An Introduction to Colour Theory for Video Editors

By David Winter
Apr 5, 2024
5 minute read
A photo of someone working with Colour Theory

Colour holds an unparalleled sway within the realm of video editing, not merely as an aesthetic choice but as a profound communicator of mood, message, and meaning. The thoughtful application of colour can whisper secrets of the heart, echo the beats of emotion, and sculpt the narrative space, guiding the audience through a kaleidoscope of felt experiences.

This blog is poised to equip video editors with a comprehensive understanding of colour theory. We aim to bridge the gap between the scientific complexities of colour perception—how light wavelengths interact with our visual system to conjure a spectrum of hues—and the rich tapestry of psychological effects that colours can have on us.

The Science and Psychology of Colour

It all begins with light waves touching the cones in our eyes. These cones are specialised cells sensitive to red, green, and blue light. The way these cones interpret light enables us to see and distinguish the full spectrum of colours. 

This process of perception is not just biological but the first step in colour's powerful journey to influence emotions and storytelling.

Psychological Impact of Primary Colours

Navigating the emotional spectrum of primary colours reveals their profound psychological impact on storytelling and audience engagement. This section delves into the distinct emotions and narratives evoked by red, yellow, and blue, guiding video editors on utilising these hues to craft scenes with desired emotional undertones. 

  • Red: Known for its intensity, red can increase heart rate and evoke feelings of passion, excitement, or even danger. It's a powerful tool for grabbing attention or symbolising love and heat in storytelling.
  • Yellow: Bright and cheerful, yellow is often associated with happiness, optimism, and energy. It can illuminate scenes with warmth and positivity, making it ideal for uplifting or light-hearted moments.
  • Blue: A hue that promotes calmness and serenity, blue can also express sadness or depth. Its versatility makes it perfect for scenes aiming to soothe or those exploring deeper, reflective narratives.

Understanding the psychological nuances of these primary colours is crucial for editors aiming to enhance their storytelling with meaningful and emotionally resonant colour choices.

Warm vs. Cool Colours

Diving deeper into the spectrum of emotions that colour can evoke, the distinction between warm and cool colours emerges as a fundamental aspect of colour theory that video editors must master. 

This section explores the inherent energy and mood associated with these colour temperatures, guiding editors on strategically using warm and cool hues to enhance the emotional landscape of their projects.

Warm Colours

Warm colours, including shades of red, orange, and yellow, are typically linked with energy, vibrancy, and passion. They can invigorate a scene, convey warmth and comfort, or stimulate feelings of enthusiasm and excitement.

Cool Colours

Cool colours, such as greens, blues, and purples, tend to evoke peace, tranquillity, and sometimes melancholy. They are excellent for creating a calm atmosphere, depicting cold or unwelcoming environments, or exploring themes of introspection and calm.

Video editors can precisely guide their audience's feelings by understanding and applying the emotional nuances of colours. Whether it’s the fiery intensity of a red sunset in a passionate love story, the soothing blues of a tranquil sea in a moment of reflection, or the vibrant yellows of a sunny landscape in a tale of joy and adventure, colour is a storyteller's silent language, shaping the narrative's emotional landscape and connecting with the audience on a deeply intuitive level.

Mastering Colour Harmony and Grading Techniques

The colour wheel is a fundamental tool in the art of colour theory, delineating the relationships between primary (red, yellow, blue), secondary (a mix of two primaries), and tertiary (a mix between primary and secondary colours) hues. 

Image by macrovector on Freepik

Colour Wheel by macrovector from Freepik

Understanding these relationships allows editors to craft visually cohesive and emotionally compelling scenes strategically using colour schemes.

Exploring Complementary Colour Schemes

Complementary colours lie directly opposite each other on the colour wheel. This pairing, such as red and green or blue and orange, creates a stark contrast that is visually striking and can bring vibrancy and dynamism to a scene. Utilising complementary colours can highlight key elements, draw the viewer’s attention, or evoke specific emotional responses due to their high contrast.

Leveraging Analogous Colour Schemes

Analogous colours are found next to one another on the colour wheel, sharing a common hue. This proximity creates a harmonious and pleasing visual effect, ideal for scenes requiring a more subdued or cohesive aesthetic. Such schemes, which might combine blue, blue-green, and green, foster a sense of unity and tranquillity, making them perfect for conveying calm, reflective moods or establishing an isolated setting.

