The importance of color: let’s learn to communicate with nuances

The choice of colors is fundamental: not only in art or graphics, but also in psychology and marketing


“Why are this colors the perfect match when next to each other? Is there anyone who can explain it? No. Just like no one can ever learn to paint.”

To say it was Pablo Picasso.

In fact, color is one of the most important elements of a composition, be it a painting, photography, film or digital painting illustrations.

This is because color also plays a critical role in our everyday life: it can direct thought, change actions and provoke reactions, cause irritation or draw attention, even change mood. Think about how the world around us would appear pale and dull if it were not so colorful.

Well, the artists, over the centuries, have experimented with the use of chromatisms as one of the most effective tools for making impact works.

And in the same way filmmakers, graphic designers and all those who work in the field of visual communication exploit it to communicate to their audience.

But to use color correctly, you first need to understand the basics.


Color characteristics

There are four main aspects in each color: hue, saturation, brightness and temperature.

Hue is the property that describes the placement of the hue in the color wheel; saturation instead defines its intensity or purity.

The presence of saturated colors in the composition gives it a vivid and dynamic look, but if you exaggerate you risk creating confusion: excessive saturation ends up creating a metaphorical competition for the dominance of the image between the various colors, and therefore to fatigue the eye. In contrast, an image dominated by less saturated colors seems washed out.

The brightness of the color determines its shade lighter or darker: this aspect is used above all to obtain the spatial depth of the objects.

Colors with a similar brightness make an image seem flat, while increasing the contrast can give the sense of its three-dimensionality.

At the same time, brightness is used to guide the observer’s eye within a composition: for example, a lighter color will stand out more on a dark background and vice versa.

As for the color temperature, however, certain shades are generally associated with the heat (such as red, orange or yellow), others in the cold (such as blue, green or purple): the greater the presence of red in a color, the more this will seem warm; on the contrary, adding blue will make it appear colder.

And the warm colors tend to stand out in an image, while the colder ones recede in the background: this method can also be used effectively to direct the observer’s gaze.

But it is not only the optic that comes into play in these considerations: attributes such as saturation and brightness also evoke emotions and moods in the individual, so choosing the right one for the context of an image can result an operation also very complex.


Psychology of color

The psychology of color has a deep impact on the decisions taken both consciously and unconsciously.

Based on scientific research, historical traditions and studies on the association of words, we have been able to identify how our mind reacts instantly to the various colors (what we will exhibit is valid for Western society, because obviously in different cultures change the color reaction).

Red is linked to feelings of danger, passion, enthusiasm, energy.

Orange with freshness, youth, creativity and adventure.

Yellow with optimism, joy, play and happiness.

Green nature, vitality, prestige, wealth.

Blue for communication, trust, calm but also depression.

Violets to nobility but also to spirituality and mystery.

The brown to simplicity, to honesty, as well as to the ground, then to the world of organic and genuine.

Pink is the feminine color par excellence, therefore sentimental and romantic.

Black evokes sophistication, luxury, formality but also mourning; finally, white, purity, simplicity, innocence and minimalism.

This list is deliberately simple and summarized, but the reality is that the psychology of color is a fundamental branch not only to arouse emotions through the observation of a work of art, but also in the field of persuasion and therefore of marketing.

Researchers have found that up to 90% of the choices made to drive a product are based solely on its color, so the success of selling a brand can also depend significantly on its color.

At the same time, colors are able to increase an observer’s level of attention, his participation, his understanding and even his memory.

For example, some scientific tests have shown that a black and white image captures a person’s interest for only two thirds of a second, one in color for up to two seconds.


The use of color in the films

Needless to say, even the film industry can not ignore these considerations.

While we watch a film, we rarely pay attention to the symbolism of the colors present in it.

But, by studying the history of cinema, it turns out that all the great directors have consciously used color to communicate effectively to their audience.

At the beginning the films were colored by hand (as in “The Great Train Robbery” of 1903 or “The Last Days of Pompeii” of 1926): a long and expensive operation, which finally did not become necessary with the birth and the development of the technicolor, which allows you to capture the natural colors of objects.

If at the beginning the public was used to watching black and white films, today if we remove the colors, the power of their message would be much more limited: their use has not only an aesthetic purpose, but also dramaturgical and emotional. Since the time of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) Victor Fleming used this tool to highlight the transition and change: the reality was in fact shown in black and white while Dorothy’s dream in color.

One of the best examples of chromatic symbolism is “The Tiger and the Dragon”: here the protagonist Jen always dresses in white, until she falls in love and then we see her in red.

The other character Yo Shu Lien instead wears the lilac, tint of energy, while the poison that kills Li Mu Bai is purple, linked to death and mourning.

Other times the colors are used to highlight the most hidden feelings of the characters (as in “The fabulous world of Amelie”, where Jean-Pierre Jeunet uses a range that goes from green to gold to red to emphasize the fairytale vision of the world of protagonist), to provide clues to the viewer (as in “The Sixth Sense”, where M. Night Shyamalan colors objects in touch with the beings of the other world), or to transport the public to different places or times (think of dry and dusty nuances, typical of the era following the Great Depression, of the film “Brother, where are you?” by the Cohen brothers).

In short, even if there is no Academy Award for the best color, perhaps after all the Academy should really decide to establish it …