Follow TV Tropes


Color Wash

Go To
Scarlett Johansson looking a lovely shade of orange.

"Well, I hope you like the color blue 'cause this movie sure does."
Phelous, Pulse (2006) review

This trope applies to films, TV series, video clips and graphics.

The director/director of photography/production designer thought it would be a good idea to do something fancy to the colors. This could be saturating the colors so everything looks more vivid than normal. More often than not, this means making skin appear orange-y and everything else teal. Another example would be shifting the entire color palette - making (almost) everything appear a certain color. Color wash is usually done in post-production on "naturally" shot footage but some directors use physical filters on the camera either as a stylistic choice or due to technical constraints of a particular shot.

Compare with tropes such as Real Is Brown, Unnaturally Blue Lighting, Deliberately Monochrome and Splash of Color. The difference between those tropes and Color Wash is that (a) the film uses both or (b) uses another type of visual trick entirely, such as cranking up the saturation of the colors.


See also Mood Lighting, Post Processing, and Color Contrast. Often used to signal a flashback. Orange/Blue Contrast is a common result.

Using lots of Color Wash can sometimes create a grating visual, but it can also be used to highlight important details or comment on a character's state of mind. Like any trope, it depends on execution.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Toei first series anime of Yu-Gi-Oh!, the palette seems to be made up entirely of super-saturated neons that do not go together.
  • The infamously confusing anime Bounty Dog takes place on the moon, and everything is colored a shade of sickening yellow.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animation 
  • Brother Bear uses an orange wash to emphasize the setting of Native American Alaska.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Early black-and-white films, especially during the Silent Era like Civilization, would tint the film to give it an evocative mood.
  • The Ring series is almost entirely bathed in green to give it is a sickly, ominous feeling.
  • James Cameron always uses a strong blue tint when scenes are supposed to be set at night. It allows the scene to be strongly lit so that the audience can see everything, but give the indication of darkness.
  • The first film of The Twilight Saga: Because Forks is a dreary, rainy town, the director decided to desaturate the colors to bring this across. The point is that the colors are also very desaturated when Bella is in another place, such as California, meaning that (a) the director's explanation does not make sense and (b) the whole movie looks bland and boring. Done again in the sequel, where everything seems washed with gold.
  • Among the many, many reasons that the Battlefield Earth movie was awful was the blue filter over many of the shots. The movie also enjoys combining green and purple, using the same logic as movies that use orange and teal - the colors contrast, and putting them together causes them to "pop".
    The Providence Journal: Battlefield Earth's primary colors are blue and gray, adding to the misery. Whenever we glimpse sunlight, the screen goes all stale yellow, as though someone had urinated on the print. This, by the way, is not such a bad idea.
  • In The Matrix, the scenes in the normal world are tinted a cold blue; the scenes set in the Matrix itself are tinted a digital green, like an old monochrome computer screen. In fact, the green tint becomes more and more prominent as Smith takes over the Matrix. The final scene, after Smith is defeated and the Matrix freed, is completely devoid of this tint.
  • Spy Game uses different filters for each flashback segment. Vietnam is orange as hell, Berlin is kind of a cool blue, and Beirut is sort of a sandy yellow. This serves to easily delineate between the flashbacks and the central hub of the story.
  • Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings uses digital colour grading, which becomes blatantly obvious at times. It's especially noticeable in day-for-night scenes, like with Merry and Pippin in Fangorn. There's even a scene in The Return of the King where Pippin is searching for Merry, that appears as a daylight scene in the theatrical version but was regraded to night for the extended version. An interesting example occurs with several shots used more than once (Green Dragon Inn exterior, Boromir's last stand, a certain close-up of Elrond) in different movies: frame-by-frame comparison shows exactly the same imagery with drastically different colors.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? plays with this a lot; they messed with the hue and saturation until everything was an intensely colorful brown, imitating the look of old-timey photos. This was also done because dying yellow crops look better in a Depression-era film, whereas most of the greenery was verdant as Hawaii during filming. Also, the first feature film to be entirely digital color corrected. The directors consulted with modern colorists on how to accomplish the look they wanted, as they wanted to preserve particular colors, and the reply was that it was impossible to not affect everything in the frame. They explored digital color correction and was able to manipulate the specific set of colors they wanted, which was revolutionary.
