working with color correction

just a little over a decade ago, the post coloring process might have typically only included some adjustment to timing of the chemical development process of film. now it’s so easy to change so much of an image, the very look of film has somewhat taken on a new aesthetic. color correction/grading as we currently know it can dial in a look or fix mistakes on the most minute detail of an image, which sometimes makes me wonder if expectations have become a bit higher for every level of cinematographer… and either way, at least understanding the coloring process is a vital part being a cinematographer.

i certainly havent mastered this process myself (really i only vaguely understand it), and i much prefer to work with local professionals like ben brooksby and take advantage of their expertise, but it’s important to at least understand the process and be competent in making minor corrections. in this way for personal shoots i can get as close to the desired image as possible, and when the scope of a production facilitates a professional colorist, i can better express the productions desires and thus create the best image possible.

recently i shot some yoga videos for a local production company. the scope of the project and the locations required that we keep on set lighting to a minimum… and so the director and i knew ahead of time that we’d be partially crafting the look of the footage in post.
let me be clear, this is not me saying that you don’t need to light or shoot correctly on set, rather this is saying that understanding what we could and could not accomplish in a coloring session lead to how we planned our scenes and shots.

here is an example of how much we could push our shadows, and saturate our sky because we kept all the information in our highlights and shadows:

Raw / Colored

raw yoga footage yoga colored footage

next we have what is already a great scene, with wonderful colors during sunset hours, and all we need to do in post is accentuate that sunset while still drawing viewers eyes to our subject by creating a bit of contrast and a slight vignette:

Raw / Colored

raw yoga footage yoga colored footage

while coloring can dramatically change the look of images like with our yoga video, the coloring process can also be used to simply fine-tune the look you dialed in on set. for the recent television pilot i shot for byu, we spent a few weeks dialing in a look (including an in camera lut, and all the filters we’d use in front of the lens), and still planned on taking some time in post to tweak a few settings.

here is a close up of our main actress. we metered to the levels and ratios we were after and shot. now, without the rush of being on set, i can sit and tweak the levels, contrast and tint to be exactly where we had wanted them:

Raw /  Colored

raw beyond footage beyond colored footage

this shot is at a dinner scene. levels aren’t bad, but the raw footage is a little flat, so i add some contrast, and make sure the porcelain piece our actor is holding doesn’t clip in the highlights.

Raw / Colored

raw beyond footage beyond colored footage

each of the shoots mentioned above were shot on a red epic. the yoga shoot using rokinon lenses, and the beyond shoot with sony cinealta primes. i use the latest version of adobe speed grade. i’ll freely admit it’s not quite the powerhouse that davinci resolve is, but its integration with premiere and its ease of use make it a great choice for cinematographers like me.
the above color grades aren’t necessarily the final look for each image or the best grade choice (i’m sure you have opinions), but rather examples of how coloring can and should affect how we shoot.

3 Replies to “working with color correction”

  1. Do you have a preferred Color Corrector in Premiere? I am so confused with all the different options and I always end up settling for something I am not happy with . . . I guess the key is to get great and clean footage in the first place right?

    1. greg,
      what version of premiere do you have? if you have CC, you likely have access to speedgrade, which after about 2 hours of tutorials i knew how to work pretty well.
      if you’re stuck in premiere and you’re not opposed to buying plug-ins,
      http://www.revisionfx.com
      has colorista and cosmo which i’ve used (i use cosmo a lot, it’s a super quick way to target skin-tones).
      If you only are using premiere standard adjustments, you can still adjust the key things like color temp, tint, contrast (and contrast pivot i believe), saturation… and target each of those in highlights, mids, and shadows in the 3-way color corrector. you’d have to use garbage masks to get a similar effect as a power window. to target specific colors you can use ‘change color’ tool, which seems… limited at best, but it’s still useful for strong colors you want to target (less good for gradient things like sky).
      does that help?

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