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Color Correction: Put Your Best Foot Forward

My first experience with the 5D DI color correction was for the Terminator Webisodes produced by the Bandito Brothers through Wonderland Sound and Vision.  McG asked me to be the Director/Cameraman for these alternative marketing shorts that were going on the Internet.  They would release one a week leading up to the opening date of “Terminator:Salvation.”

I wanted the look and feel of the Webisodes to feel like a prequel to the film, so the style and color that I had done on “Terminator:Salvation” would be the consistent thread throughout the project.

When we began the color correction process we quickly realized a new grading process was necessary as the old rules did not apply.  We started with a LUT (look up table) that gives you the look and feel of Kodak Vision print stock in the digital world and the Codec just fell apart.  Andrew Huebscher, the colorist at Bandito was earning and learning as we dealt with this very compressed Codec for the first time.  The old rules of color correcting film and when Andrew would turn the knobs to make a change the color would shift radically.  We soon understood that with this fragile color space you had to move the knobs very delicately.  We learned not to use the Vision LUT when color correcting digital footage.

TechCom #2 My first project on the Canon 5D and color correcting with the 8 BIT compressed color space

TechCom #2 My first project on the Canon 5D and color correcting with the 8 BIT compressed color space

I treated the 5D like I was exposing reversal film stock, you had to get it close to what your final product would be.  Any extreme manipulation in color was difficult. For example, if you were in an interior and then moved outside and forgot to change the color temperature and shot footage. Then, all your exteriors would be blue. It would be very difficult to just fix it in post and difficult to swing.  You can do it but it never matches well. It just feels wrong.

This was a shot from the Untitled Navy SEAL movie.  We were color balanced for underwater which is around 7000 deg. K and when our camera surfaced it was way to cold, we tried to swing it but it had a weird quality.

This was a shot from the Untitled Navy SEAL movie. We were color balanced for underwater which is around 7000 deg. K and when our camera surfaced it was way to warm, because our daylight was around 5200 deg. K, we tried to swing it but it has a weird quality.

This is another example of our camera being set at 7000 deg. K and trying to swing the image to a more neutral tone, it is not bad, but I feel it still has a bizzarre quality to it.

This is another example of our camera being set at 7000 deg. K and trying to swing the image to a more neutral tone, it is not bad, but I feel it still has a bizzarre quality to it.

Our solution was to go back to the RAW Cineform 444 files and start anew. This worked very well and it seemed to give us much more range. I also realized too late that this camera needs light.  If you don’t feed it enough light the 8 BIT compressed color space quickly goes to 4 and then to 2.  You can always create contrast by stretching the image by pushing the whites and pulling your blacks down.  Underexposure is a powerful tool with this camera, but the whole image cannot be underexposed.  It will result in noise, fall apart quickly in color correction and just look muddy.

After this first experience I knew I needed to educate myself. I read about different picture styles that gave you more digital latitude but I wanted to create my own and each camera’s sensor is different.  It is not a plug and play technology.   I set out to tackle the EOS utility and the Picture Style editor to create my own RAW look.  I took a RAW still image then dragged that image into the Picture Style editor window.

Picture Style Editor w/tool Palette

Picture Style Editor w/tool Palette

I then moved my mouse down to the lower left corner where there is an icon that has two squares in it.  You click on that and two identical photographs show up on the screen.  I then move over to the right side where you find a curve graph.

Icon used for creating two identical pictures so that you can see your changes realtime

Icon used for creating two identical pictures so that you can see your changes in realtime

I start at the bottom of the curve and start to bend it to open the shadows.  Then, I move up to the middle and open up the mid-tones and then finish at the top swinging the highlights so that I can suppress them to hold more detail.

Bending the curve to open up the blacks slightly to increase your dynamic range

Bending the curve to open up the blacks slightly to increase your dynamic range

Bending the highlights to bring them slightly down to increase your dynamic range

Bending the highlights to bring them slightly down to increase your dynamic range

Once this RAW file worked well in the color-grading bay, I wanted to now design a picture style that took in each camera’s sensor personality.  The 5D is the king of the hill and all the others are trying to climb up to the top but they don’t even have a rope.  The 7D has much more contrast, more saturation and less detail.  The 1D is a very unique sensor and is incredibly sensitive.  I cannot put my fingers on it but it lacks even more detail than the 7D and has a strange contrast along with gray skin tones.  It has to be the small mega pixel count.  So, I factor all these things into my RAW look for each camera.