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona, source of our page image, is very golden-yellowy looking. Woody Allen likes warm colors.
  • The movie version of Kamikaze Girls is really, really yellow.
  • In The Thirteenth Floor, one character comments on how the colors are off in the computer simulation.
  • Used far too much in the made-for-TV film Jason and the Golden Fleece, with desaturated colours and hard light.
  • Avalon has a very amber filter, to the point of monochrome until the end, when it's removed to suggest that the main character is now in "the real world."
  • The Moroder version of Metropolis used color washes over the whole screen — blue for scenes in the underground Worker's City, reddish tones for surface scenes, though there were some variations.
  • The original Star Wars trilogy has a fairly consistent dark blue wash (very noticeable in scenes set on mostly-grey spaceships) in the DVD version that wasn't in any earlier version (compare the bonus disc, which has the original theatrical version without the blue wash).
  • In the film adaptation of South Pacific, everything appears heavily yellow because the film was filtered through a yellow sheet of cellophane in postproduction. This was overkill of what they wanted, which was to make the film "more yellow", and they hadn't actually intended it to be all yellow. They released it anyway.
  • David Fincher is a big fan of brown.
    • A big part of this is his use of natural light, rather than artificial lighting. Stanley Kubrick did this a lot on his later work (most prominently, Eyes Wide Shut).
  • In The Book of Eli the entire world is brownish, as though it's being seen through the sunglasses everyone's wearing.
  • Saving Private Ryan looks fairly washed out due to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski playing with the shutter speed of the cameras. This also made the images appear sharper and shakier, making it look more like documentary footage than a $70 million Hollywood production.
    • Director David O Russell used a similar technique while filming Three Kings. Except he went for a more high contrast/bleached look in an effort to try and reproduce "the odd color of the newspaper images of the Gulf War".
    • Steven Spielberg and Kaminski have done this at least twice now - Minority Report has an icy hue to it, accomplished in the film processing stages of post-production.
  • Clerks II, except for the dance scene.
    • The film was originally intended to shot in black and white like the first one but producer Harvey Weinstein wanted the film open wide so director Kevin Smith chose to desaturate the colors instead.
  • In i am sam, a blue filter is used in certain scenes, portraying bad times for Sam, like in court or in the hospital.
  • The Harry Potter films, the first installment is full of vivid colours, with plenty of warm reds and gold. Each of the films thereafter gets more and more desaturated until Deathly Hallows is practically in B&W.
  • Ghostbusters (1984) used a purple wash to give the film an eerie, paranormal feel.
  • The theatre release of Payback has a stark blue filter applied throughout the whole movie. The Director's Cut however doesn't have this (and changes the whole last third of the plot).
  • The Wrong Guy uses a bland mix of grey and blue-green in the early "corporate" scenes. After the boss is murdered and Nelson discovers his corpse, color begins to seep in, starting with the red blood. By the time Nelson meets Lynn, the palette is brighter and a broader spectrum.
  • The Raid is very blue.
  • For some reason the Hollywood Darkness in the Action Prologue of On Her Majesty's Secret Service wasn't considered dark enough and it suddenly was given a dark blue color wash in the Ultimate edition DVD.
  • Kontroll is set in the Budapest Metro (underground railway), and most scenes have a green/yellow cast. When we see these scenes being filmed in the "making of" feature, they all have natural colour, and are brighter.
  • Man of Steel has a dark bluish tint when Clark is out in the world, while Smallville scenes use yellowish lighting instead.
  • Some of Steven Soderbergh's films:
    • Many scenes in Side Effects are tinted warm yellow, especially in the first half of the film.
    • Contagion varies from scene to scene, with green, yellow and blue being popular choices.
    • Traffic has different filters for different locales. In particular, Mexico was always awash in orange-yellow. The US had a blue filter.
    • All the outdoor scenes in Magic Mike are really orange, really emphasizing the Florida setting and more sharply contrasting the nightclub scenes, which were all dark and neon-soaked.
  • The color and lighting in the '70s scenes of X-Men: Days of Future Past deliberately invokes the feel of 40-year old movies.
  • The 1960s film, Reflections in a Golden Eye, directed by John Huston and starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, was originally color tinted with a golden color. However, there were so many complaints from audiences that the film was pulled from distribution to reprocess the color back into a conventional pallet for rerelease.
  • Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom uses a sickly yellow tint for the scenes set in China, and washed-out colours for the part in Dublin. The final scene, in a Gaeltacht, has no filters, making the colours seem bright, vibrant, and full of life.
