Psychology of Colour in Film and Cinematic Photography

May 18, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Creating business headshots as a commercial photographer and also cinematic inspired images you would think couldn't be more varied but what links them together for me is how I use the colour palette in my images much like the Film and TV industry.


Cinematic-PhotographyCinematic-PhotographyCinematic-Photography by Phil Jones


Filmmakers have for many years used colour to add vibrancy to their films but they also use colours to dictate a mood and take an audience on a journey by changing the colour palette. In my last blog, I talk about how using colour in advertising and marketing can convey meaning, emotion and promote a brand and how colour also has the power to influence how we feel without us even noticing. In Film and TV, colour can build tension and harmony within a scene and can set the tone of a movie.


Psychology of Colour in Film, TV and Cinematic Photography


In my last blog, I talked about the Colour Palette and how colour is carefully chosen to promote a brand and create an emotion in advertising and marketing. In Film and TV, colour is again used to stir emotion and affect the mood of the audience, the choice of colour can have a huge effect on your reaction to what you're watching.


How is colour used? From the production design through to the wardrobe and props, colour can be an entire character in the script. Take a look at this short video below which takes us through the colour palette and shows us first hand how colours can change our emotions.



Creating emotion in film by using colour

Introducing colour into my photography is something I've been doing for many years, even before I understood the importance and power of using colour to create an emotion, (further reading How to create a signature look). If you're looking for a subtle way to make a scene or image resonate emotionally, there may be no better way than choosing a colour associated to create that emotion.




Keeping with cooler tones, in this cinematic shot below, I used a building, Ford Mustang and dressed actor Andrea Vasiliou to colour coordinate the image and create a mood during the production of my action thriller Andie.

ANDIE action adventure with Andrea VasiliouANDIE action adventure with Andrea Vasiliou


Cinematic photographyCinematic photographyUsing colour in Cinematic Photography with actor Andrea Vasiliou


Below: Colour palette used on The Reverence.


The Revenant (2015) dir. Alejandro González IñárrituThe Revenant (2015) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu

Using the Colour Palette in photographyUsing the Colour Palette in photographyUsing the Colour Palette in photography with Andrea Vasiliou


Above: The colour Palette from The Reverence worked perfectly on my cinematic shoot with Andrea Vasiliou. If only I had planned it!


Listed below are the emotions which are normally associated when using each colour but as you saw from my examples of using blue, they can have opposite effects.


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


Ethereal cinematic phortographyEthereal cinematic phortography


Above: What does my Ethereal Cinematic Image represent to you?

In the Psychology of Colour in Film and TV Green represents healing, soothing, perseverance, proud, unchanging nature, environment, healthy,  renewal, youth, spring and fertility. WHITE – Protection, love, reverence, purity, simplicity, cleanliness, peace and humility.

  Stunt Performer Kit Burden Cinematic PhotographyStunt Performer Kit Burden Cinematic Photography

Above Stunt Performer Kit Burden. Browns and Greens say outdoors, environment, earth and endurance, add some black for mystery and power. 


  PJ173156-Edit lo resPJ173156-Edit lo res


Above and below: Actor Sian Altman in my concept Police Series, Protection Command. 

BLACK – No, power, mystery, fear, unhappiness, depth, style, evil, sadness, remorse and anger.

Below: Add some Red and we introduce Danger.


Sian Altman Protection CommandSian Altman Protection Command


Use of colour depends a lot on context and continuity in the storytelling, it really is dictated by the director's vision for the film. The colour red, for example, tends to raise people's blood pressure, while a pastel blue colour can have a calming effect, however, two of my old favourite science fiction films, Aliens and Terminator 2, rely heavily on the colour blue to build tension, where The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, for example, uses blue for a more calming effect.



As well as creating an emotion colour can be used to make an impact on the audience too. I particularly like the less is more approach, where colours using a similar hue are used. Take a look at the examples below and the colour palette for each scene where all the colours balance and sit in harmony with each other.


Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) dir. James BobinAlice Through the Looking Glass (2016) dir. James Bobin



Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) dir. Bryan SingerBohemian Rhapsody (2018) dir. Bryan Singer




Dunkirk Directed by Christopher NolanDunkirk Directed by Christopher NolanDunkirk Directed by Christopher Nolan



Less is more

Have you noticed over the last few years how some TV series' also use the less is more approach when working with colour, whereby the entire series uses a few carefully selected colours and these colours are used everywhere from clothing, buildings, props and interior design?

One TV series where I noticed used this approach is 'Deep Water' starring Anna Friel, where the colour palette is based on the autumnal colours of the Lake District. See the trailer below.


