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7 Tips for HD Color Correction and DSLR Color Correction

Color correction is just one step of the entire filmmaking process…but oh, what a difference it can make. You can take average footage and really make it pop, sing and enhance the viewing experience of your project. If you have excellent footage, then the sky is the limit. You can also make images look garish, ugly and destroy all the hard work the crew did to capture those images on the day of the shoot. The challenges and choices are many and it comes with great responsibility if you are the one applying the Color Correction and Color Grade. In the indie film world, jobs are more often merged and unified and Color Correction is more and more falling into the hands of the Editor. The smaller the budget and tighter the deadline…the more often this becomes true. Shane asked me to take this opportunity and pass on some tips and tricks I have learned over the years of Coloring features, shorts, ads, music videos and documentaries. I choose to use Adobe CS5.5 for my Color post work and bounce between After Effects, Photoshop and Premiere as I love the seamless integration it provides. I am ecstatic to be integrating Speedgrade into my workflow as it will be part of the upcoming CS6 release. That said…the tips I would like to share with you are applicable to all Color Correction software.

To get on the same page, let’s quickly go over some terminology that clarifies what is what in this realm.

COLOR CORRECTION is the process where every clip is manually tweaked to get a good exposure and balance of light. Each clip is adjusted to match color temperature to a predefined choice for each scene. This tedious and mechanical process is essential and in its own way, an art form. The use of SCOPES (Waveform, Vectroscope, Parade) is critical to this step and luckily most NLE’s and Grading software have them built-in. Without them you are literally flying blind and solely trusting your eyes, which have to adjust to room light ambience, fatigue, funky monitors and other factors constantly. Trust the SCOPES and let them guide you into accurate and creative decision making.

COLOR GRADING is the creative process where decisions are made to further enhance or establish a new visual tone to the project through software including: introducing new color themes, re-lighting within a frame, films stock emulations, color gradients and a slew of other choices. Being that this is purely creative, there is no wrong or right…only what the DP, director and colorist feel is appropriate for the story. It can be subtle and invisible or over-the-top and uber-stylized. Therein lies the challenge…The challenge of choices. The tools available are so numerous, powerful and often free (Davinci Resolve Lite!) that you have no excuse not to explore these options further before you embark on the Grading journey.

LIFT-GAMMA-GAIN / SHADOWS-MIDTONES-HILIGHTS / BLACKS-MIDS-WHITES
These are the three interchangeable assignments used to describe what portion of the image you will be working with. Every program uses one of the 3 naming conventions above, but in essence they are all the same. Even when working with LEVELS or CURVES, you rely on numericals but still have 3 sliders (at least) to make your adjustments. With these 3 controls, you can mold images almost at will.

There are so many different elements to Color Correction that trying to fit it all into one blog would be futile. I would like to focus on several specific tips that will allow the indie filmmaker to be as effective as possible in creating imagery that will help serve the story. I would like to thank Michael Evanet, the director of “HWY”, for allowing me to share his footage for this blog. I just finished editing and Color Correcting his film.

TIP #1 – SHOOT WITH A FLAT OR LOG PROFILE
Shane has learned over his extensive research and testing of every profile available that choosing a flat profile will allow you to capture as much information as possible into the camera. When I shoot on the Canon 5D mkii, I like to use Technicolor Cinestyle or Canon Neutral with minimal sharpness and contrast. I’m also about to test the Similaar Flaat profiles that just became available in four different flavors. The camera companies often have stock profiles that look contrasty and rich in camera but when analyzed on a monitor, you will have crushed blacks and blown-out highlights. That is information that is gone forever and you cannot get it back. We, as filmmakers with the tools in our hands, cannot accept stock anything! Just as auto anything on the camera is a recipe for disaster, stock profiles are for rank amateurs. Tweak away!

