Are you a color correction n00b?  That's okay, we all were at some point.  You can learn the basics of CC online through tutorials, but nothing will help you learn better than jumping in and giving it a shot. To get you started, here's some great real-world tips for making your next project pop!
This post is gonna assume you have some kind of basic understanding of what color correction is.  If you don't, I reccomend checking out TaoOfColor, some super nice people that know their stuff.  We're not going to be talking much about the actual technique of pushing colors around, but these tips are things I've learned are really important on a practical side of things.  Enjoy!

TIP 1: You Should Color Correct

That's right, the first tip I have for you is that you SHOULD color correct.  I've fallen into this trap many times, the footage looks good on my monitor, and so I render and deliver.  Then I look at it later and wonder why it looks just a little bit flat.

Any time you think your footage looks "good enough,"  at least TRY out a gentle contrast curve and see if you like it.  Chances are, it'll make your footage look better. 

TIP 2: An App for Your Purpose

There are TONS of Color Correction apps and plugins available  which one should you pick?  Well it all depends on what you're trying to do.

For most projects, a plugin will do just fine.  For most of our smaller projects we use Magic Bullet Looks or Colorista to do a quick and easy grade right inside Adobe Premiere CS6.  We really like Looks because there are tons of presets that you can select and tweak to your liking - A great thing when you're on a major time crunch.

For our larger projects, such as our reality shows, which can have several hundred shots from different cams, different exposures, and different white balances, we will use Davinci Resolve 9.  Resolve is very powerful and fast.  You can do some really advanced masking and tracking very quickly.  The trade-off is that you have to round-trip your files out of your editor and conform them inside of Resolve.  An extra step, but it's worth it if you have a lot of work to do.

TIP 3: Pick the Right Hardware

If you poke around on the internet, you'll start to figure out one thing: Hardware is important.

There are all types of desks, control surfaces, keyboards, chairs, and other equipment to spend money on, but the REALLY important thing is your monitor.  After all, color correction is all about making your image "LOOK GOOD" right?  So you need a monitor that will show you how the image ACTUALLY looks.  Pro monitors can be calibrated so that whites look white, blacks look black, and all the colors in between are represented in their true glory.

We use the Eizo ColorEdge, which has quickly become one of our most cherished pieces of equipment.  It even has a built in colorimeter that will make sure it looks good all the time.

If you don't have cash for a good monitor, you can probably guess at your colors, view them on several devices and tweak accordingly, but when you're on a deadline, you just don't have time for that.  A good monitor will show you how your image REALLY looks and that's super important.

TIP 4: Know Your Workflow

You ever get halfway done painting something and realize you're out of paint?  It sucks.

Just like you want to make sure you have plenty of materials for a painting project, you want to make sure you have a color workflow that actually works for you.  There's nothing worse then being faced with a deadline and you're panicking trying to figure out why your project won't open.

Trust me on this one, before you even start a project, shoot a test with the same type of camera, and take a simple clip ALL THE WAY through your workflow.  From shoot to edit to color to final render.  You might just discover an even better way to finish your project just by having the play time.

TIP 5: Take Breaks

Real simply, your eyes adjust to color.  99.9 Percent of the time that's ok.  When you're doing color correction, it's bad.   If you stare at an image long enough a cyan can appear white, greys can appear black, and you can all out convince yourself that a shot looks great even when it doesn't.  

Take breaks at least every hour or so, get some coffee, come back to your shots and look at them again.  You'll be surprised at how often you'll ask yourself "What was I thinking?"

TIP 6: Watch It Everywhere

Got an extra monitor laying around, plug it in, watch your video on that.  Your TV, your laptop, ipad, iphone, your Mom's TV, anything that you can watch a video on, watch your work on that.  Until you get used to how your grades look on different devices, it's a good idea to double check.

This is especially important if you don't have a calibrated monitor, you can learn how your monitor looks compared to most devices and grade with that in mind. But even if you have a pro-status monitor like our Eizo, you might want to try it on other devices just to see how it looks.

The Bottom Line

Color correction can be really fun and creative, and it's rewarding to see your shots looking beautiful in the final product.  If you follow these tips, even if you're a color n00b, you'll be on your way to a great looking grades.


02/28/2013 3:49pm

Great article! Would you mind telling me exactly what model of Eizo ColorEdge you use? Many thanks.

03/04/2013 9:23am

Right now we are using the CG245W-bk ColorEdge. Love it! Thanks for reading the Blog! Please share around...

03/04/2013 8:19am

Excellent article...and thank you for mentioning the Eizo ColorEdge monitor!

03/10/2013 8:37am

Scopes Scopes Scopes. Know how to read them. You can not do good color correction without scopes - especially the RGB Parade. And I'm NOT talking about staying "legal" but just in KNOWING what you have to do to the image. Take two new colorists with no knowledge. Give one of them 5 minutes of instruction on how to read an RGB Parade waveform and give the other 5 minutes on how to drag the sliders in Resolve (or whatever CC software they're using) and the colorist with the waveform knowledge will outperform the other guy for the rest of his life.

Ed Kulzer
03/11/2013 8:07am

Steve-- I've just stepped away from the Tek WFM-5000, which is apparently a field scope, and am looking for a terrific studio scope to use alongside my CP200. Any suggestions on a good model? The Tektronix 7200?

03/11/2013 8:44am

Absolutely, I agree with you 100 percent! Knowing how to use scopes is essential for balancing highs/shadows, as well as seeing the true color values in your image! Thanks for checking us out!

03/12/2013 8:31am

any idea where to find a good and complete tutorial on how to read RGB parade efficiently. Traps, tricks, ....


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