June 24, 2016

Watch: The Psychology of Color in Film

A quick spin through the cinematic color wheel may end up being just what the doctor ordered.

As a filmmaker, it's your responsibility to take advantage of every tool that is thrown your way. Here at NFS, we throw around our opinions on lighting, sound technique, and equipment all the time. But what about color?

No, I'm not talking about color grading, color correction, or even the color quality of different cameras. I'm talking about production design. I'm talking about writing color as an entire character in your script. I'm talking about taking each one of your scenes in storyboard and assigning a color to it—even if you don't end up using it.

If you're looking for a subtle way to make a scene resonate emotionally, there may be no better way than choosing a color associated with the emotion you are trying to evoke. Here's how it works, as illustrated beautifully by video editor Lilly Mtz-Seara:

As you can see in the video above, there are both positive and negative components to each color at your disposal. Within each color are a multitude of hues you can break down even further to specifically hone in on the exact level of emotion you're seeking. 

Here's a quick guide:

  • RED – anger, passion, rage, desire, excitement, energy, speed, strength, power, heat, love, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence
  • PINK – love, innocence, healthy, happy, content, romantic, charming, playfulness, soft, delicate, feminine
  • YELLOW – wisdom, knowledge, relaxation, joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard
  • ORANGE – humor, energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant
  • GREEN – healing, soothing, perseverance, tenacity, self-awareness, proud, unchanging nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, vigour, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy
  • BLUE – faith, spirituality, contentment, loyalty, fulfillment peace, tranquility, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, sky, water, cold, technology, depression
  • PURPLE/VIOLET – erotic, royalty, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mysterious, transformation, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, arrogance, mourning, power, sensitive, intimacy
  • BROWN – materialistic, sensation, earth, home, outdoors, reliability, comfort, endurance, stability, simplicity
  • BLACK – No, power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, fear, anonymity, unhappiness, depth, style, evil, sadness, remorse, anger
  • WHITE – Yes, protection, love, reverence, purity, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, youth, birth, winter, snow, good, sterility, marriage (Western cultures), death (Eastern cultures), cold, clinical, sterile
  • SILVER – riches, glamorous, distinguished, earthy, natural, sleek, elegant, high-tech
  • GOLD – precious, riches, extravagance. warm, wealth, prosperity, grandeur

How have you used color to enhance your film? Share in the comments.     

Your Comment


50% of this video is fluffy nonsense.

June 24, 2016 at 12:18PM

Benjamin Lebeau
Cinematographer, Colorist, Editor

Thanks for the lessons..!!

June 24, 2016 at 12:29PM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

I feel like something like this gets posted AT LEAST once a week. . .

June 25, 2016 at 9:52PM, Edited June 25, 9:52PM

Joshua Bowen

The color pink supposedly represents femininity, yet there is no corresponding color to represent masculinity.
How can femininity be defined by a particular color, if "not feminine" can't be defined by a different color?
The author should have studied a little more math and a little less psychology.

June 26, 2016 at 10:21PM

Matthew Stephens

You can ask the same about yellow.
If yellow is wisdom, what color is stupid? ;-)

Thomas Reed shares an interesting view on this and it sounds plausible to me.
Here in The Netherlands pink/blue is also used for girl/boy babies.
However, the 'girlie' use of the color pink for babies is said to be pretty recent:

Color will always be both partly cultural (clearly noticable with white: in western and eastern cultures they mean opposite things, but also purple used the be a color for the Roman Senate only and is still worn by cardinals in the Vatican) and partly 'nature' (violence becomes blood = red, watching calm water is peaceful = blue, wasps and other insects warn us they'll sting = yellow, and so on).

July 2, 2016 at 5:31PM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

I would like to see some sources for these purported "meanings" for colors. I know some of them are rather obvious, and I am well aware there can't be much if any hard evidence when determining what a color "means", but when I look such a thing, I always find these lists that sometimes even contain contadictory terms. Even when some color theory books go deep into the technical; when it comes to the meaning, they usually resort to these aparently arbitrary lists of attributes, and I would really like to see a source with an actual deep semiotic analysis of color.

September 21, 2016 at 10:32AM, Edited September 21, 10:32AM

Concept artist | Storyboard artist | Illustrator

Thanks for educating with this wonderful video.

November 25, 2017 at 1:41AM, Edited November 25, 1:41AM

Samuel Jane
Short Film Director