  • The film adaptation of Dolores Claiborne jumps back and forth between blue filters for the present day and orange filters for 20 years earlier.
  • Fury (2014), set in Germany in April 1945, has a cold blue/grey tint.
  • The director of the film of Fiddler on the Roof wanted the film shot in earthy tones, and the director of photography noticed a woman wearing nylons in the exact shade of brown he wanted, so he asked for them right then and there. The film was shot with the nylon over the lens, and the weave of it can even be seen in parts of the film.
  • The Underworld (2003) franchise is almost entirely colored in shades of black, white and blue.
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire: The opening and closing scenes are in yellow-tinted monochrome, the rest of the film is in standard black and white. The tinted scenes are in the story present, the untinted scenes are a long flashback leading up to the present.
  • Morgan: Most scenes have a cold grey/blue/green/overcast colour palette, with flashbacks in sunny natural colour.
  • Nocturnal Animals: Scenes in the present day tend to be cold and desaturated, flashbacks are natural, and the film within the film is more saturated and harshly lit.
  • Blade Runner 2049: Not every scene is orange, but it's the way to bet.
  • In Season of Miracles, the colors look desaturated for a while after Rafer is diagnosed with a fatal blood disease.
  • The Golem is a silent film from 1920. Every scene is tinted, in a variety of colours. The strength of the tint varies between restorations.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Banshee: Befitting the bleak, gritty tone of the story, the colors are desaturated and the lighting is made to look more harsh. On the flip side, flashbacks to Hood and Carrie's life under Rabbit are often shown in a monochromatic tint.
  • Battlestar Galactica: scenes on lifeless planets tend to be very washed out. But the scenes on Kobol had implausibly vivid green foliage.
  • Used for Stylistic Suck in The Boys, where the film-within-a-show Dawn of the Seven has a level of color-wash that can only be described as "piss-yellow." It's especially evident when the camera cuts to the same set in more normal lighting conditions.
  • Charlie Jade had a different colour wash depending on which dimension you were currently watching. Alpha was green, Beta was Blue and Gamma was red.
  • Chernobyl: Not every indoor scene is underlit with a green tint, and not every outdoor daylight scene is overcast, but it's the way to bet.
  • Cold Case uses this a lot. Scenes that take place in the present have only a slight blue tinge, or no color wash at all; those in the past, however, have a color wash that 'fits' the time. For instance, scenes in the 1970s have vivid, warm colours to contrast with the present.
  • CSI: Miami: Because this spin-off is set in Miami, everything is drenched in orange. Whenever someone is walking outside in daylight, the sky is a vivid orange too.
  • The Defenders (2017) has a habit of using color wash to reflect the thematic colors of its main protagonists: red for Matt Murdock, yellow for Luke Cage, green for Danny Rand, and blue for Jessica Jones. This is especially predominant in the first episode, when the heroes are all running their own thing, and gradually the colors start to blend together as the heroes begin teaming up.
  • Heroes often filmed their New York settings in a blue or green light, while Texas, California and other outdoors settings in the show had a yellow or orange light.
  • In House, earlier episodes had an almost orange look to them, fading out to a very slight greenish tint for the rest of the series.
  • Jekyll plays with this to wonderful effect. When Tom Jackman is awake, colors are subdued by means of a subtle blue filter, while vivid colors mark Hyde being awake.
  • Life on Mars did this. The entire show was made to look older (took place in the 1970s) by washing everything with yellow during the coma/ whatchamacallit (and that lasted the entire show). The 2006 scenes were, in comparison, almost drained.
  • Like in the movie, Limitless shows the perspective of NZT users in orange and yellow, while reality is more dull and blue.
  • Power Rangers consistently uses this for a relatively inexpensive method of giving their BBC Quarry planets an Alien Sky and otherworldly atmosphere (and to distinguish them from the very similar quarries they visit all the time on Earth). The moon is blue, a volcanic planet is red, the post-nuclear Robot War wasteland is yellow, etc.
  • In Scrubs, the episode "My Way Home" features heavy colour saturation as a homage to The Wizard of Oz.
  • On Skins, scenes that take place outdoors have very saturated colours. This is often seen as very good cinematography.
  • Star Trek: Picard:
    • In "Absolute Candor", the Qowat Milat monastery scenes have a strong orange tint, although it's slightly less intense for North Station.
    • In "Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2", there's a greenish-grey hue in the scene where Narek and Narissa first meet on the Artifact.
  • Similar to Traffic, from season 2 onwards Breaking Bad would frequently visit orange-yellow-tint Mexico.
  • The entirety of Utopia is shot in vividly over-saturated colours.

