At its core, colour theory is the study of how colours interact with one another. Understanding how colours work together can help you create a visually appealing and effective colour palette. There are three primary elements of colour theory: hue, saturation, and brightness.

Hue refers to the actual colour of an object, such as red, blue, or yellow.

Saturation refers to the intensity or purity of a colour. A highly saturated colour is bright and vivid, while a desaturated colour is more muted.

Brightness, or value, refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour.

In colour theory, several models describe colour relationships, including the colour wheel and colour harmony.

The Colour Wheel - an essential tool used by Colourists to understand colour theory
The Colour Wheel – an essential tool used to understand colour theory

Colour Wheel

The colour wheel is a visual representation of primary, secondary, and tertiary colours. Primary colours are red, blue, and yellow, while secondary colours are created by mixing two primary colours, such as green (blue and yellow) and orange (red and yellow). Tertiary colours are created by mixing a primary colour with a secondary colour, such as red-orange.

Colour Harmony

Colour harmony is the concept of combining colours in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. Several types of colour harmony include complementary, analogous, and triadic. Complementary colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as red and green or blue and orange. Analogous colours are next to each other on the colour wheel, such as blue, blue-green, and green. Triadic colours are evenly spaced on the colour wheel, such as red, yellow, and blue.

Understanding colour theory is crucial for colour grading. A solid understanding can help you create an effective and visually appealing colour palette. By using complementary or analogous colours, for example, you can create a harmonious and balanced look.

You can also use colour to convey emotion or mood. For instance, warm colours like red and orange can create a sense of energy and excitement, while cool colours like blue and green can create a sense of calm or tranquillity. But if used more harshly – blue and green can be used to create a feeling of suspense, drama and mystery.

Beyond the basics of colour theory, it is also essential to consider the technical aspects of colour grading. The goal of colour grading is to achieve a consistent and cohesive look throughout the film, video, or documentary. This involves adjusting the colour balance, contrast, saturation, and brightness to create a specific mood or atmosphere.

A still from the award winning feature, All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White (2023).
Colour by Matt Mahmod-Ogston / Colour Grading London

In addition to the technical aspects, it’s also essential to consider the creative side of colour grading. A skilled colourist can use colour to tell your story, conveying key emotions and critical moments in the story. They can also work with the director and cinematographer to create a cohesive look that supports the overall vision for the project.

Colour has a profound impact on human emotions and behaviour. It influences our mood and perception of the world around us. For example, red is often associated with passion and excitement, while blue is associated with calmness and tranquillity. When we see different colours, our minds react in different ways. The mind is stimulated when we see bright colours, while subdued colours can have a calming effect.


A solid understanding of colour theory is essential for effective colour grading. By understanding how colours work together and using this knowledge to create a visually appealing and cohesive colour palette, I can help you create a more effective and engaging film, video, or documentary.

For more information about my services as professional colourist, and how I can help you create Hollywood quality colour for your film, documentary or video – please request free quote for your project.

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