Color Grading

Color grading footage is important if you want to convey a cinema-quality with your video projects.  It’s also pretty confusing and requires a special set of equipment and skills.  Fortunately, you probably already have the equipment and the skills necessary can be learned easily on most video production software suites!

What You Need

The most important decision you have to make when color grading your videos is how you will monitor your footage.  You are making decisions based on the information your eyes recieve from the monitor, the better monitors means better information for better decisions.

There are a few things to look for:

  • IPS – In-Plane Switching Technology allows for a greater viewing angle and contrast, important when deciding how dark to make your video.
  • 100% REC 709 – Important for your monitor to accurately represent all colors in the color space you are likely to work, which is REC 709

Next, you’ll need proper monitor calibration.  They sell monitor calibration tools and software but if you’re either on a tight budget or you prefer the DIY route, you can use the built-in monitor calibration tools that come with your operating system.  Here is a really good tutorial from Digital Trends!

Let There Be Light

Lighting is also a big deal when it comes to working with color.  Basically, you want complete control of the light that enters your eyes.  This means you’ll want to have a neutral paint scheme (gray is preferable) and black-out curtains on all the windows.

The light in the room should come from artificial light, at low levels, behind the monitors and not pointed directly at your eyes.  Go with LED bulbs and have a dimmer switch so you can better control the light levels for good balance.

And Last But Not Least, the Program

All the forementioned points are vitally important, but they don’t matter if you don’t have a tool with which you can perform your color grading.  DaVinci Resolve is the industry standard and there is even a free version, so it will probably be your best choice.

Honorable mentions include Adobe SpeedGrade and Adobe After-Effects.  Lastly, you can perform basic color grading tasks directly in your video editor, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t drop a few hundred bucks on specialized software.

Footage For The Grade

Properly filmed footage goes a long-way towards leading to a professional and cinematic color grade.  This is important:  You won’t always have the time or the ability to color grade every piece of footage, and in that case, make the footage look good in camera and do simple color manipulations with your video editor.

If you do plan on grading the footage, you’ll want to take a different approach.  At a high level, grading is about manipulating the values of red, green, and blue.  If you want to warm up footage, you increase the red exposure by a lot, green by a little, and decrease blue. If you want to brighten, you re-expose the low value information in each color channel, either equally or in different amounts per channel, resulting in some color casting.

By understanding this concept, we understand the need to shoot in LOG format.  In most image compression algorithms, more information is spent on the brighter portions of the image, as opposed to the shadows and darker parts.  This means, when manipulating the color in the shadows, you don’t have much to work with.  LOG format maps the colors differently, so while the shot looks worse in camera, you have much more information to work with during post-production

If you don’t have access to a camera that shoots in LOG, you want to make your footage as flat as possible.  This means:

  • Drop Sharpness to 0
  • Drop Contrast to low
  • Cut Saturation in 1/2

When shooting in flat profiles, you want to watch for your exposure.  Anything dark gets over-compressed relative to the light portions, so if shadows are important to your shot, increase exposure as long as you watch for clipping.

What is Color Grading

First, lets identify the difference between color correction and color grading, to clear up any confusion.  Color correction is manipulating color information across multiple clips to ensure proper color and exposure across the entire project.  Grading is more of a creative process where you adjust the exposure, contrast, and saturation to evoke a certain emotion.  When used in conjunction, perform color correction first, then color grading.

Color grading comes after color correction and color correction comes after video editing

Evaluating Color

Color, in video, is shorthand for feeling.  It sets the tone and context for the shots in your project.  Similar to music, in which which key you select your notes from determines the feeling and context for your piece, which colors you choose to enhance vs. the colors you dull or obfuscate gives your project a sense of feeling and emotion.

Bright, saturated colors make up your major key, while dull, flat colors form your minor