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

TIP #2 – TRUST THE WAVEFORM, VECTROSCOPE and PARADE SCOPES
In PREMIERE, go to the WINDOW tab and choose WORKSPACE and COLOR CORRECTION. Push the little RGB BUTTON on the bottom right of any window. This will reveal the SCOPES and more.  Waveform=Luminance. Vectroscope=Chrominance. Parade=Red,Green,Blue values. I can’t stress enough how critical and essential it is to use these tools. Once you embrace the SCOPES, you will be confident to plow through footage and have instant visual feedback to confirm you are making the right decisions. I won’t broach the calibrated monitor issue that is always lurking ($$$) and will just say that understanding and trusting the SCOPES will get you 95% of the way home. Grab a Matrox Mini and use that to calibrate any LCD TV if you’re in a pinch. This includes finishing projects for broadcast or passing QC for distribution.  I’ve on-lined four indie features on Final Cut Pro using only SCOPES that all passed QC the first time around.  I was sweating bullets…but survived! Adobe makes it even easier for me now.

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

TIP #3 – ORDER OF OPERATIONS
To maintain image quality and to preserve as much info as possible, it’s important to do things in the proper order.  Just as you wouldn’t ice a cake before you bake it, when you apply an effect is critical.  I have always achieved great results using Stu Maschwitz’s advice. Doing Color Correction on your footage in this order will help you maintain extremely high quality in the interaction of all the effects you use.  Not all steps are needed for every shot but in case you have to use them all, here they are:

1. Remove artifacts and de-noise.
2. Balance your shots by adjusting BLACKS/MIDS/WHITES, SATURATION and WHITE BALANCE.
3. Relight within a shot using power windows or masks.
4. Add gradients, diffusion and other lens filters.
5. Add vignettes
6. Grade your images
7. Simulate a film stock of your choice
8. Resize and sharpen

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

TIP #4 – THE FAST COLOR CORRECTER EFFECT in PREMIERE is 32 BIT, EASY AND EFFECTIVE
This video effect is a great starting point to tackle any shot. This one effect will allow you in REAL-TIME to address levels, saturation, tinting of the image, white balance and more. The shot below shows how I added contrast by raising the input black slider and lowering the white input slider. I used the color wheel and dragged towards orange to counteract the blue in the original image. You can also use the White Balance dropper to achieve an accurate starting point…but I preferred in this case to Tint the whole image towards orange and approximate a 1950’s film look.  I boosted saturation by a healthy 40% to make the image pop. Finally, a 2.35 matte was added to approximate the old Cinemascope aspect ratio.

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

TIP #5  -  ADJUST YOUR LIFT/SHADOWS/BLACKS FIRST
By adjusting your BLACKS first, you get a baseline started to balance your image. I like working from the bottom up and getting my BLACKS just kissing 0 IRE on the WAVEFORM. I then push the WHITES up to expand my image and get some contrast into it. Finally, I tweak the MIDS as needed. You will notice that moving the BLACKS or WHITES up or down will affect the entire WAVEFORM so there is a give and take dance as you work back and forth. MIDS do not affect the BLACKS or WHITES too much and that is why you should work with them last. Lastly, if you raise MIDS, you will lose overall saturation to the image, so compensate by bumping up the SATURATION to keep the colors popping.

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

TIP #6 - MIDS ARE WHERE FACES LIVE
MIDS are where the skin tones live and you can really make a face pop by raising the MIDS after you have a good balanced image. Sometimes it feels easy to raise the EXPOSURE in Premiere or After Effects to brighten a face or scene…but that raises all the levels evenly and will ultimately not be as effective as separately adjusting the 3 zones. A good IRE for a properly exposed face is 60-70 IRE on the WAVEFORM.  If you raise the MIDS too much, you will introduce the beast of digital noise, so use judicially!