Deep Water - ITV Series 


While writing this blog, I discovered Malin Lindholm's website. Malin has worked as the Production Designer for many films and TV Series' including ITV's Deep Water. I reached out to Malin who kindly agreed to answer some of my questions and help me get a better understanding of what exactly a Production Designers role is.


Q&A with Malin Lindholm, Production Designer


Phil: Thanks so much, Malin for your interest in my blog. Would you mind telling me a little bit about yourself, your passions and interests? 

Malin: I’m a London based production designer who grew up in Stockholm, Sweden and came to London twenty years ago, after a few years between New York and Paris. Besides production design, I also do some spatial design/ commercial interior design. When I don’t work I like to go on long travels. But I also like being at home and enjoying my London life, since work tends to take me away. That’s one positive thing with Covid 19 - I get to be at home!


Phil: I’ve seen your illustrations and paintings on your website which are fantastic, you’re obviously a very talented artist, have you always wanted a career where you could use your artistic gift?

Malin: Thank you, that’s very kind. I don’t think I’m an artist- I just like to draw and have been drawing since I was a kid. My first career aspiration was to become a vet, but I think I abandoned that idea already in secondary school, not keen on the idea of having to put down animals. I then aimed for architect, because I liked drawing and creating spaces, but I also liked writing stories… so when I discovered that there was something called set designer, which was about creating space and telling stories at the same time, then that sounded like a playful compromise. I was always encouraged by my dad to go for a career where I would get to use my imagination. 


Phil: Did any of your school teachers pick up on your talent and give any good advice to help you choose your career?

Malin: Not as I can remember no…sorry, you probably wanted a more elaborate answer here!

Phil: No not at all. I would like to encourage young people who don't know what to do after leaving school or even University not to give up on their dreams or worry about their future, your answer is perfect! As helpful as teachers can sometimes be, quite often it takes many years before we, as adults, find the right career!

Malin: That's a great initiative to inspire the youngsters.


Phil: What training did you have and how did you first get involved working in Film and TV.

Malin: I studied theatre and film at the University of Stockholm and started to do set design for small theatre productions at first and later short films. Then I moved to New York and got an internship at a production design studio (a block from time square and with a spectacular view of the west side of Manhattan!). I stayed there for six months and really got to be a part of the whole process- from research and budgeting to technical drawings, model making, painting backdrops, dressing etc. My boyfriend at the time was a student at the School of Visual Art so I ended up designing student films there as well. It was an intense six months! A couple of years later I came to London to study Technical Arts Design at Wimbledon School of Arts, and stayed.


Phil: Would you mind explaining your role as a production designer? 

Malin: My job as a production designer is - in short - to interpret or help to refine the director's ideas of mood, style and look for the film/ tv series (or whatever medium) and based on that create the visual world for the story, together with your team.


Phil: At what stage do you get involved in a project, are you given a script and left to come up with ideas or how exactly does the process work? I usually come onboard at a pretty early stage- sometimes there’s just a first or second draft of a script and if it’s a series there might only be scripts ready for the first two episodes. The first step of the process is to go through the script(s) with the director to get a feel for her/ his ideas, likes and dislikes. In this process I like to share lots of visual references, to work out the style we want- colour, textures, symbolism, the use of light etc. After that, I start working with the location manager in finding locations. A lot happens when you start to look at actual locations with a character and a story in mind and most certainly you will get new ideas. Around this time your art department is also starting to take shape and need to be briefed and before you know it you’re drawing up sets to be built and from there the ball is rolling and then comes script changes, shooting schedules and suddenly it’s about problem-solving as much as creating and designing!


Phil: On average how much lead time would you have to create a look and designs for a TV series before filming started? 

Malin: 8-10 weeks prep is normal


Phil: How close to your concepts are the finished sets?

Malin: Pretty close. I do visuals and colour boards that the set decorator works from, so it’s very clear to everyone what we’re aiming for. but of course, last-minute changes happen.


Phil: Once your concepts are agreed, do you brief the other departments on the colour palette or is that someone else's responsibility? 

Malin: Yes, I share my mood boards and visuals with the DoP and costume designer (and whoever else might need it).


Phil: I noticed in ‘Deep Water’ the wardrobe, buildings and lighting were all from the same colour palette. How many people and departments were involved in creating the look?

Malin: Thanks for noticing! It’s usually the director and myself who come up with the colour palette during our prep together. Then the DoP comes on board and has thoughts which often tweaks it a bit, or the costume designer might have an idea of a colour that works well on a certain character and it might then make sense to bring it into details in the set... It’s sometimes more important to settle on what colours to avoid than what colours to go for. In Deep Water, I chose to work with the autumnal colours of the Lake District, where it’s set. It still gave us a wide range of colours.


Phil: From a practical point of view when working on set, will the lighting dept and director of photography brief you on ideas they have and how much room they need or do storyboards come after your initial concepts?