Then I went a step further.  Balancing camera color is one of the most important things that you can do.  Each camera comes from the factory supposedly balanced but all of them have a bias.  Set up a white card with the correct color temp. on the camera, which it depends on the color temp of your light.  If you are shooting with a Tungsten source then you would be at 3200K, if it is daylight you would be at 5200K and so on.  Or you can auto white balance, your choice.  Some cameras come with a yellow bias, a magenta bias and or a green bias.  Sometimes you get one that is perfect from the factory but from my experience that is not the case.

White Balance Shift

Go To your White Balance Shift and select it

My 7D’s have come with a magenta bias and I intensely dislike that color.  So dialing that color tone out was my first priority.  Here is what worked for me: Go to WB/Shift+- and select it.  A graph will come up where it shows a little white dot in the center.

Here is your WB Shift Grid, here you can shift your bias

Here is your WB Shift Grid, here you can shift your bias

Go up to the little advance button, which is above the big wheel and it also moves your focus box.  Push it one-way or the other to swing your camera to produce pure white.  If your camera is coming up magenta, then you would give it a few points to the green.

If your camera is magenta bias then slide the dot up into the green 2 points

If your camera is magenta bias then slide the dot up into the green 2 points

If your camera has a yellow bias, I would swing it into the blue region.

If your camera has a yellow bias then add two points of blue

If your camera has a yellow bias then add two points of blue

Now if the color is somewhere in the middle of what those controls can do, you can even more specific with different shades of green, blue, etc. by going diagonally and you get a shade of the red, green and blue.

This is if your camera has a magenta yellow bias, you are making cyan by sliding up the grid diagonally

This is if your camera has a magenta yellow bias, you are making cyan by sliding up the grid diagonally

This is if your camera had a red yellow bias, you are adding magenta to counter the yellow and blue to counter the red

This is if your camera had a red yellow bias, you are adding magenta to counter the yellow and blue to counter the red

I take one camera that I have balanced perfectly white and it becomes my default camera; every camera is now balanced to that.  I have tried the waveform monitor thing, but found that to eye it works better for me.  If this color space was not so compressed it would not even be an issue.  But it is for now and this is the best way that I have found to maximize your color space.  Taking two identically calibrated monitors, I put my default camera on one and then the new camera on the other monitor and adjust to eye.   Once I get them very close I put a HDMI switcher in line and go back and forth from my default camera to the new camera on the same monitor until it is exact.  I just repeat this process until all my cameras are balanced to the default camera.  It is so helpful because when you are out shooting with multiple cameras and multiple operators you need to know as a cinematographer that they are choosing the right exposures and color temperatures based on one common denominator, that every camera looks the same.

On the Navy SEAL movie this task was daunting.  We had so many cameras coming in from so many different vendors. It is a process that is incredibly important and not many people know that this function exists.  We are led to believe that it comes balanced at the factory.  I can tell you this isn’t the case.  Take the time and create a RAW look that you are happy with and see if your camera or cameras have a bias.  Happy in-camera color correcting.

Author: Shane

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131 Comments

  1. I have been looking through similar blog posts in this topic. Not many of them are good with writing skill and quality, but yours is an exception. I would like to read more of your writings on this subject.

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  2. Shane, thanks always for you and your teams’ leadership in the field and exhaustive research. We really appreciate it, and especially appreciate the time you take to respond personally to questions and posts–just as inspiring as the imagery, thanks so much.

    I have a tedious, technical question that might be better posed to Mike–or maybe someone else on the team, since he’s mostly a PC editor…Topic: confronting the issue of Gamma Shift with DSLR footage. The FreshDV guys have links to a couple of blogs who are taking a stab at it, but I figure the HV Team surely has some kind of solution that could be instructive to indies…

    Do you guys find the Cineform codec the way to go for consistency’s sake in color grading?

    What about offline vs. online editing–have you ever considered cutting in one codec, and correcting in a higher grade one?

    What about how you compress (when you are going for the web, or even for broadcast): how do you ensure that your hard work grading isn’t compromised by the compression?