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

TIP #7 – Look for the FLESH LINE on the VECTROSCOPE to see how far off your skin tone is. On the 3-Way Color Corrector effect, or on a plug-in like Colorista, you can change the specific zone of color where the flesh tones live. By adjusting the color of the MIDS wheel you can introduce the proper hues into a face that need tweaking. Move the wheel in the direction of the color you need more of in your face. Watch the section of skin tone move until it lines up with FLESH LINE. An interesting note is that the FLESH LINE is accurate for all races and skin tones. We all share the same skin pigment that registers as numeric FLESH color. Proper WHITE BALANCING earlier will make this a minor but still important adjustment.  If you are going for a natural look, no one likes a pink, red or green face. SATURATION should be dialed in at this point to give a natural look to the flesh tone. Here’s a subtle example of adjusting for skin…and an overt example for comparison.  Neither is right or wrong….it’s all up to what feels right for that moment.

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

Click the image to view high resolution.

I hope that I was able to pass on some helpful knowledge and that you learned at least one thing you didn’t know before you read this. There are infinite ways to approach Color Correction and the best thing is…no one way is the best. You don’t need every plug-in known to man, a 4k projector and a $20,000 control surface to color correct. You only need time, the simplest effects and a sense of wonder and excitement. Feel free to push the footage around and see how it responds. What may look like a mistake on one shot could be the secret sauce you need for a completely different shot. Experiment and enjoy!

VASHI NEDOMANSKY

To inquire about my editing and post services or if you have any questions, please contact me at:

vashi@me.com
310.526.1400
www.vashivisuals.com

Author: Vashi

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250 Comments

  1. Hi Dear Vashi,

    A big thank you for your sweet tutorial. It’s very helpful. I have a question if you don’t mind. I shot a shortfilm with my canon 5d mark ii and I happened to notice now that I’m editing it, that many of my shots are very noisy. Do you have a tip for me? It’s amazing how noisy my shot are, when I’m trying to correct that in color correction step in avid MC, I want to kill myself. Everything seems so dirty. I tried to use BCC noise reduction plugin with the sharpen option but I don’t get very good result. Please, give some tip. And thanks again for your site. French guy living in Rome. ;-)

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Nour and thank you for the kind comment. I would love to try and you help you out with your noise issue. I’ve shot over a hundred projects using the Canon 5D mkii and using Shane’s guidelines and advice…I almost never have any noise. If you could share with me the settings you used (picture style, settings for sharpen,contrast,saturation,color) and also the ISO that you shot with…I would have a better idea of what might be giving you the noise. My two favorite Noise Reductions plugins that I use are NeatVideo and Magic Bullet Denoiser II. Shane also recommends the Dark Energy plugin (he has posted on it here on his website) that he used on Act of Valor to clean up all the 5D mkii footage and match it to film. Feel free to post your camera settings and more info here…or email me directly at vashi@me.com with screengrabs to show me what you are dealing with. All the best! Vashi Nedomansky – VashiVisuals.com

      Post a Reply
      • Hi Vashi, thank you for your answer… I will send you an email briefly to explain to you all. Thank you so much for wanted to help. Talk to you soon.

        Post a Reply
        • Hi Vashi,

          I sent you an email, I’m not sure you got it… Let me know. Thank you. Best!

          Post a Reply
      • Solid information. I wish I was hip to this when I started learning color grading as it would have saved me some time.

        Post a Reply
  2. I’m a graphic designer student and I want to create HD videos quality, this tutorial will help me with my semester project, thnx 4 the info!

    Erwin.

    Post a Reply
    • My pleasure Erwin! Thank you for the kind words and best of luck in your projects!

      Post a Reply
      • Hi vashi,
        I loved your tips and they really solved a lot of problems I was facing since I’ve started using divinci resolve only few months back. I have a question if you don’t mind answering.
        Ok so once we color correct using scopes and lift the highlights to the top and touch the black to the bottom and balance the whit Well what’s the point of all this if we are simply going to play around randomly with the same values later to get that final grade look which involves often bringing the highlights down adding a tint meaning destroying the white balance. Hope you got the question and would love your take on this :)
        Regards,
        Zohaib

        Post a Reply
  3. I love the blog post, I’d have to say that color correcting is the hardest part of finishing the film process to me. I would love a post elaborating on the steps/order of color correcting/grading. like a breakdown of the best techniques for each.

