Color Correction & Grading

We all have more to learn about color correction & grading, and our projects only stand to benefit.


Separate the color correction from the color grading. We want the shots in a scene to all work together and look like they were shot at basically the same time of day, under the same lighting conditions. We also want the project to have a stylistic feel. If we do both steps at once in a single effect, then changing either one means we have to affect both. Then multiply that by potentially hundreds of shots in an edit.

Color correction is about fixing white balance issues, maximizing tonal range (i.e., making sure shadows are actually close to 0 IRE and highlights are close to 100 IRE) and adjusting overall brightness/gamma. This correction process is fairly clinical, almost mathematic, and can be helped tremendously by scopes (e.g., RGB Parade) in your NLE. Yes, it's tedious, but in theory we only have to do this process one time. Once the shots within a scene match, we can manipulate them all together as a group, and they will stay matched.

Color grading is about applying a look to a project/scene/shot in order to affect mood, help tell the story, etc. It's a more emotional process than color correction. This is much more fun and exciting, so we tend to want to jump straight to this. Don't make that mistake — correct first, then grade.



Premiere/Final Cut Pro 7 (basic/intermediate)
Most NLEs have a reasonably good 3-way color corrector and scopes by now. We can work wonders just by using that well.

Adobe SpeedGrade CS6 (intermediate/advanced)
Because of workflow limitations, I'm not ready to dive into this or recommend it to students. But the potential is there, and you should be open to learning it very soon.

Magic Bullet Colorista II (intermediate)
This plug-in for After Effects is as good as everyone says.

DaVinci Resolve (advanced)
This is a nice feather in our collective resumé caps. Also, it's free. The catch? We're limited to 1080p, so no color correcting 4K footage for free. Pardon me while I cry in my free beer. For training, check out fxphd fastforward: Resolve 2012 Fundamentals.

Autodesk Smoke (ninja/demi-god)
Smoke is an insanely powerful tool. It used to cost $100k+ for the hardware/software system, but now Autodesk offers a software only version for the Mac for a mere $1000. Those of us who are serious about post in a commercial world should consider learning this while we still have *@*.edu email accounts. Why? Autodesk gives it away to us for free. I love this trend. Once again, check out fxphd for top-notch Smoke training.