How to Color Correct? The Technique and the Workflow

Color-correction can make your film project look a lot better. Color can add mood and emotion to a scene. The problem is that sending the movie to a colourist can cost a lot, that’s why many filmmakers will ask the video editor to do some color corrections on the film. These days there are so many color correction software, even free ones, so as a video editor, you need to know the basics of this art. In this post, I will guide you through all the steps to create an image with perfect colors. It is not a color correction tutorial or a “How to make cinematic color correction post,” but it will teach you all the basics you need to learn about color grading.

The color correction workflow stage(also known as color grading workflow) is at the end of the film video editing of the film, and its purpose is to fix color errors in the images and to adjust the primary colors, the white balance, exposure, and contrast. Sometimes the reason for color correction is the bad lighting, inadequate exposure, wrong white balance on the locations, etc., sometime your job will be only matching the colors between the shots, and sometimes it will be old footage that requires color correction.

How can colors help us tell the story?

Color-correction can be more than fixing the shots, and it can help the film director to get the artistic look he was having trouble getting on the locations. The way you will use these components will affect the mode of the scene. For example, an intense blue will create a calming effect, while red might do the opposite. You can also change how the audience will feel about each character, by the color of their clothes for example, or to show their emotional state. Still, the purpose of the colors shouldn’t be so obvious, it should be in the director’s (and the video editor) mind during the full process. Another thing that is worth mentioning is that when you deal with colors on an image, you can’t rely only on your eyes. Use scope tools like RGB parade or waveforms. 

What equipment is best for color correction

Before we go into the color correction workflow, let’s start with the equipment you’ll need. There are many color correction software out there. Some are very expensive, and some of these software are free even though I recommend you to do the color correction with the right equipment. All of the significant three editing software: Avid, Premiere, and Final Cut offer a variety of great tools for color correction, and as a video editor, you will be asked to use them. You can also use the  DaVinci Resolve software, which is more complicated. Still, much more professional, and some video editors even use After Effects for color correction (I recommend using After Effects only for small clips). Avid also has a plugin called Symphony, which is also an excellent tool for color correction. You can do the secondary color correction, which means painting specific areas in the image. If you want to be a professional colorist, I would recommend learning the DaVinci Resolve software, but to start with the Avid color tools or the Avid Symphony and then to turn to the  DaVinci Resolve only for more profound and complicated color changes.

You will also need a proper monitor, I’m not going to dive deep into how to choose the right monitor, as there are many guides about the subject out there, but you need a waveform monitor that is not built in the software of your desktop – they are not suitable for professional color-correction.  I am going to say that the LCD monitors do a good job, the only problem is that the colors they show to you, will look different in every angle you sit.  It is also recommended to Remove unnecessary colors from your point of view – setting your computer screen to grey, can help a lot.

Here is another pro-tip: Always test on the viewing output – Don’t wait for the color correction to be over to do that. You can take a minute or two the movie (it’s better to take problematic minutes) to see how they hold out in the actual viewing output.

1st step in color correction workflow – understand what you see

There are 2 processes in color correction- The first process will be to set the overall tone like the contrast of the image, the balance of colors. etcץ You need to understand what are the problems you are facing? Is there a problem with the general tone of the picture? The second process is to adjust each color to the right place in the image. 

What’s important to remember is that color-correcting, can be a subjective process, that’s why you need to rely on tools that will show you the colors in a more objective way. To do that you will need to watch the color through scopes. Before I’ll explain about using scopes, let’s make sure we all know the three main components that affect the story through color:

  • Hue – also known as chroma, deals with the basic color of the object
  • Saturation – The colorfulness and intensity of the color.
  • Brightness – How dark or light the color will be
You will also need to learn how to watch the images through scopes.

Using the scopes

When working on color correction, don’t trust your eyes. The way you interpret color will be depended on the angle you are looking from or the monitor you are using. Scopes are the only way you can understand the colors of the scene. With the scopes tools, you can balance the blacks and whites and the red, green, and blue colors.

Most video editing tools will have a color correction mode that will show you the scopes. They might indeed look terrifying at first. Once you start playing with it, it will look much better.

The Histogram scope, for example, displays you the brights levels of the image. So you can check if there are parts in your vision that are too dark or overexposed. The waveform scope is also popular in color correction for the picture’s brightness, and it is represented as a waveform. In Final Cut, you can see Zebra patterns imposed on the image as a warning for too bright areas. Learn your software tools to understand the colors in the picture.

The RGB scope shows you the amount of blue, green, and red colors in your image. Before you start working on the colors, try to visualize the picture in the graph. Try to understand what each piece of the chart is representing in the film. Now your job is to fix what looks wrong.

Use the vectorscope to understand the science of colors. The vectorscope shows you opposite colors and what are the colors that build other colors. For example, if you have too much yellow, you can see in the vector that it. With the scopes tools, you can balance the blacks and whites and balance between the red, green, and blue.

Remember, when doing color correction, you must have a professional monitor. Making the color look good in the scopes won’t promise a good picture.

The stage of color correction is done after the video editing is final. When you send the finished video to the sound design, you can send it also to color correction.

Make the color consistent.

A lot of times, the lighting in a scene will change with every change of camera angle. So your first job is to make sure all the colors in each scene are consistent. Only after fixing all the contrast and the saturation of each scene, you can you move on to work on the ‘look’ of the film. Start by taking an overlook of the exposure of each scene. Sometimes a scene that is happening in the night might be shot in daylight to save money, and it would be the colorist job to make it look as if it was shot at night.

On each shot you work on, start by looking at the RGB scopes – are the color balanced? If you have too much of one color, don’t reduce it so quickly, try first to increase its opposite color.

Now decide how bright you want the shot to be. Remember that low brightness will tell a different story, then a very dark shot

Setting up the color theme

After you went through these two steps, start thinking about the general color for the film. Remember- color correction is also about telling your story with colors and expressing the mood and the feelings of the scene. Cold colors will express sadness, while warm colors can express happiness.


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