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Color correction is one of the most transformative, yet overlooked, parts of the post-production process. Many amateur video editors neglect this crucial step, failing to realize just how much of an impact it can have. Correcting the colors in your footage allows you to create a visual style that matches your creative vision. It enables you to set the mood, direct attention, and make your video look more appealing and professional.
Without color correction, footage can appear dull, inconsistent, and inaccurate. The white balance may be off, giving the video an ugly color cast. Shadows might appear overly dark while highlights look blown out. The mismatched coloring between shots can make edits look clumsy and disjointed. Overall, ungraded footage just looks drab and unrefined.
Proper color correction gives you complete control over the look of your video. You can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation and more to make the colors pop. Matching the color and exposure between clips creates cohesion, so edits flow together seamlessly. Cool, desaturated hues might complement a gloomy horror scene. A vibrant, warm palette could mirror the joy of a wedding video. Used artfully, color can enhance emotion and deepen meaning.
In the documentary "Chef's Table: France", colorist Olivier Fontenay gave each featured chef their own unique color palette. Chef Alain Passard"s rustic French cuisine was represented with warm earth tones and golden light. The cool, sleek plating of chef Alexandre Couillon was matched with steely blues and silvers. This visual style reinforced the chefs' distinct flavors and philosophies.
Vloggers and influencers often use color grading to brand their channels. Fashion and beauty gurus might opt for a bright, punchy look. Family vloggers frequently go for a light, airy pastel palette. This allows viewers to recognize their videos instantly. A moody, cinematic grade can also make amateur videos look much more expensive and professional.
One of the keys to professional-looking color grading is ensuring consistency between shots. When the color, exposure and look varies wildly from clip to clip, it screams "amateur hour." Matching shots enhances cohesion, directing the viewer's attention to your story rather than distracting edits.
Start by analyzing your raw footage. Group clips based on location, time of day, camera settings, etc. Shots captured under similar conditions can be graded together to achieve a consistent look. Use waveform monitors and color vectorscopes to objectively compare exposure and color values. The goal is to identify stylistic mismatches and correct them.
Pay special attention to contiguous clips that will be edited together through cuts or dissolves. Their light and color must match to properly connect the action. For example, if a wide shot transitions directly into a close-up, those two shots should have the same grade. If their looks clash, it will make the edit feel disjointed.
Use primary corrections to adjust overall color balance and exposure until shots match. Secondary corrections can target specific areas like shadows or skintones to refine consistency. Limit adjustments to only what's needed to make the shots feel cohesive as excessive grading can lead to an artificial, mismatched appearance.
"When I'm color correcting an interview scene filmed from three different angles, I'll pick the best lit angle as my hero shot and match the other two angles to that," explains colorist Cullen Kelly. "Sometimes I'll meet in the middle if there are two angles that are both nicely exposed. The goal is to find a unified look so when it cuts between angles, the light and color feel continuous."
This technique enabled documentary filmmaker Vicente Ferraz to create visual unity in his film "Soyalism". He alternated between handheld footage of protests and sit-down interviews. By color grading each style separately then matching them, he maintained stylistic consistency. "Matching shots might take time upfront but it makes editing so much smoother. The footage flows together beautifully and draws you into the story," Ferraz remarked.
Beyond technical corrections, color grading enables you to apply stylized looks that set a mood and visual tone. This creative use of color can elevate your videos with emotion and meaning when done skillfully. Many colorists cite creating unique stylized looks as one of the most rewarding parts of the grading process.
When crafting a stylized grade, think about the emotions, themes and subtext you want to communicate visually. A chilling horror story could use desaturated blues and greens for an eerie, unsettling mood. Boosting reds and oranges brings intensity to an action scene. Pop art inspiration with hyper-saturated, contrasting colors conveys fun and playfulness. Work with your creative intentions, not just technical requirements.
Veteran colorist Matthieu Straub recommends analyzing films and art with similar tones to inspire your grade. "When creating a retro look for a period drama, I researched painters from that era to see how they used color," he explains. "I wasn't trying to color match exactly, but rather interpret the feeling with grading. It's about evoking an era creatively."
This technique was used in the award-winning film "Midnight in Paris" to give the movie a nostalgic storybook quality. By desaturating the golden-hued palette, colorist Steve Scott made contemporary scenes feel mundane compared to the romanticized past. This visual juxtaposition reflected the story"s central theme beautifully.
However, be careful not to get carried away with stylization at the expense of realism. Unless you"re making an avant-garde art film, what"s on screen should still feel plausible. "I see many new colorists go overboard with stylized looks that don't match the content at all," notes colorist Simone Grattarola. "Make sure your grades enhance the video in a purposeful way, not just for show."
Watch your graded footage on a few different displays to ensure the look translates well across devices. Stylized grades that seem perfect in an editing suite can appear garish and overdone on phones and tablets. Getting objective feedback helps catch issues with excessive stylization. "Having an outside perspective is so valuable. I"ll often ask clients and fellow colorists to review my stylized grades to make sure they still feel grounded," says Grattarola.
