How the ARRI Alexa plays with colour saturation to pursue a film aesthetic

What do the ARRI Alexa and watercolors have in common?

That’s a question recently asked by cinematographer Art Adams over at While the obvious parallels are true: the Alexa and watercolors both help create images and they’re both tools used in service of art, these aren’t the conclusions Adams looks to draw.

Instead, he offers up a more technical, albeit far more fascinating, comparison about how both the ARRI Alexa and watercolor painting takes advantage of subtractive color. If you are unsure what that means, don’t worry – Adams takes time to explain that subtractive color mediums start with “broad spectrum white palette” and subtract color from it, like watercolor painting on white paper.

Adams further explains the effect this has on color saturation:

“Lighter tones are always the least saturated because that sense of lightness comes from seeing the white of the paper through the paint dyes. Adding broad spectrum white light to any hue will make it appear less colorful. The most saturated watercolors are always the darkest because dense paint blocks most of the spectra from the white base, and removing spectra from white light increases its colorfulness while reducing its apparent brightness.”

This contrasts directly with video and digital cinema cameras which operate using additive color systems. With video, you add more luminance to combinations of red, green, and blue subpixels to create a certain color for a single pixel. This, too, has an effect on saturation, as Adams explains:

“In an additive color system like video the most saturated colors are the brightest. For example, to create the most saturated red possible on a display …read more


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

ActionDP CinematographyActionDP CinematographyActionDP CinematographyActionDP CinematographyActionDP CinematographyActionDP Cinematography