I've observed different ways and styles to edit photography, and sometimes "cinematic" photography.

And I've observed in some places photography tends to have strong contrast and saturation. Very often in social media. While video, cine or so-called "cinematic" photography tends to have less contrast and less saturation.

Are they just trends? Or there is a good psicological/biological reason to make video with less contrast & saturation, unlike a still photo?


In short, everything about color has a psychological meaning or response: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28612080

Oversaturated images tend to grab our attention and there is both a trend for them and backlash as far as art is concerned (Why are vibrant, saturated photos considered 'not as good'?).

But, Social Media is not art, it is all about getting attention. Your average instagramer tends to bump both color and saturation because, to them, that pop makes the image "look better." And, for most images, they're not wrong. A little pop can go a long way to hide poor composition or to use that psychological trick to grab attention. But, at some point, it's putting lipstick on a pig.

For your artistic photography, color and the saturation of it should be used to help evoke an emotion or set a tone for your image. There are times when over saturation helps you to do that, up to and including such saturation that you end up getting colors that are unnatural (https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/the-disturbing-beauty-of-oversaturated-pictures/). And that is fine! All of the elements within your images should affect the story and emotion, including the color, contrast, and saturation.

With movies, the color palette is used for that same reason: to set a mood or theme. There's a good overview here: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/how-to-use-color-in-film-50-examples-of-movie-color-palettes/

Another interesting example of high contrast and color saturation (although applied in selective color) is Sin City (https://www.tboake.com/443_sincity_f07.html)

Think of a movie as just a series of connected photographs. What story are you telling? What emotion are you trying to evoke? The use of colors will help tell that story. As far as color saturation is concerned, there is no rule that cine has to be less saturated and, indeed, there are many examples of highly saturated colors in movies.

  • I like your answer a lot. But, if saturation is an easy trick for photos, why that easy trick is not (ab)used in video? – vsis Mar 23 '20 at 21:45
  • 1
    @vsis I would guess that it is, but I need to research a bit more. You see hundreds and thousands of amateur/not-photographer images uploaded to social media. How many amateur movies do you see produced? – OnBreak. Mar 24 '20 at 6:04
  • Well, that's a good point. I see less amateur content in youtube/vimeo. And I don't have objetive numbers to defend my point. Maybe there are aprox the same percentage of amateur videos with "easy tricks" like that. – vsis Mar 24 '20 at 14:30
  • 1
    @vsis the other thing I have to look into is easy filters for video. Put it this way, cameras were being used by amateurs before instagram filters...but those filters came into existence because of a demand for that style, and now it is ubiquitous. Does the same simple fix exist for amateur video so as to even allow the masses to do what they would do with a photo? Like I said...this answer is incomplete...needs more research. – OnBreak. Mar 24 '20 at 19:27

I asked the same question almost 2/3 of a century ago and my professor replied --- Motion pictures are projected on a screen using a projector that illuminates the film with a condenser lamphouse. This lamphouse adds one paper grade or more of contrast. Additionally the sharpness demand and the contrast demand for motion picture is reduced as compared to still photography. Photo prints on paper have at best a 32:1 (5 f-stops) contrast. A print is viewed by reflected light -- the light is from a adjacent source. The light path plays on the print, traverses the print emulsion, hits a white reflective backing, and makes a second traverse to reach your eye. Projected images often measure 256:1 (8 f-stops). You can look up the effect of a condenser lamphouse, this is the Callier Effect.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.