    Like most people, I’m working in FCP 7; I’ve got a Mac LED monitor, and for color correction, an HP Dreamcolor Monitor (the HV lighting monitor), run through a matrox I/O from my Mac Pro Tower to judge color. What would you guys recommend for your average indie filmmaker like myself? I want to perfect my skills with color grading DSLR footage, but I’m unsure about how to proceed with a workflow that both protects my colors and is sustainable, both in terms of time and economics?

    I don’t expect you to answer this immediately in a post, but it would make for a fantastic HV Guest Blog report.

    For further reference, please see: http://www.freshdv.com/2010/06/cc-gamma-issues-dslr.html, which links to http://motionlifemediablog.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/which-version-do-i-color-correct/, which links to http://nofilmschool.com/2010/06/color-correcting-dslr-footage-on-a-mac-is-a-clustercuss/

    My gut says stick with ProRes LT and FCP, maybe export with x264 instead of compressor to preserve gamma characteristics. The perfectionist in me says get Cineform, work offline in low quality prores, then grade color in Cineform–but this seems asinine. Help!

    Thanks again, all the best, Joe

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    • Joe B., thank you so much for your kind words. I would email Mike McCarthy my guest blogger on all this post stuff. He is the best.

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  3. Shane,

    My friend Mark Pellington recently shot an Alpha Rev video on a 5D and 7D. It’s a black and white video and if I heard him correctly you advised him to shoot the video monochrome in camera.

    1. Is it better to shoot in monochrome in camera than to delete the color information later? This seems closer to your assessment that this makes your raw content closer to the working space you want in the end anyway.

    2. Is the monochrome present good to work with, the one that the camera comes with or would you still create one in the EOS utility?

    3. Is it good to reduce the contrast & sharpness if shooting this way as well?

    Cheers,

    Rod

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    • Rod Blackhurst, Yes that is what I advised them to do. I did test and found that we had more range in the monochrome setting, mainly in the noise department. So what I do is put it on Monochrome and then adjust my contrast accordingly. Always send your sharpness to -0 and dial your contrast to the range that feels good to you.

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  4. Hi Shane,

    I tried your method of shifting the WB to green to counter the magenta colour cast on my Canon XSi but I wasn’t really satisfied. Either my skintones and browns were still too magenta, or I’d get a green color cast over the shots. I got better results by leaving WB shift at 0,0 and adjusting the color tone in the picture styles to at least +2.

    Unfortunately one of the side effects is that the red colours shift to orange. Therefore with color tone +2 I used the Picture Style editor to select red colour and dial a Hue adjustment of -10 (and when using color tone +4 I adjust Hue -20, suitable for asian skin tones).

    My 2 edited picture styles are available at
    http://www.mediafire.com/file/2meyj2mgg4w/Faithful +2 Red Adjust.pf2
    http://www.mediafire.com/file/mlhtfnuw3hj/Faithful +4 Red Adjust.pf2
    if you’re interested.

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    • Phil C, I could not open the files to view, I would love to help you with this. I have tried the color tone and not happy with that also. I did go into the picture style and take the magenta out also. Do you like that way. The WB shift is good for simple corrections, not big swings. But that is usually all that is required to balance the camera, maybe you should send that baby back to Canon. I have sent back 4 of my 7D’s. I cannot get them to look right.

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    • ivan marasco, yes, they are not happening. I have found that you really need to keep with the general camera settings. I feel that I get some decent latitude out of my cocktail that I have created. When you try to bend the curves in the highlights to suppress them the image gets mushy and it is hard to judge your exposure. You can try shooting with this but you would need to constantly judge your exposure with another picture style that is what you want the final project to look like and then switch back to the flat look and hit record.

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  5. Hi Shane, I’m pretty sure my camera doesn’t have a WB issue. My white colors do come out white. It’s only the way my camera renders yellows, browns and olive skin tones with a slight skew to magenta tone at Color Tone 0 that dissatisfies me. A good test is to shoot a yellow street sign during the day and check if it comes out yellow. If it comes out orange, there’s probably too much magenta which can be corrected by increasing the color tone. I can’t speak for the 7D but I’m pretty sure that all Canon XSIs behave this way. A friend of mine who’s a regular on photography forums refers to the Magenta as “Canon Color.”