Malin: The DoP usually starts later than the production designer. When they come onboard they have their own mood boards and references, but since we’ve both been in discussions with the director, we’re usually on the same track. So it’s more a matter of merging and refining rather than changing. When we recce locations together or draw up studio sets, we always discuss the lighting. the DoP will mostly have opinions on things that directly affect their work, such as the size of a room, foreground elements or depth. As for storyboards, they tend to come pretty late in the process but are very helpful. They’re more about the use of space rather than the concept though.


Phil: Although the use of colours in Film and TV are used to dictate a mood and not so much to sell a brand I have noticed a tendency that dramas on ITV for example, tend to stick with blues which reflect their logo and brand. Am I overthinking this or is this part of the brief?

Malin: Yes, you’re definitely overthinking it! A part from the soft greyish blue in the reception and stairs of the physio clinic, we hardly used any blues at all in Deep Water. There were hints of blue tones in Ross’ house too, but it was either cold greens, lilacs or cold purples, but not blue. What might have given that impression though is perhaps the use of natural light..? Designers often chose cold wall colours, as it works better with most skin tones, but I can assure you it’s not a branding trick!


Phil: What advice and tips would you give me when I’m planning a photoshoot to improve my photography and using colour to make a better image? Dark walls! It’s obviously depending on the theme and occasion, but dark, textured walls with a glossy finish look great on camera. I personally love reflections.


Phil: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to work in the film industry as a production designer?

Malin: Be persistent and willing to learn from those who have more knowledge and experience than you. Work hard and know when it’s time to start becoming selective with what projects you chose to do. 


Phil: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me Malin, what plans do you have once Covid-19 lockdown has been lifted?

Malin: Pleasure! It’s too early and uncertain to make plans for life after this - don’t you think? 


To find out more about Malin please visit her website, I've  added a link at the end of this blog.



The best use of colour within a TV drama

Now we understand exactly what a Production Designer's role is, I also have to mention and show examples of a few of my personal recent favourites of the best use of colour within a TV drama which have inspired me.



A Discovery of Witches

Credit: A Discovery of Witches - Sky Original


A Discovery of WitchesA Discovery of Witches


A Discovery of Witches A Discovery of Witches


Teresa Palmer in A Discovery of Witches (2018)Teresa Palmer in A Discovery of Witches (2018)

Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer in A Discovery of WitchesMatthew Goode and Teresa Palmer in A Discovery of Witches



Credit: Liar - ITV Series


Liar Ioan GruffuddLiar Ioan Gruffudd


Joanne Froggatt ITV LiarJoanne Froggatt ITV LiarJoanne Froggatt Liar itv Above: Ioan Gruffudd and Joanne Froggatt in Liar. Credit ITV



Anne with an E

Credit: Anne with an E - A Netflix Original Series

Image credit - Netflix


Anne with an EAnne with an E Anne with an E . Images credit IMDB


Anne with an E IMDBAnne with an E IMDB

Anne with an EAnne with an E

Anne with an EAnne with an E


Absolutely brilliant use of the colour palette as far as I'm concerned and I would definitely recommend this series.


Cinematic Photography

To finish on, here are a few more examples of my Cinematic Photography.


The Dark Fairy TaleThe Dark Fairy Tale

Above: Sian Fan in A Dark Fairytale - Photography by Phil Jones


Cinematic PhotographyCinematic Photography

Above: Andrea Vasiliou in Andie - Photography by Phil Jones


Whimsical Cinematic PhotographyWhimsical Cinematic Photography

Above: Grace Gray in a whimsical/Fairytale Photoshoot - Photography by Phil Jones

Action adventure Cinematic PhotographyAction adventure Cinematic Photography

Above: Stunt Performer, Kit Burden - Photography by Phil Jones

Protection Command Police DramaProtection Command Police DramaProtection Command Police Drama with Actor Sian Altman

Above: Teaser Poster for Police Drama Concept I created with Sian Altman in Protection Command - Photography by Phil Jones


My final blog in this series I look at the film, The Last Thing He Wanted and chat with Ann Hathaway's Stunt Double, Michelle Cortes.

Click Here


Click HERE to read Part One Motorcycle Photography: My Journey into the Motorcycle Industry

Click HERE to read Part Two Creating a Signature Look in Photography

Click HERE to read Part Three Using Colour to convey meaning, emotion and promote a brand



To find out more about Production Designer Malin Lindholm please visit her Website and follow her on Instagram

IMDb Profile


Please check out and subscribe to my YouTube page

Phil Jones Photography YouTube 

and find me on Facebook

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If you want to read more about the using colour in film, check out this detailed blog which is one of the best I've found.




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