Color correction or color grading is the art of manipulating the hue, satuation, luminance, gamma and brightness of the colors in your video. It’s just as much of an art as is the entire process of editing. Changing the colors slightly can do wonders to the mood of a film. While most shows on television have had professional color graders working on their pieces, you can do a decent job on it yourself.
For filmmakers who havn’t spent much time in a post-production facility, they might not realize quite how big of a difference color correction can make to a film. We were given a tour of the post-labs at the BBC a few years back. They showed us some of the before and after footage from a recent color grading test. The difference was absolutely amazing. The final piece was rich with color; it had an intense magenta sunset, and rich green grass in the foreground. A dark black silohette of a giraffe then walked through the picture. It was an amazin shot. Then they showed us the “before” video. What a disapointment it was to see what the footage really looked like. It looked like anything we could have shot on our small cameras. Plus, everything seemed a bit washed out. Not only were the colors not rich, but they weren’t even the same colors. The suset was orange and the grass more of a yellow-green. What an amazing learning experience that was.
Looking back on our experience at the BBC, I’m happy to say that it only encourages us. After we learned a thing or two about color correction, we realized that anyone can take their footage and make it look several steps more professional, just by color correcting the footage. While you could probably read books on the subject, the basics are really quite easy to master.
The first bit of color correction that you’re likely to attempt comes in as you’re editing your rough cut. Occasionally there are video clips that just don’t seem to fit well into the sequence. There might be an issue with the white balance; they are either too blue or too orange. Taking a second to fix this with a warming or cooling filter will help it match the sequence you’re putting together. Don’t spend a lot of time on it at this stage though, because it’s only after the final version of your film has been approved for content that you’ll go back and correct every shot’s color.
Professional color correctors may end up using some of the same programs that evrey video editor has in their tool-kit. Now that Final Cut has released Color as part of their editing package, professional color correction is affordable for most filmmakers. However advanced these programs might be, there really are only a few things you’ll have to worry about as an amateur color grader.
The first step in color grading is adjusting the hue. We recommend using a simple three-wheel color correction tool. This allows you to change the hue of the highlights, midtones and shadows in three seperate color wheels. There will also be an eye-dropper tool that will allow you to let the computer figure out the best color correction for the shot. All you have to do is pick an area that is supposed to be white and an area that is supposed to be black and the computer does the rest. If you want the scene to look like it’s lit with moonlight, drag towards the blue end of the color wheel. If you want to warm up the scene, drag towards the orange end.
The next step is adjusting the luminance. In essence, you’re adjusting the brightness and contrast here. You can brighten the image a bit by sliding the cursors up in the highlights. You can also give the image more contrast by sliding it down in the shadows. Experiment as needed.
Finally, you can play with the saturation. Most of the time you should only tap it slightly one way or the other. Images that are overly satuarated don’t make the overal image look any more appealing.
Remember, everything you’re doing in color correction should be for a reason.