Video Color Grading 101: Things You Need to Know

Successfully telling a visual story relies greatly on colors. Colors invite the senses; they give life and meaning. They help describe images or objects. They attract and engage the audience. Colors help make stories easier to tell. So, it is understandable for videographers to put a high value on colors.

No matter what the theme or concept is; color is a very important element in videos.

If you tell your stories through videos, you know that colors symbolize the theme, mood and tone of your work. Colors also make your shots look more vibrant. In the past, accomplishing this involved quite a complicated process. You need to purchase editing tools and suites that were a little pricey. Nowadays, however, the process has become simpler and easier.

Video Color Grading 101: Things You Need to Know

With the help of video editing programs and apps, you can easily experiment and play with the colors in your video. You can change the background of your video from an empty street scene to a colorful landscape. You can even turn night into day, and vice versa. All you need to do is learn how to perform color grading.

What is Color Grading?

Before learning the basics of color grading, it is important to understand its concept, as well as its purpose. Color grading is a process that involves the changing or enhancing of the color/s of a video or film in a digital manner. As a videographer, you have the freedom to control the footage you’ve created. You can adjust the color of a particularly drab scene and make it more vibrant by using software that allows you to play with color palettes.

One of the major functions of color grading is to improve the video image or scene. It is also used for creative license, or expressing your visual art through creative means. For example, instead of taking grainy night shots, you can simply use color-grading software to make your scene look like it was taken at night.

Terms to Learn

As a first time color-grading user, you need to understand several terms to familiarize yourself with the process. One of the most important terms is hue, which simply means a color’s “pure color”. It also pertains to the position of a color in the color wheel. Simply put, hue is the general term that you use to pertain to a color.

Video Color Grading 101: Things You Need to Know

Meanwhile, saturation pertains to the amount of hue used to define a color. For example, if a color has zero saturation, it will come out as gray, white or black.

Another term you need to familiarize yourself with is luminance, which is related to how bright a color is. One color, when saturated with different hues, will create a variety of tints and shades. There are several luminance ranges, the most common of which are the highlights, shadows and mids.

Luminance is related to the terms brightness, lightness and value. All these terms have something to do with how dark or how bright a color is. Each of these belongs to different scales and work in various levels with saturation.

There are other terms used for color grading, but these are the basic ones.

Simple Color Grading Tools

If you’re just starting out, here are several basic color grading tools that you can check out and practice with. No matter what video-editing program you’re using, these tools are there.

  1. Brightness and Contrast: Use this to control the brightness and contrast of an image. Keep in mind that when you adjust the brightness, the contrast level will also change. Also, be aware that exposure is not the same as brightness. Use the exposure tool only when you need to adjust an underexposed or overexposed image.
  2. White Balance: This tool, which is common in professional video and DSLR cameras, allows you to adjust the white balance settings to make the image appear cooler or warmer. If the footage is bluish, it has a cooler setting. If it looks like the sunset, it has a warmer setting. The White Balance is also used to make your images or scenes look more natural.
  3. The Three-Way Color Corrector: This tool is used for adjusting the saturation, hue, contrast and brightness of a scene. This corrector works in a single interface, so you don’t have to switch to different functions anymore.
  4. The Fast Color Corrector: Compared to the Three-Way version, this one is simpler and easier to use. It is used to adjust the saturation and tint of your video.
  5. The Unsharp Mask and Sharpening Tools: Although it does not correct shots or scenes taken out-of-focus, it helps make your images appear sharper through adjustments of the contrast. It is good for sharpening edges. It is important, however, to learn how to use these tools in moderation. Unlike still images, overly sharpened videos are not a good sight to see.
  6. Curves: Color grading and correction is easier with Curves, even if they are quite difficult to use. If you want a total brightness overhaul of your scene, this should be your primary tool. It is a bit complicated because you need to drag points and bend curves to achieve the effect you want. A horizontal curve decreases contrast, while a vertical one increases it.
  7. Color Match: Is what you use if you have a reference shot for your intended scene. In other words, with this tool, you can make your image look similar to your source shot.

These are some of the basic tools you can use for color grading.

The Top and Most Popular Color Grading Software / Video Editing Programs

If you think you’re ready to use color-grading software for your videos, here are three that you might want to try out:

  1. DaVinci Resolve 12: Aside from color grading, this software will also allow you to edit, finish and deliver your video; can be used professionally (in the studio) or at home. It is considered as an extremely powerful color corrector.
  2. Adobe Premiere Pro CC: If you want to put filters to specific parts of your footage, this is the most ideal tool to use; also recognized for its high quality color suites.
  3. Final Cut Pro X: If you’re using the Mac OSX platform, this is the recommended color grading software and video editing program. It is highly optimized for Apple computer users. You can color grade and color correct your videos using several LUT tools, such as cineLook, LUT Utility, mLooks, LUT Film and S Curve. For a more desired effect, try filming your video using a flat profile and grade/correct it using S Curve, CineLook, CineLook + Gorilla Grain and LUT Utility. In Canon DSLR cameras, you can install and utilize Technicolor’s CineStyle profile. This is one of the most popular flat profiles used by several professional videographers. You can download the file and read the details here.

Now that you have been introduced to the beauty of color grading, you can start practicing and experimenting. Pretty soon, you’ll be a master at making your images look more attractive, meaningful and vibrant.

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