5 ways to create mood with colour grading

03. A splash of colour

Don't Look Now shows how to tweak the emotions by making one colour stand out

Don't Look Now shows how to tweak the emotions by making one colour stand out

Sometimes the best way to use colour is the most obvious and striking. Get rid of all other colours. You could go the whole hog and try a monochrome image. Keep in mind this doesn't necessarily mean black and white. It could just as well be all blue tones, which might work well for a cold scene or, with a little green added, might be perfect for an underwater animation.

If that sounds like it might be a bit strong for your project then you can still have a similar, albeit more subtle, look from using a wider gamut of colours. Think of the film Don't Look Now with Donald Sutherland. This film shows wonderful understanding of using colour to reinforce mood in visual storytelling and the red coat has become iconic in cinema.

04. Reference everything

Collect images that speak to you for inspiration

Collect images that speak to you for inspiration

I have an ever-expanding collection of photos in my photostream and lightroom library that I use as colour reference (as well as forms and silhouettes), not just as a catalogue. Choose the images you feel have palettes that speak to you and copy them to a folder (they don't need to be large or hi-res).

Use a service like Dropbox so you always have access, and whenever you see a colour or collection of colours that you like take a photo, or a screen-grab and save it there.

It doesn't take long before you have an expansive library that should help and inspire you for your latest project. It's also a great way to create your swatch collection in Photoshop. Just open up and image, then use the colour picker to build your swatches. Great for loading into a site or app like Kuler (see below) too.

05. Online tools

Kuler is one of the best tools for creating a colour scheme

Kuler is one of the best tools for creating a colour scheme

If your own knowledge of colour theory is somewhat lacking you can still create spectacular colour schemes; just use other peoples experience to help you learn. There are many tools online that will help you define your colour palettes but the most widely used is probably Adobe Color CC.

The site lets you choose between various methods of working, such as complementary or analogous, then you simply pick a colour you know you want to use and you are presented a scheme based on those rules. The site has a lot more depth to it than that but start experimenting and you will soon start to notice patterns appearing as you change parameters.

Top tip

Always carry a camera with you. If it's your phone, even better as you can save any photos directly to your Dropbox for reference.

Words: Rob Redman