Why Great Movies Use the 60-30-10 Percent Color Rule

There are many characteristics of great movies that you may miss unless you spend the time to really consider all the components. Color is a major factor in any visual medium, but did you know about the 60-30-10 rule?

Whether you're a photographer or cinematographer, there are certain elements you hold dear, primarily light and color. Between light and color, the tone and mood of a scene is dictated and so we often hunt for or harness them in every frame. In some genres of photography, this tends to be more incidental than in others, and particularly more so than cinematography where almost everything is carefully considered and decided upon.

I had always been aware of color and its importance, or at least I did after watching Amelie as a teenager. However, once I'd picked up a camera, this became more important, and once I started shooting commercial work, it became essential. My first experience of controlling color palette happened quite by accident: I was unhappy with a watch image and tried to disseminate why that was. I decided it was due to the blue tones that didn't feature anywhere on the watch or within the scene, but rather were just a consequence of natural light, so I stripped them out. From then, I started working on limiting colors, though I can't say I have ever employed a 60%, 30%, and 10% distribution. Have you?

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4 Comments
Richard King's picture

Really good way of putting it. worth the watch.

thank you

Timothy Gasper's picture

Yes. Very useful. Glad someone is putting up articles to help our creativity and help us to understand their importance. This rule was very much emphasized during the 60's. As mentioned in the video, It was also emphasized in the 70's, but I didn't get to see many movies during that time. Was in Vietnam and after...the hospital. But do remember that b&w are not really colors. They are intensities of light and dark, but for the sake of what's being discussed...ok. Thank you. Been a while since I studied this.

Clive Blair's picture

Nice explanation simply broken down. Thanks.

Anthony Cayetano's picture

Great informative post. However, not *all* Great Movies do that ratio though; there’s that famous 50-50 ratio in Schindler’s List! ;-)