Lookup tables (LUTs) have become an invaluable tool for colorists seeking to simplify and expedite the grading process. LUTs act as color transformation presets, taking your flat raw footage and mapping it to an enhanced, stylized look with a single click. This allows colorists to cut down on repetitive manual corrections, streamlining their workflow dramatically.
Junior colorist Evan Wong explains how LUTs enhanced his efficiency when grading a feature film, "Rather than manually correcting every single clip, I created a few base LUTs tailored to the different locations in the script"one for day interiors, one for night exteriors, etc. Applying the right LUT got me 90% of the way there. I was then able to use secondary tools for shot-specific tweaks much faster."
Many colorists will base their LUTs on technical requirements for different cameras and shooting conditions. LOG footage straight out of the camera retains maximum dynamic range but looks flat and desaturated. Camera-specific LUTs quickly convert LOG to a normalized, pleasing image in one step. Custom LUTs can also compensate for issues with different light sources. Applying these corrective LUTs upfront saves adjusting every clip manually.
Creative LUTs designed to yield a specific stylized look offer even more grading expediency. Boutique LUT creators and even colorists themselves are selling packs based on everything from film emulation to Instagram filters. Simply applying one of these stylistic LUTs transforms your footage in seconds.
Colorist Malina Rodriguez purchased a retro LUT package to quickly give her client"s period drama an authentic, weathered film look. "Just adding those LUTs made the footage feel aged and textured even before I did any secondary work. It captured the nostalgic quality the director wanted with very little effort."
While creative LUTs speed up initial styling tremendously, most colorists urge relying on your own skills to finesse the final image. Veteran colorist Brent Reid explains, "I see young colorists apply a pack of the latest trendy LUTs and call their work done. But grading is more nuanced. I use LUTs as a creative springboard, not a one-click finish."
Reid and other experts recommend fine-tuning these stylized LUTs with additional corrections to ensure a tailored, cohesive look. LUTs applied indiscriminately can create an artificial, disjointed appearance. Their order and layering must also be carefully considered.
"Each LUT you stack applies its own color transforms, which can results in banding, clipping or other issues when not combined properly," notes color scientist Ana Flores. She advises using the fewest LUTs possible and adjusting opacity and blend modes to balance them.
Proper balancing of light and shadow is one of the most essential, yet delicate, tasks of the color grading process. When light areas clip or shadows become crushed and muddy, all sense of depth, shape, and texture is lost. The image appears flat and dimensionless. Excessively bright highlights also limit how much color comes through, desaturating the picture. Conversely, overly lifted shadows lose their richness and contrast. Getting the luminance balance right is critical for creating a multidimensional image with vivid definition.
This requires analyzing the distribution of brightness values across the frame and adjusting them for visually pleasing contrast. Colorists use parade waveform monitors to objectively judge where highlights, midtones, and shadows fall on the IRE scale. Areas where shadow or highlight details are clipped must be recovered. Most shots follow the basic principle of keeping skin tones around 70 IRE while allowing some specular highlights to peak at 100 IRE. However, the specific luminance goals depend on the desired look and lighting conditions. High key shots may bias brighter while low key ones skew darker.
Veteran telecine colorist Dale Grahn describes his method: "I'll start by setting my mids so Caucasian skin is 70-85 IRE. Then I look at where my highlights are clipping and start rolling them off until the brightest printable points just kiss 100 IRE. After that, it"s working the toe until the shadows feel rich but still defined." Grahn checks his adjustments on different displays to ensure they hold up across media.
The interactive nature of shadows and highlights requires balancing them in harmony. Colorist Leah Jaramilla explains, "If I see a face looking too bright while the surrounding image feels dark, lowering midtones may help diminish that hot spot. Other times I'll need to gently lift the darkest shadows so the image doesn"t feel too high-contrast." Finesse and subtlety is required to model the light naturally.
While high dynamic range formats allow more extreme luminance latitude, most colorists still aim for a nuanced balance. "Just because HDR lets you push farther doesn"t mean you should crush the shadows or blow out all the highlights. That looks artificial," notes Jaramilla. "The image should still feel grounded and lifelike." She targets an expanded yet balanced contrast range.
Proper white balance is one of the most critical corrections for making video look natural and realistic. Our brains inherently understand what white should look like in different environments. When the white balance is off, scenes take on an ugly color cast that feels glaringly unnatural. Fixing white balance issues should be a top priority in the color grading process.
The goal of white balancing is to ensure areas that should be neutral white or gray are free of color tinting. We expect white walls to look clean white under indoor light, not orange or blue. Caucasian skin should maintain a believable tone, not take on sickly green or purple hues. If white objects have an unwanted color bias, the entire scene will feel inaccurate and amateurish.
Matching the camera"s white balance setting to the scene is a good starting point. But this auto white balance is prone to error, requiring further adjustment. Footage shot under mixed lighting often necessitates shot-by-shot white balancing. Colorist Leah Brems explains her process: "I"ll sample an area that should be white, then adjust the color temperature and tint sliders until that neutral tone is perfect. If nothing in the scene is white, I"ll balance off near-neutral gray objects like concrete."
