After a popular video on Slate described how every shot on House of Cards looks the same with a uniform yellow and blue lighting scheme, eagle-eyed viewers became convinced there were some hidden messages lying beneath the eerily similar shots. Sorry to all you conspiracy buffs out there, but there was no foul play (at least relating to the cinematography). The show’s Director of Photography Igor Martinov explained to Scott Bryan at Buzzfeed that the blue and yellow pattern is dependent on many shooting factors like time of day, set design, position of actors, and other onset adjustments. Martinov says this is just a natural occurrence.
Anticipating that some readers would not be satisfied with the “natural occurrence” answer, Martinov brought out the big guns in the form of a scientific explanation. Martinov explains that the human eye perceives lighting sources as warm and shadows as cold. If everything were equal, he says, a white object portrayed in a shadow would come off looking bluish (a cold color), while in the sunlight it would turn more yellowish (a warm color). No conspiracy, just your eye playing tricks on you.
In many of the show's scenes, the foreground and background have separate color temperatures. The foreground is lit with warm orange colors and the background is lit with cool blue colors. In some cases, the foreground and background color temperatures are reversed.
House of Cards isn’t the first program to use color temperature to such a dramatic effect. For Traffic (2000), director and cinematographer Steven Soderbergh used three different film stocks and three unique color treatments for the three storylines in the film. The storyline with Michael Douglas’ character Robert Wakefield -- the head of the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy -- has a cool blue color dye to reflect the sad, depressive tone.