an emotional level. In video and film, it influences the way we see things; it gains and holds our attention, it helps us decipher meaning and mood, and it makes things stand out or blend in.
However, color isn’t always what you expect it to be. For example, take a blank sheet of paper. Your brain knows it’s white, so that’s how you’ll see it. But if you take a closer look, you’ll notice the color can be altered depending on the environment. If you hold it up under moonlight, the paper is actually blue. Under fluorescent lights, it takes on a green hue.
The thing is, if you see a piece of white paper that looks blue, your brain automatically tells you that you’re looking at a piece of paper under moonlight.
As creators, knowing this should change the way you think about color in your work. You need to consider color when you first approach a video project or you’ll miss a critical piece of the puzzle that greatly impacts the viewer’s overall experience.
Color cannot be an afterthought.
The color process starts in pre-production as the art director plans out the piece. This includes color schemes, prop selection, and wardrobe. You may choose a monochromatic palette to set the tone of utopian perfection and a bright yellow dress for your main character to make her seem happy and vibrant, with a hint of warning. It can get pretty complex, and there is no shortage of symbolism.
During production, camera selection and acquisition of data come into play. When choosing a camera, you have to consider the dynamic range (detail in your blacks and whites) and bit rate (overall information collected). The more range and higher bit rate, the more you have to work with when editing.
Lastly, in post-production, the colors come to life with color correcting and color grading.
Color correcting vs. color grading
While the terms color correcting and color grading are often used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference between them. Correcting doesn’t mean a mistake was made; it’s about making each piece of footage match the rest in the project so it feels like they all exist in the same world. Different locations, changes in natural light, or other outside factors will alter the way your image looks even if you don’t change lighting or camera settings. Correcting creates a clean slate for color grading.
Color grading creates an aesthetic for the piece. Everyone with an Instagram account has dipped their toe in color grading with the platform’s predesigned filters. Each filter gives a different feeling to your photos—some are vintage, others moody, some soft and warm. This stylized editing is similar to color grading. While color correcting helps make the image look good, color grading reveals the mood, meaning, and intention of the shot. It gently guides the viewer to feel a certain way. You know something bad is going to happen when there is a shift in the music; similarly, if the scene has a purple hue, someone’s probably going to die.
Intention separates good from great.
A video without planned color seems unfinished, but more importantly, it feels disconnected from the message, which can be distracting—maybe even confusing—for viewers. Color makes things resonate, and it connects people with ideas.
There isn’t a formula to memorize and follow; each project has to be approached as unique. Our team uses our creativity, experience, and resources to carefully curate color and mood in a video, ensuring the message is clear and guided. When it’s done, the piece is more effective because it informs the viewers’ relationship to the person on camera (be it a stakeholder or actor) and the environment they are in. All of that amplifies the message being delivered.
We make sure our color choices serve the story and engage the intended audience. Audiences are more fluent in the language of color than you might think because, like music, it causes a primal, emotional reaction. While the viewer may not notice the effort consciously, it always makes a difference.