    Using Color Tone +4 with the Faithful Picture style corrects the magenta tone for me. Faces look more natural, grass is greener and browns are browner. I have a version 2 of my picture style which uses a better red color base for correcting red tones. This version is more likely to render red cars properly red. Open a RAW image in DPP and in the RAW tab click Browse to load the picture style.

    http://www.mediafire.com/file/nz53dzvm1jg/Faithful +4 Red Adjust2.pf2
    Just be mindful that there may be a sharp tone change for anything that is Orange-Red.

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  6. We have developed a picture style for both the 5D and 7D that is featuring this kind of color correction and flattening, build into the style. The picture style was originally developed to match the Panavision Genesis camera with the 5D, and the colorimetric adjustments in the picture style are devised not only to match the Genesis, but to get the best representation of the macbeth color card used. It’s free and available from:

    http://marvelsfilm.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/new-marvels-cine-picture-style-for-canon/

    Cheers!

    Martin

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    • Martin Beek, thank you so much for posting this and helping all of our co-collaborators out. I am going to try this baby too.

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    • Koolitusveeb, I am having my Elite Tech team look at it, so sorry about the inconvenience.

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  7. Hi Shane, I appreciate all of the great info you share. I had the pleasure of using your Hurlbut Visuals indie rental kits (you were so generous to donate) as the primary operator on the Paddle2live.org cancer fundraiser last September/October. I loved the settings that your 7d and 5d’s had. Are the settings from this page similar to what I was working with? Also, I shot most of the stuff with the 70-200 at 200 on the 7d handheld (I was on a skiff) and even without the gyro in rough seas it seemed I had less wobble issues than I’ve had on my own 7d. Any explanation of this?

    thanks again!

    Jeff

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    • Jeff Wright, It is the settings that I turn off in the camera that make it shine. Make sure the auto light optimizer in your camera is Disabled. Make sure that your Peripheral Illumination correct is Disabled. Highlight Tone Priority Disabled. High ISO noise reduction Disabled. The other thing is the shoulder mount and the weight. It keeps it stable and less of the vibration that add to the wobble and rolling shutter issues.

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  8. Mr. Hurlbut,

    First, your sharing of experience and knowledge is very much appreciated.

    Since I don’t have access to a high end color correction platform- speedgrade or DaVinci- what would be your recommendation for color correction software which would be accessible- currently I have access to cs5 suite with colorista- apple color, avid media composer?

    and besides your secret picture styles:)- is it possible to get the look one would want in camera only that would stand up to the big screen?

    Thank you in advance for your time.

    Hoon

    Post a Reply
    • Hoon, Thank you so much for your kind words and support. On the Marines commercial I did hardly any color correction other than a little added saturation and contrast. I did that all in CS5. Neutral Picture Style. Yes it is totally possible to get your look in camera, you have to for it to hold up on the big screen.

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  9. Thank you.- needles to say it’s awesome/priceless to have someone of your caliber to answer everyone’s questions directly.

    I look forward to all the new innovations and the learning-also watching your future endeavors.

    any advice where I may acquire any used gear for a far less than impressive budget- guess finding a legitimate source is the trick
    since I am not a “enrolled” student – official student programs are not an option

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  10. Hi Shane
    Your work and website a true inspiration. Recently bought a copy of DSLR Cinema and enjoying the case study chapters, especially making of Last 3 Minutes. I own the 7D and am trying to apply all the information I’ve read so far.
    Please advise if I am on the right path on the following.
    If I understand correctly, you advise to set up custom Picture styles for different lighting(color temperature) conditions, ie Daylight Shade, and Tungsten, and also duplicate ‘flattened’ versions of these same picture styles that you roll with when you start shooting. Am I correct?
    One recommendation that I don’t understand is for setting ‘ Highlight Tone Priority Disabled’
    My understanding is that helps preserve highlight detail in camera by underexposing the highlites a full stop and pushing the shadows, midtones up. Shouldn’t this always be turned on(except for night shooting)?
    Thanks and regards.

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  11. Shane, the information you provide is amazing. I’ve located you through multiple Google searches now on unrelated topics. But I have an issue: the Canon T2i doesn’t have a Kelvin control. I’m getting a white balance lens cap to compensate, but I haven’t seen you write anything about said accessory. Is it because you prefer full control, or because it’s necessary to sync. multiple cameras? Would you recommend an accessory like this with what I’ve got?