  • The video for Devo's "Girl U Want" is very purple-and-green, to the point that there almost aren't any other colors. Even skin is mostly purple.
  • Animated band Savlonic exists in a world dominated by shades of red.
  • In the lyric video and full video for Poets of the Fall's "Drama for Life" colors shift between heavy washes of deep blue, purple and red.
  • The music video for BTS' "Blood, Sweat and Tears" has the image suddenly gain a very high contrast and a fuchsia palette during the second chorus.
    • The (vastly different) music video for the Japanese version of "Blood, Sweat and Tears" has Color Wash as a defining feature, with each scene having very saturated color palettes that tend towards a single color (one scene looks extremely green, another looks extremely fuchsia, etc.).

  • It's not uncommon for a Lighting Designer to implement one or two dominant colours in a play.

    Video Games 
  • Singularity is overly fond of lighting everything with the color orange. Anything that isn't orange tends to be blue.
  • Vagrant Story, like Singularity, is fond of a yellowish-brown color for absolutely everything with occasional blue-lit areas (usually in the Undercity).
  • Battlefield 3 is the bluest game in the history of gaming. Even the night maps are blue and not black.
  • [PROTOTYPE] is one of the reddest games ever made; red menus, red monsters, red zombies, red pulsing hives and building, and red skies.
  • The third Resistance does this (with a different color every stage), as a compromise between the Real Is Brown of the first game, and the brighter, more naturalistic colors of the second.
  • Deus Ex has a color scheme where the primary color on the palette to denote high technology is blue.
    • Deus Ex: Human Revolution also has this, but yellow.
    • Parodied in Bro Team Pill's sponsored Gunnar Optiks video. When he's wearing them, the game on his screen is Deus Ex, but tinted yellow. When he takes them off, it's vanilla Deus Ex Human Revolution.
      This isn't the right Deus... Shouldn't it be the other one?
  • Metal Gear Solid's Shadow Moses and a good deal of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty are green-blue.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Twilight Realm was initially designed as grayscale with some splashes of color. However, the design later changed to an incredibly hyper-saturated color scheme, with gold, brown, and magenta being the most prominent colors. Most have praised the new design, citing it as more original and evocative of a creepy, alien twilight world.
    • Used to a lesser extent with normal-Hyrule, which had a faint yellowish tint to most things.
  • World of Warcraft uses different color grading in different areas. The difference is sometimes very noticeable—for instance, Ghostlands looks very different when you're looking in from Zul'Aman than when you're inside and the darker color grade takes hold. It's sometimes so strong (particular with red colored areas like Durotar) that it takes a while for eyes to readjust to another color when changing zones.
  • Used in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for an accentuated atmospheric sense. Since San Andreas is a huge state with contrasting environments, there's a Color Wash scheme that differs from place to place: Los Santos is orange-ish with heat hazes; San Fierro has an unnaturally teal lighting to convey a mild-to-cold atmosphere, reinforced by the city's constant fog; Las Venturas goes for a less blatant color scheme, but with a dash of yellow to convey the desert's hot weather; the forested countrysides of Red and Flint Counties have a pastel green/brown tint to them; and finally, the deserts of Bone County take it further with bright white sand and yellow skies that turn purple at night. All of this is much more pronounced in the PS2 version – later versions like the PC port toned it down for a more sober, less in-your-face look, though it's definitely noticeable, especially when the sun is setting.
  • Done to the second and third games of the Grand Theft Auto IV trilogy, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned and Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony, respectively. Lost and Damned, being Darker and Edgier, subtly shifts to desaturated, grimy tones, while the Ballad of Gay Tony is Lighter and Softer, preferring brighter, neon hues.
  • The NES games on the Wii's Virtual Console has a filter that not only darkens the screen, but it also darkens the colors. This was supposed to emulate how NES games would look on a TV set from the 1980s, but it makes the games look like someone put a gray film over the screen. Ports of the NES games plus emulators don't use this feature, which makes the games look brighter and more colorful by comparison.
  • Super Mario Galaxy uses colour tints on the cosmic comet missions. Red for the speed run missions, Yellow for the Fast Foe missions, Blue for the cosmic clone missions, white for the daredevil missions, and purple for the purple coin missions. The effect is subtle, but it's there.
  • Almost everywhere in Fallout 3 has a strong green tint (save for the Tranquillity Lane simulation, which is sepia-toned). If you remove the tint with a visual overhaul mod, you will see that a lot of textures had their saturation reduced to exaggerate the effect, making the Capital Wasteland look quite grey without it.
