Many independent films want to save money and sometimes there is simply not enough time (or money) to send the movie to a professional colorist, so the video editor will be asked to do some color corrections on the film. That is why 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 it’s purpose is to change the color in the images. Color correction helps the film director to get the artistic look he is having trouble to get on the locations. For example, controlling the viewer’s eyes with colors. Sometimes the reason for color correction is the bad lighting, bad exposure, bad white balance on the locations, simply matching the colors between the shots, and sometimes it will be old footage that simply requires color correction.

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 them are free. Even though it is recommended to do color correction with the right equipment, All of the big 3 editing software: Avid, Premier, 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, but much more professional and some video editors even use After Effects for color correction (Personally, I recommend using After Effects only for small clips). Avid has also a plugin called Symphony, which is also a great tool for color correction and 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 deeper and complicated color changes.

You also need to have a good monitor. One that is suit for color correction.

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

Your first step is to understand the colors in the image – what are the problems you are facing? Is there a problem with the general tone of the image?

When you deal with colors on an image, you can’t rely only on your eyes. Use scope tools like RGB parade or waveforms. 

Using the scopes

When working on color correction, don’t trust your eyes. Scopes are the only way you can really understand the colors in the movie. With the scopes tools, you can balance the blacks and whites and the red, green and blue colors.

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

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 graph is representing in the picture. Now your job is to fix what looks wrong.

Use the vector scope 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 to 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 only after the video editing is final. When you send the finished video to the sound design you can send it also to color correction.

2nd step in color correction workflow – 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 you feel you did a good job on that part, you can move on to understand what kind of ‘look’ the film should have

3rd step in color correction workflow – Setting up the color theme

After you went through these 2 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.

Recommended books on color correction

Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema

Color Grading with Media Composer and Symphony 6

The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction

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