5 ways to create mood with colour grading

Generating the right atmosphere is essential to the success of any video or movie production - and colour can be a great way to achieve it.

When it comes video or movie production, there are usually hundreds tasks to tick off, but one of the most indefinable – and therefore often the most challenging – can be setting the right mood. The good news, though, is that there are many tricks we can keep up our sleeves. And one of them is that most basic element of any creative project: colour.

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Here I'll outline five different ways you can use colour to generate the right atmosphere for your scene, and give examples of each to inspire you.

01. Bronze

Bronze tones can create a sense of romance

Often seen in French films (think Amelie), bronze tones can give viewers a sense of warmth, comfort and romance. Warming the mids and highs is what we react to, although you might think that bluer tinted shadows might be best that can break the mood (it has its place in action movies though). A slight green tinge is usually best.

02. Sophistication

Here increasing the dominance of the blues gives a strong result

The simplest colour palettes tend to be ones based on complementary colours, where the main two are taken from opposite sides of the colour wheel. Examples of this are everywhere, from clothes (think of tan chinos with denim shirts) to film. The most recent obvious examples are the Transformers films, which push this method to the extremes – in places almost being salmon and teal with lots of saturation.

If you want to use this simple methodology in your work you can give it a slightly more sophisticated look by moving either both points on the colour wheel, or just one, a little off the main colour. Strong colours can feel almost childlike unless used very carefully, or in branding for everyday household brands where strong punchy colours are more commonplace.

The flip side of that is using a very limited palette, as the image above demonstrates. The original photo had a much wider range but by increasing the dominance of the blues and almost completely crushing everything else, the end result is strong with a graphic quality it didn't have before.

Next page: three more colour grading tips