Enhancing Narratives Through Colour Grading

Colour grading transcends basic colour correction, encompassing a range of techniques that refine and adjust the colour palette of footage to evoke particular moods or atmospheres. This process is essential in narrative storytelling, where the visual tone can significantly influence the audience's emotional response and engagement with the content.

  • Colour Correction and White Balance Adjustment: These foundational aspects of colour grading ensure that colours are consistent and true to life across all scenes. Correcting imbalances and adjusting the white balance can dramatically alter the perceived setting or time of day, contributing to the narrative's believability and immersion.
  • Setting Mood with Colour Grading: Beyond technical corrections, creative colour grading can imbue scenes with specific moods or emotional undertones. By intensifying certain hues, desaturating colours, or applying filters, editors can convey warmth, coldness, danger, or tranquillity, effectively using colour to complement and enhance the story being told.
  • Transformative Effects of Colour Adjustments: Through skilled colour grading, editors can transform the narrative atmosphere, making scenes more impactful or altering the viewer's perception of a character or setting. Strategic adjustments can highlight tensions, underscore pivotal moments, or subtly shift the audience's sympathies, demonstrating the profound effect of colour on storytelling.

By mastering colour harmony and grading techniques, video editors unlock the ability to craft visually stunning, emotionally resonant content that captivates and engages audiences. This section underscores the significance of colour theory as a storytelling tool, empowering editors to enhance narratives through thoughtful and intentional colour choices.

Practical Insights and Cultural Considerations

The use of colour theory in video editing extends far beyond mere aesthetic appeal. It is a pivotal tool for mood setting, conveying thematic elements, and ensuring historical or stylistic authenticity in visual storytelling. 

This section delves into the multifaceted applications of colour theory in real-world editing scenarios, highlighting its significance in creating emotionally resonant and culturally relevant content.

  • Achieving Authenticity: Colour can be a powerful ally in achieving stylistic or historical accuracy. Editors can use specific colour palettes to evoke certain time periods or artistic movements, enhancing the viewer's immersion and the narrative's credibility.
  • Cultural Connotations of Colours: Colour perception is deeply rooted in cultural contexts, meaning the same colour can evoke different responses across cultures. For instance, while white is often associated with purity in Western cultures, it may represent mourning in some Eastern cultures. Understanding these nuances is crucial for editors aiming to reach a global audience.
  • Addressing Accessibility: Accessibility considerations, such as colour blindness, ensure content is universally appreciable. Editors must be mindful of colour combinations that may be indistinguishable to viewers with colour vision deficiencies, employing contrast and colour grading techniques that maintain visual clarity and narrative coherence for all audiences.


Colour theory is a powerful cinematic language that enables video editors to communicate directly with the hearts and minds of their audience. By masterfully manipulating hues, intensities, and harmonies, editors can evoke specific emotions, set distinct moods, and craft visually stunning narratives that leave an indelible mark.

As you traverse the artful realms of colour grading, you unlock the profound ability to elevate your craft, captivating viewers with visuals that transcend mere aesthetics and become catalysts for meaningful storytelling experiences.

Ultimately, an editor's command of colour theory is a testament to their commitment to the art of visual storytelling, a commitment to crafting narratives that resonate, intrigue, and linger long after the final frame.

Additional Resources

For deeper dives into editing techniques and Lightworks tutorials, visit Lightworks Resources. Enhance your skills, discover community insights, and bring your creative visions to life.

Transform your video editing journey with Lightworks. Whether crafting a short film, a documentary, or a personal vlog, Lightworks gives you the tools to tell your story your way. Download now and embark on your path to becoming a master storyteller.

Author's Note — AI and Content Generation

In our commitment to transparency and ethical practice, we wish to disclose that artificial intelligence (AI) played a role in crafting this piece. However, it remains primarily a human endeavour, with the core content written, edited, and meticulously proofread by our team. 

AI was primarily used to workshop drafts and research topics and ensure a consistent writing style. Importantly, our use of AI is designed to complement, not replace, our team's efforts. It allows us to use our resources efficiently, enhancing our work without compromising or diminishing the value of human skill and creativity.