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    • Mark S., Thank you so much for your kind words and support, I have never used that or heard about it. If this makes your Canon T2i look amazing then go for it.

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  12. hi shane,
    do you have tested technicolor cine style and what you think about?

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  13. When you say you went back to 444 RAW cineform. What do you mean exactly? What are you doing to avoid the H.264? Sorry, I’m a novice!

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  14. Anybody know how to color correct footage shot in daylight with the white balance set to tungsten ie blue cast?
    With stills this is quite correctable but not sure how this would work with 5D footage.

    thanks

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  15. There seem to be so many recommendations on picturestyles but none on how to then work with em. After shooting with a “flat” setting, getting a big dynamic range I have problems finding tutorials on how to get the best out of that material in postproduction. Any suggestions on good settings and workflow in Final Cut Pro? As soon as I start to tweak the saturation and blacks, the exported movie really lacks the quality from the original shots… And I haven’t even dared to touch Unsharp Mask.

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  16. I’m curious about even though Adobe Premiere CS5 can edit H.264 files, is it still worth uncompressing them to 4:4:4

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  17. Shane-

    We spoke a few months ago as I was prepping a 5d/7d feature and your input was invaluable, so let me just say thanks for sharing your time and expertise. We have now locked picture and are getting ready to do our final color timing and I am most concerned with projection in a theater environment. This is a low budget project and we may not have the resources to go to one of the premiere houses for color timing-do you have any advice or wisdom to offer in terms of approaches and/or houses that do a good job with DSLR footage translating to projection on the big screen?

    Thanks very much
    Darren Genet

    Post a Reply
    • darren genet, I would call Bandito Bros. They have there own Davinci Resolve and 12 ‘ screen color bay with a 2K Christi projector. I think they will be the perfect place for you. Call Jacob Rosenberg at 310-559-5404. Tell him I sent you.

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      • thanks very much for the reply. Our producer is swinging us to i/o films and I have insisted that we at least project the film on a big screen to check our coloring in terms of noise and contrast. We are pretty low budget on this one and I’m hoping that the work we did in prep and testing will prevent any issues in final color correction. If we do run into any noise issues, what fixes would you suggest?

        thanks

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        • darren genet, Cinnafilm, check out my blog about this process. It will make your 5D footage shine. Bandito Bros bought the Dark Energy tower so they can manage your compression noise as well. They will work with your budget. Great people.

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  18. A little late to the game here as I’ve recently switched to Canon from the GH2. The flat picture profiles really do make a difference, the Panasonic has such a baked in contrast that is hard to grade. I love your advice of treating 5D like reversal stock — this concept gets lost so frequently these days.

    I have the same question as Nish above – using Premiere does it make sense to work with the H.264 files or to use a decompressor. What solution would you recommend for decompressing if so?

    Shane, thanks so much for all the information you share. You’re a gentleman and scholar.

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    • J. Nathan Evans, thank you so much for those wonderful words of support. I would have to pass that to Vashi to answer.

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      • I am interested in the same. Vashi if you could answer, I would be grateful! I am just starting to mess around with the 5DMk3 and Adobe CS5.5 using the CineStyle setting. Of course, I just downloaded CS6 Master Collection and cannot wait to start playing around with Speed Grade (and the ability to bring in LUTs), but I am wondering about workflow. Should I use Adobe Prelude to transcode the footage… will that give me more latitude? If so, what should I be trascoding to on the Mac?
        Thanks for all the information!!

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        • Hi Robert! Just saw this and wanted to get back to you. I would not transcode your 5D footage. Bring it right into Premiere and edit natively…you will get the most latitude and access to the information inside Premiere as it handles the footage in floating 32 point. Canon and Adobe worked out some very special secret recipes to make Premiere and h.264 footage work at the highest level. No transcode! Just import and edit away! I hope that helps…

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  19. Hey I just shot a shortmovie with a rented 5DMKII and going to buy the 6D for shooting my next one, but I have to say that I’m not even a student so I’m don’t have a lot of technical knowledge. Here are two questions I’ve got:

    1. I just read that you’d recommend to Premiere users to edit the native footage. Means that I shouldn’t even think about decompressing and transcoding to RAW Cineform 444 files (as I read further above)?

    2. “CineStyle” setting means I follow your discription above and create my own Picture Style, or can I download one somewhere?

    Thank you so much for your help!

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