Filmmaker IQ’s Scott Jarviedemystifies color grading and demonstrates a few grading techniques in this post from our forums.

Chapter 1: Color is an Effect

First important thing to note, is that the end goal in this demonstration is not to make corrected film look natural. A natural look comes from a properly lit scene, and camera that is white balanced properly. In this demonstration we are going to push the image’s color for artistic reasons.

Here is an example I quickly threw together. The top image is an unedited natural colored image straight from my camera.

Notice how the greens and browns blend together, there is very little depth, and the detail in the reflection looks muddy. Nothing about that image engages the audience, it is however, correct.

The second image washes out the color and boosts the blues. This actually sharpens the fine details, but gives the impression that the image is colder and pushed further away from the audience. Same image but now the color starts to set a tone and adds emotion to the scene without any fancy lighting kits or camera tricks.

The third image is a desaturated warm pass, cold colors are removed and extra red is added. The colors are then desaturated to make it look more natural, but the warming effect is added make it feel more welcoming, to draw the audience in. Standard for dramas to help build emotion for the story and characters.

The fourth image is the standard used in advertising, saturation is pumped to the point where the color grid begins to tear, contrast is bumped to add emphasis to the details, and all the colors are pushed to the point that they start to bleed. It’s used to grab attention, it draws the eye straight to it, and things start to glow. But also notice how all depth is removed and the water looks more like a mirrored reflection, it has no emotion, just screams for attention.

Each effect creates it’s own emotion, and has become genre specific, and even without proper setup a simple adjustment in post adds a lot more depth than aiming for a natural outlook [large productions dress sets to adapt well to color correction, and proper lighting ensures the color scales better].

Chapter 2: Using your Color Corrector

Color correction is often thought of as scary and complicated, but most tools these days have been simplified and allow things to be done very quickly. This chapter will demonstrate how an entire scene can be corrected in under 2min using Adobe Premiere Pro.

Here is the image we will be working with. Original from a digital camera, unprocessed.

The first thing we are going to do is add a blue pass to make it feel colder, and more distant.

Only two tools are needed, a Color Correction tool (in this case I used the Fast Color Corrector) and a Brightness and Contrast tool.

The first thing you’ll notice when you open the corrector, is how daunting all the commands are, labeled with all kinds of technical speak. The funny thing is, only 3 of those commands are needed, and 2 of them have a short cut.

The first thing you are going to do, is find the saturation control. From there you simply need to decrease it below 100, I personally like the 60-80 range, but it’s all about the effect you want to create.

This does two things, it makes the background look further away and it effectively primes your frame to be painted.

The second step, you will adjust both the Balance Angle, and the Balance Magnitude. You can use the sliders below the color wheel, or to make it real easy, you can grab the white circle in the middle of the wheel, and drag it toward the color you want to add. The tool will automatically set the Magnitude and Angle for you. Add as much or as little as you like to create your effect.

The final step, is to add a Brightness and Contrast effect to the clip, and give it a little bit of a contrast boost (I like the 5-15 range) this is just to add a little more depth to the frame.

That’s it, now the color of your movie is adding to the viewer’s experience.

Now lets balance the same frame as an orange pass;

Yes, it’s done exactly the same way, and just as easy.

1) Simply add your Color Correction tool and your Brightness and Contrast tool on your clip.

2) Desaturate.

3) Move your white circle toward the orange.

4) Add contrast.

That’s it, your scene is now balanced with an orange tone overlay.

An extra step you can make to give it an even orangier feel is increase the Balance Gain inside the Color Corrector (in this example I increased it to 30 from the default of 20).

This is all you need for a quick fast effect, and the best thing is, it’s all personal preference. How much or how little, is entirely up to the design of the creative vision.

Advanced Examples

The next step to adding more depth to your footage is to drop the contrast tool for something more advanced, the Luma Curve.

The luma curve is how the program interprets the scaling of light. The default setting is a straight line from bottom left (black) to top right (white) and the distance between are all the grays in the rainbow.

This tool differs from the contrast tool because it lets you determine what’s white and what’s black. Contrast just makes whites whiter and blacks blacker to make the edges pop.

For this example, I clicked on the line (which creates a new node) and moved that node closer to the top right while moving it to the right of the center line. This creates a bulge in the line that curves toward the black. By doing so, I darken the mid-tones without affecting the blacks or whites.

I then moved the top right node a touch to the left. This tells the tool to render more tones as white (by default, only 100% white is rendered as white, by moving it 5% to the left, 95-100% white is rendered as 100% white).

The difference between the contrast and the luma curve is very minor, and the luma curve often takes a lot of experimentation to understand how it works. But you’ll notice if you look at the clouds in the top right, with the luma curve they are much more defined.

And finally, everyone’s favorite, over saturation!

For this example, the color corrector doesn’t do anything special that can’t be done with a Saturation/Desaturation tool, but I’m using it here to keep it familiar and to hopefully make it feel friendlier.

The first step is to crank the saturation as high as it goes. With compressed video (most digital cameras are) you will have to play a small sample of your clip as blues and greens will create purple noise along the slight imperfections of compressed video.

You will then need to add lots of contrast to add some depth, and this time you are going to increase the brightness as well, to make sure the colors really pop.

Finally, you will add a new tool called Color Balance this will allow you to adjust the gain on the individual colors. The highs and the mids are the most important as they are more vibrant. The shadows just help to boost contrast while affecting the overall tone much less.

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Thanks you for this! It was very helpful!

James Rossi

I get high.

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