    • The areas added by some of the DLC packs have their own color palettes. The industrial setting of The Pitt has a red-brown wash, whereas Alaska in Operation Anchorage is tinted a wintry blue. Point Lookout cranks the wash of the main game Up to Eleven, and adds a thick green haze, likely to hide the lack of detail outside of the playable parts of the map.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has an orange-brown tint, in keeping with its desert and Western themes. It's arguably not as obvious as Fallout 3's green tint though, since the Mojave is, like most deserts, pretty brown to begin with.
    • Some areas shift to a different tint when you enter them. For example, the recently nuked Camp Searchlight is very green, and Camp Forlorn Hope is a drab sepia, in keeping with its occupants' low morale. This sepia filter is seen in a few other places around the Colorado River, like the Deathclaw Promontory.
    • The Sierra Madre resort in the Dead Money DLC uses a strong reddish-brown filter, which makes a lot of the outdoor scenery look either orange or purple.
    • The Lonesome Road DLC's colour palette is like that of the main game, but cranked Up to Eleven. The exceptions are the three nuclear blast sites (the Courier's Mile, and the two optional post-endgame areas, Long 15 and Dry Wells), which have the same wash as Camp Searchlight.
  • Bethesda deliberately averted this with Fallout 4 for the most part, likely due to the popularity of de-tinting mods for the previous two games. However, a sickly greenish-yellow wash was added to some heavily irradiated areas like the Glowing Sea, and during radiation storms. According to Word of God, this was done as a deliberate aesthetic Call-Back to Fallout 3.
    • In addition to sharing a few plot elements, the Far Harbour DLC's setting has a very similar aesthetic to that of Point Lookout. The exception to this is The Nucleus, which has the same colouration as the Glowing Sea in the base game.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has a slight gray tint that dulls out the colors of the whole game.
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla does this in a different color for each portion of Mars: Parker is slightly brownish red, Dust is vaguely blue-ish, Badlands is yellow, Oasis is green, the Free Fire Sector is grey and Eos is white.
  • Game Boy games that were compatible with the Super Game Boy tended to feature this due to the fact that the Game Boy could only display objects in 4 shades of gray, with the games being programmed to reflect this; while certain static areas of the screen could be given individual color palettes, mobile areas of play (such as stage backgrounds and characters) all used single, unified palettes, sometimes changing these palettes from stage to stage. Two notable examples of this were Kirby's Dream Land 2 and Pokémon Red and Blue, which used a different "tint" for the game depending on what world/area the player was in (a trait which was also present in the world selection map in KDL2; hovering to a different world immediately changed the game's tint). Games that weren't compatible with the SGB could also use color washing thanks to the various palettes the player could create and/or choose from, with certain titles having default palettes pre-coded into the SGB's hardware. For example, Alleyway used a primarily lavender & yellow palette, Kirby's Dream Land used a reddish-pink palette, and Metroid II: Return of Samus used a near-psychedelic red, green, and yellow palette.
  • Heavy Rain has the colors in the prologue very bright and vivid, making everything pop out. When the game actually kicks off, all the colors are muted with lots of gray tint due to the heavy rain occurring. The only time the colors get more vivid is inside certain buildings, but the colors there aren't quite as colorful compared to the beginning of the game. The color differences also expresses the mood; the bright colors is during happier times before the tragedy strikes. After said event occurs, the darker colors show how dark and depressing the story has become.
  • Gravity Rush:
    • The first game gives each district of Hekseville its own distinct color. The run-down residential Aldnoir is reddish-brown, the entertainment area of Pleajeune appears to be Always Night and is a more festive purple, the industrial district Endestria is yellow, and downtown Vendecentre is a light green.
    • The effect is downplayed in Gravity Rush 2, with the poor district in Jirga Para Lhao shrouded in overcast greys to give it a gloomy and dismal feel in comparison to the brighter and more colorful areas of the city. It returns in full force in the last third of the game, when Kat finds herself back in Hekseville, which retains the old color wash effects with higher-rez visuals.
  • Metroid II: Return of Samus: When played on a Super Game Boy, the game defaults to using a red, black, green, and yellow palette, befitting the "alien" nature of SR 388. Because this game was released before the Super Game Boy started development, however, this default palette is precoded into the SGB's hardware (as with numerous other pre-SGB games), and does not feature any of the more advanced color trickery seen in SGB-optimized titles.