Sometimes excessive color bias requires more aggressive tools. Colorist James Leong recalls saving a beach scene with a strong magenta cast. "The standard white balance controls weren"t cutting it. So I used the HSL qualifier to isolate just the sickly magenta hues. Desaturating those tones neutralized the cast beautifully without affecting the warm sunset colors."
Cinematographer Alicia Wang ran into inconsistent white balance when filming a corporate video. The opening interview segments had a daylight balance while the office scenes looked incandescently warm. By using a gradient mask, Wang created a smooth transition between the cooler outdoors white balance to the warmer indoor look. This prevented abrupt, obvious changes in color.
White balancing is easier with a neutral reference chip or gray card captured on set. In post, just sample this reference object to correct shots to the proper balance. Keep an eye on how the corrected white appears on scopes. Properly balanced whites should fall neatly in the diagonal center of the color vectorscope.
Proper skin tone rendering is one of the most important yet tricky parts of color grading. Our eyes are highly attuned to picking up even subtle unnatural shifts in skin hue or luminance. If skin appears excessively red, green, blotchy or desaturated, it feels instantly unrealistic and unflattering. Enhancing skin tones in a believable way requires a delicate balance of color and contrast adjustments.
Veteran colorist Matthieu Straub always starts by assessing overall skin luminance relative to the scene. "If faces are too bright or dark, it can skew their hue and saturation. I"ll adjust my mids and shoulders to sit skin at a natural tone before addressing color," he explains. He checks faces on waveform monitors to keep luminance balanced. Avoid pushing skin so bright it flattens and desaturates facial details.
Next, Straub analyzes skin through vectorscopes, which represent hue and saturation on a circular chart. Caucasian skin naturally falls toward the center, along the orange/red and yellow/green axes. Pushing farther outward oversaturates skin unnaturally. He makes subtle hue shifts to keep skin within a believable range while retaining vividness.
Power windows are essential for isolating and finessing specific areas. Colorist Leah Jaramilla uses windows to reduce facial redness, even out blotchiness, and soften blemishes and wrinkles through targeted saturation and blur adjustments. But she cautions against excessive smoothing: "You still want to keep pore details and natural texture. Plastic-looking skin lacks humanity on camera." Jaramilla retains a subtle skin grain to prevent an artificial, airbrushed effect.
Matching skin color between shots is equally important for continuity. "If the lead"s face turns more ruddy in coverage shots, I"ll use secondaries to bring his skin closer to the master," explains colorist Evan Wong. Tracking windows help Wong consistently balance faces across cuts and angles.
For documentary projects, colorists take a more restrained approach to avoid looking manipulated. "I want to enhance skin nicely without it feeling like I'm using some beauty filter," notes Wong. "Little touches to even out tone and decrease shine go a long way."
When grading for different ethnicities, ensuring authentic representation is crucial. Colorist Malina Rodriguez explains, "I have to account for the wide range of natural skin colors and undertones. Making brown skin tones feel rich and complemented by the surrounding palette makes a huge difference." She also takes care not to inadvertently alter skin characteristics like birthmarks.
After doing all the technical corrections and creative stylization, the last crucial step is finalizing the grade into a polished, cohesive look. "Many amateur colorists stop short of bringing all the elements together into a unified, purposeful grade," explains colorist Simone Grattarola. "Just throwing a bunch of corrections at your footage doesn"t necessarily make it work as a whole. You have to finesse those adjustments into a deliberate creative statement."
This requires analyzing your graded footage with a zoomed out perspective. Look at the big picture aesthetics, not just shot-specific issues. How do all the stylistic choices interact holistically? Does the color palette effectively set the desired mood when viewed in context? Or do certain clips now feel distractingly mismatched?
Take the time to smooth out any remaining inconsistencies in luminance levels and color balance. "I"ll often go back and do another matching pass once the principal grading is done," says colorist Leah Jaramilla. "Sometimes the combined adjustments reveal new mismatches that need finessing." She"ll tweak power windows and do targeted secondary changes to even everything out.
Veteran colorist Brent Reid emphasizes the importance of watching your project on every display possible during this refinement process. "What looks amazing in your color suite may seem totally overdone on an iPhone. You"ve got to get objective outside perspectives." He enlists clients and fellow colorists to critique his work on their own screens and give feedback. Their fresh eyes help identify areas that need toning down or boosting for stronger consistency.
This final polish also entails scrutinizing transitions between shots and sequences. "Making sure my grades seamlessly flow from one clip to the next is essential for cohesion," explains colorist Malina Rodriguez. She pays special attention to edits between scenes with different looks, using power masks to gradually transition color and contrast adjustments.
Rodriguez will also evaluate the pacing of stylistic changes over the course of a project. "Sometimes I realize a certain look is introduced too abruptly or frequently. I may decide to pull it back in some sections so it has more impact when used sparingly." This big picture assessment ensures grading choices align with the overarching creative vision.