Ugly Beautiful

The many different looks of The Handmaid's Tale

This is a show that use's more looks than most shows, some range from extreme to beautiful. It's not a show that tries to have one uniformed look, and though the grades can be extreme, they never feel out of place. There are other shows / films that have varying grades throughout their run time, but these come across as forced and out of place and don't help to tell the story.  How does "The Handmaids tale" achieve it so effortlessly.


The Old and New

Shows / movies will use black and white to show when something is in the past, they do this to tell the audience in the fastest and simplest way where they are in time. Handmaid use's a far more interesting and story driven way to tell the story. When we get flash backs of her past home life, we get well balanced images and lots of different colours, a more "naturalistic" look. This makes the audience sense that this character feels safe and is comfortable in their surroundings. 

In her present day home life and especially her bedroom, we get two main muted colour tones. Lots of green in the blacks / shadows (green means danger) and a mix of orange / yellow in the whites that have very blown out highlights. Contrast has be taken out and the shadows are lifted to give the images a surreal look. This makes it feel almost fantastical, that the situation that Offred is living in, isn't normal and out of place in the world.


Present day


Exterior of death

In season 2, we get a scene with a group of extradited women working in what appears to be a radiation field. The working conditions are horrible and the maidens are treated harshly. We get probably the most extreme grade throughout the series, it's brutal and represents the scenes perfectly. In the close ups we get muted blues for the clothing and dirty brown / yellows for the ground below them. It looks like sharpening has been turned up to bring out the skin imperfections and the harsh detail of the surrounding landscape. 


Below is a wide from the scene, was this done by effects or is it something you can achieve in a grade? I'm not a 100% sure if it's done by effects but I did achieve something very similar myself in a grade. My image is lacking the people and a trotting horse, but overall the images are very similar. On the day I shot it, there weren't any clouds, but using Fusion in Davinci Resolve and stock cloud images I was able to add the sky in. It's something you wouldn't need to VFX in if the clouds were there on the day. 

Exterior shot from "The Handmaids tale". 

My grade using Davinci Resolve and Fusion.

The ungraded still, shot using the Black Magic Pocket, shooting on RAW


A place where you should feel safe

The show is about how every aspect of the government is controlling, even the places where you should feel safe. Below we have a shot from a past scene where Offred visits the hospital to take her child. Interestingly, the same colour pallet and lighting style is used for the hospital scene as in the present where she's confined at a house. Lots of green and dark lighting, giving a sense that even in a hospital you aren't safe. 


A clean look but an uninviting look

We get another hospital scene but this time around it's set in the present day of the show. The pallet for this hospital scene is far more clean but comes across as more sterile and almost alien in it's lack of features or creature comfort. The high key lighting and white production design are a strong contrast to her red uniform. Red, being the colour of blood and fertility help drive the message across that this scene is about her baby and how she isn't in control.

Present day

Present day wide, her clothes strike out from the other colours in the scene.



Besides the fact that "The Handmaids Tale" looks like no other show, it really is a masterfully made TV show, very intense. 

Show has great skin tones...

Next up

I've been doing sky replacement in Fusion and shooting a music video this week, so one of those probably coming next....

Drew HairComment