    Web Comics 
  • In Cucumber Quest, by the water scene, in blues.
  • In Far Out, the color palette is all tinted toward ruddy orange.
  • This technique is used in the webcomic Keit-Ai in order to differentiate the two universes involved (the boy's universe is tinted blue and the girl's universe is tinted brown).
  • Played with in an arc of No Need for Bushido. Scenes seen through the eyes of Yori (who at that point is under the effect of a powerful hallucinogenic drug), have duller colors and a sap tint, as opposed to the usually vivid visuals of the rest of the battle.
  • A frequent technique used by TamberElla, often to set up a specific mood. This is taken to the extreme in their webcomic Ink which is set in a world made of stain glass.

    Real Life 
  • If one person were to accurately see through another's eyes, this is what you could get, as everyone has their own balance of cones, which lights the world in a certain way. I.E. One person's blue looks slightly different than another's.
  • The particles in the air during a red sandstorm can make everything appear, well - red.
  • Volcanic ash can make the moon appear blue. This is why some people say that volcanic eruptions occur once in a blue moon.
  • Differing weather and atmospheric conditions within an area in general can naturally create these. The added moisture of a good rain shower or a particularly humid day can enhance the light of the sunset to cover an entire city in golden orange or red while snow (fresh snow in particular) is so reflective that it'll oftentimes bathe the immediate area in whatever color the strongest ambient light source is at night.
  • A lot of cities and towns use orange sodium based street lights to light up streets and buildings during the night due to being cheap to use and install. Not only do the street lights make the surrounding area have an orange hue on them, any object (such as cars for example) that is not white will almost appear black under the orange lighting.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Color Grading, Colour Wash


BTS - "Blood, Sweat and Tears" music video

In this part, the video jumps from a more natural color palette to a fuchsia/pink (adding other effects shortly afterwards). At 00:10 it starts to go back and forth between a natural color palette and this fuchsia Color Wash before eventually settling on the former.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / ColorWash

Media sources:

Main / ColorWash