Intimately Understanding Color is Crucial to Produce Great Cinematography.

by Karin GottschalkLeave a Comment

Now that shooting movies in anything other than full color has long been the norm, an in-depth understanding of color is essential. But if, like most of us you didn’t attend art school, or if like me, your art school was lacking in the core subjects, then we need to find other sources for knowledge of color.

One thing I know: although Johannes Itten’s teachings at the Bauhaus and book ‘The Art of Color’ is a great start to your studies, as a moviemaker you will benefit enormously by studying the work and writings of color-oriented cinematographers as well as some of the great movies. 

Itten’s ‘The Art of Color’ was published in 1974 so copies are rare or expensive. Its much smaller cut-down version ‘The Elements of Color’ is an over-simplification and likewise rare and expensive. If you have the cash, the desire and the contacts in the rare books trade, then go after ‘The Art’ rather than ‘The Elements’.

In the absence of either the best we can do is via the movies and one in particular makes a good feature film-based overview, by self-described “wannabe filmmaker” Lewis Criswell. He applies a self-taught moviemaker’s keen and hungry eye to his subjects, including color, and his efforts are informative and enjoyable. Subscribing to his will reap rewards.

Mr Criswell has added some interview excerpts from cinematography great Vittorio Storaro and it is to he and his own books and movies that filmmaking students of color should turn next.

The Movement of Time Vimeo channel includes a supercut of Storaro movie excerpts titled ‘Vittorio Storaro – Color’ as a taster for Mr Storaro’s actual movies which you can find listed at the Vittorio Storaro filmography page at Wikipedia.

Mr Storaro’s oeuvre ranges from his first feature film, 1962’s ‘Attack of the Normans’ to an in-production Woody Allen movie with plenty of movie masterpieces in between. Some of the more memorable for me have been ‘1900’, ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Reds’, ‘Ladyhawke’, ‘The Last Emperor’, ‘The Sheltering Sky’ and ‘Taxi’, but watch all of his movies if you can.

Lower left: gels from the Vittorio Storaro series gel sheet kit. Others: covers of books by Vittoria Storaro at the Storaro Collection website. Photo composite made in Affinity Photo.

Lower left: gels from the Vittorio Storaro series gel sheet kit. Others: covers of books by Vittoria Storaro at the Storaro Collection website. Photo composite made in Affinity Photo.

Other Storaro-generated materials worth getting your hands on include his books at the Storaro Collection website and the Rosco Vittorio Storaro Series of lighting filters.

I don’t own copies of his books, though I really should, but I certainly owned and used filters from the Rosco collection back in my magazine photography days. I never shot a portrait without applying a filter of some kind and whether it was one of Storaro’s or others chosen by studying his principles of color, it helped me create a very distinctive lighting style.

Now that eminently filterable LED lighting like the Rotolight Neo is here I recommend taking a closer look at Rosco’s filters as well as those from Lee – selections are included in the Neo Three Light Kit.

The Gel Swatch Library iPhone and iPad app by Gel Services, Inc. is an invaluable tool for working professionals as well as educational and I highly recommend it too. Far better than the many filter swatch books I used to carry and that faded over time. [bctt tweet=”We live in a world of color: to be a great cinematographer, totally saturate yourself with it.”]

Colour in Storytelling at Lewis Criswell's YouTube channel

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

Karin Gottschalk

Karin Gottschalk

Karin is a documentary moviemaker, journalist, photographer and teacher who conceived and cofounded an influential, globally-read, Australian magazine of contemporary art, culture and photography. While based in Europe, contributing to the magazine and working in advertising, she visualised a future telling the same sorts of stories with a movie camera and audio recorder. Now back in her home base in Sydney, Karin is pursuing her goal of becoming an independent, one-person, backpack multimedia journalist and documentary moviemaker. Mentorless and un-filmschooled, she is constantly learning and sharpening up her skill set.
Karin Gottschalk

Leave a Comment