Color Correction

Color correction, an immense and deeply technical process, involves 3 main components:

  • Adjusting for Exposure
  • Adjusting for Saturation
  • White Balance

Goal is to neutralize clips and make exposure, saturation, and white balance look accurate.  Additionally, you are trying to make each clip blend in with the scene in which it is set.  Lets look at each component in depth:


For exposure, you will be adjusting exposure in Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights (also called Lift, Gamma, and Gain).  To get things right, you might have to adjust each separately


You want your colors to be accurately represented, so you will have to adjust saturation in the shadows, midtones, and highlights.

White Balance

Probably the idea you have when you think of color correction, this is balancing the color between clips.  You are adjusting so the white looks white, grey looks grey, black is black, and all other colors show accordingly.

Your film lights (and the filament type) can often color cast your scene, tinting the shades and making all other other colors appear off.  Color correction is also process of color cast normalization.

Color Correction Order of Operations

  1. Import
  2. Organize
  3. Trim Clips
  4. Assemble Rough Edit
  5. Refine Edit
  6. Mix Audio
  7. Color Correction
  8. Color Grade
  9. Finalize
  10. Export

When in the color correction phase of your project, try to perform the functions in this order:

  1. Exposure
  2. Saturation
  3. White Balance / Color Temperature

Most important point is to work on Exposure first, set your shadows, midtones, and highlights, then work from there.

A good guide for the color correction and color grading steps is as follows:

  1. Remove Artifacts
  2. Color Correction
    1. Exposure
    2. Saturation
    3. Color Temp
  3. Relight with Power Masks and Power Windows (Resolve)
  4. Add Gradients, Diffusions, or Lens Filters
  5. Vignettes
  6. Color Grading
  7. Film Stock (Film Noise)
  8. Resize and Sharpen


Your two most useful color scopes inside of Premier Pro are the Parade (RGB) and the Vectorscope (YUV).

RGB Parade

The RGB Parade waveform displays the Red, Green, and Blue signals and shows the luminence in your shot.  Waveform shows from left to right the detail in each color channel.  Anything at the top of the Y-Axis (100% luminence) is flat white.  When flat white, there is no more detail that we can extract from that portion of the scene.  Inverse is true for 0% luminense and flat black.  If blacks don’t show as 0%, then there is color information there.  Not much, and might not be usable, but it is there nonetheless.

The scope also shows the relationships between color channels.  If we increase the exposure for the red channel (by moving the color temp towards orange), we see a resultant decrease in the luminance values for the green (slightly) and the blue (greatly).  If we increase tint towards the green channel, we see the green values shoot up while the red and blue values are diminished.

YUV VectorScope

The YUV VectorScope shows chromanance, which is color.  It shows the intensity of your colors on an RGB color wheel (fairly closely).  This scope shows you how much saturation there is and where that saturation occur.

Other Tools of the Trade

Lumetri Color

This is a Premier Pro effect that can be applied to clips.  It offers a simple and intuitive panel that pulls from Adobe Lightroom.  It also gives you access to curves and color wheels, so Lumetri Color can be your one-stop color correction plugin!

Three-Way Color Corrector (or Color Wheel)

Plugin that allows you to tint the shadows, midtones, and highlights individually.

Fast Color Corrector

One color wheel that can be applied to the entire shot, not by channel like the 3-way above.  Use this if the entire shot is casted.  It can change the hue as well as move the whites towards a color to correct casting.

RGB Curves

Plugin to re-expose all color channels with a curve graph.  The graph represents luminance values from bottom left being 0 to top right being 100.  To make that channel brighter, increase exposure at the top right of the graph.  To increase contrast, increase exposure for top and decrease for bottom, brightening brights and darkening darks.

Color Correction Techniques

Adjust Exposure

Expose adjustments are about changing blacks, mids, and whites.  Lumetri Color gives us an exposure control in the Tone control group.  Word of caution, though, when increasing exposure.  Because compression gives more data to light portions, re-exposing the dark portions of your scene can show some compression artifacts (noise) that were previously hidden.  This is especially noticeable in the darker regions of the scene.

You can also use the different exposure controls together to get the look you want.  If increasing master exposure gives unwanted artifacts in shadows, try lifting the master then lowering the shadow control, possibly highlighting what you wished while also darkening the shadows back to where they weren’t noticeable.

Want to do exposure first because as you change exposure you change the saturation of your colors, so get your black and white points dialed in before you work on color.

Adjust White Balance

This is what people usually think about when discussing color correction.  Easiest way is to use a color chart when shooting, so you just put the chart in your lighting and key your white balance directly from the chart.  Balance card is also used for this.

Another great technique is to focus on a small portion of the total scene (using the crop effect), then use the zoom checkbox on the effect to show your small portion over the entire viewfinder.  This allows you to look at the color with your scopes to get it exactly where you want the color to be.  Once completed, these changes are exported over the entire scene.

Check Skin Tones

Checking the skin tones is a similar process.  You want to crop on a portion that shows the skin in the most prevalent light source.  The crop usually comes from the forehead.  You then zoom on this crop and check your vector scope to see that the skin tone is on the mid-Y axis (for a caucasion).

Adjust Saturation

Lumetri offers a few different techniques for adjusting color saturation.  Aside from the RGB scopes, which informs you of the relative saturation between color bands, you can use the Creative panel which gives you access to both saturation and vibrance controls.

Vibrance is a saturation algorithm that minimizes clipping as colors approach full saturation.  This changes the saturation on all colors, but affects the lowly saturation ones more.  Additionally, vibrance protects skin tones from becoming over saturated.

The 3-Way Color Corrector also has saturation controls that separate the colors into luma bands.  This way, you can control saturation in the shadows independently from the mid-tones.  One use of this is to push master saturation, lower mid-tone saturation, then raise back the shadow saturation.  This creates an effect similar to vibrance, where colors that are most saturated are affected the least.

Additionally, in Lumetri, you have access to curves.  One of the curves is a hue/saturation curve, which allows you to saturate certain portions of the color wheel.  This is useful if you need to bump saturation, but you have an already saturated element in the scene.  You can boost the saturation curve around the element, so you don’t blow it out but you still add the saturation to the rest of the scene.

Secondary Color Correction

Within the three-way color corrector, you have access to secondary color correction.  Secondary color correction is useful when your initial color correction, while helping the scene in total, changed the color of another element and you need to get it back. These are tools that make selections on the image based on hue, saturation, and luminance.  While that sounds confusing, the color pickers make the job simple.

Use the left-most color picker to choose the color you want to correct.  Then, click the show mask toggle to show what you have selected.  If your selection doesn’t accurately reflect what you wanted, use the plus or minus color pickers to add or remove from your selection.

You can also use the hue, saturation, and luma controls to change the bands that you are selecting.  The sliders control how much and at what feather you want to select.  At the bottom, you have soften and edge thinning controls.  Soften will blur out the selection a bit while edge thinning is refine edge, you can grow or shink your selection at the edges.  It is usually a good idea to blur it a bit to soften the effect, and grow or shrink as needed.

Wrapping It Up

Color is the key by which you create you composition, and the colors you choose create the emotional context for your piece.  Just as choosing notes and progressions from a minor key creates a somber melody, choosing blues and violets can create a somber production.  But before you can make those artistic decisions, you need color correction to standardize and sanitize your clips, thus giving you a full palette to play with.