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  4. hi vashi, your tips are great, thanks so much for this.
    but i recommend you to make a tutorial video on this, so that people who are new to this can understand more clearly.

    Post a Reply
  5. Guys can i ask to you why you professional use everybody Premiere and after effect?! so i’m in the video world just from one year, i’m feeling good with Fcpx everything there is more fast of the other NLE (for me) , but i don’t want lost some point for learning much possible!
    so what do you think?
    thanks
    Luca

    Post a Reply
    • luca, Premiere and After effects is a far superior editing platform, that is why. Color correction, etc.

      Post a Reply
  6. Hi Vashi!!
    I’m so grateful for this article, it’s full of simple and effective tips. However is like to ask you! What do you recommend me? FCPX+DaVinci? (This is what I’ve been using, as Final Cut’s color correction tools are obviously not enough) or just the Adobe set of software? And why!

    Thanks in advance!

    Post a Reply
  7. Hello,
    Great tutorial. I am a newbie. I have a question maybe out of this topic. I dont really know what is the best setting for 5d mark ii for shooting a flat profile.
    My dslr setting for shooting is:
    1. PAL 25fps
    2. White Balance (auto)
    3. Picture style
    – Sharpness 0
    – Contrast -4
    – Saturation -4
    – Color Tone -4
    4. Shutter Speed 1/50

    What is the best setting for 5D MK2 for shooting flat profile?

    Post a Reply
    • Abdullah,
      My dslr setting for shooting is:
      1. PAL 25fps
      2. Use your WB function Day ext 5200K, Tungsten based lighting 3400K
      3. Picture style
      – Sharpness 0
      – Contrast -4
      – Saturation -1
      – Color Tone -0
      4. Shutter Speed 1/50

      Post a Reply
  8. Hi Vashi Thanks For share color grading knowledge i like and enjoy working

    Post a Reply
  9. Hi,
    How do you get that nice warm look for the girl in the last image? I would love to use that in my wedding films, although I think a softer, less contrasty look would go better with weddings. What is your opinion? Crashed look or softer less saturated for wedding filmmaking?
    Many thanks,
    G

    Post a Reply
  10. Hi Vashi

    This is a good tutorial that I have seen. You illustrate nicely HD color correction and DSLR color correction with appropriate image. It will help any graphics designer very much.

    Post a Reply
  11. My pleasure Flain! Thanks for taking the time to read it.

    Post a Reply
  12. Hi, saw your article on grading, excellent thanks!
    Just a couple of questions…
    Do you always de noise and what plugin/ program do you use for that?
    Also do you always sharpen at the end? And Once again what do you use?
    Ive been using the flat profile  from marvels adfa for my dslr work wich is good for grading, ive hust never been in the habbit of  post sharpening, have I been doing myself a disservice?

    Thanks
    Peter

    Post a Reply
  13. Thanks for the questions Peter. Glad you enjoyed my post!

    For my denoising work I use either Red Giant’s Denoiser 2 plug-in or Neat Video plug-in After Effects. They are both solid options and can really save your footage from artifacts, blocky dark areas and general digital grain patterns. I use denoising on a shot by shot basis…not on every shot.

    I usually add some sharpening with DSLR footage (5Dmkii). Every NLE has either a sharpen or unsharp mask filter effect. In my editing software of choice, Adobe Premiere CS6…I use the unsharp mask filter that one of the most knowledgable and accomplished gurus, Stu Maschwitz, has recommended…especially for DSLR footage. I use Unsharp Mask: Amount=120 and Radius=1.1 as an excellent starting point to pop the footage.

    My other choice for sharpening is using the “Pop” setting in Colorista II and dialing it up as needed. It adds nice contrast to give perceived additional sharpness and can be used in both the positive and negative direction to sharpen or soften.

    In terms of picture profiles…I like the Neutral setting that Shane recommends and also use Cinestyle from Technicolor for extreme contrast situations. I try to get it as close to final image in camera.

    I hope this helps you out…

    all the best,

    Vashi

    Post a Reply
  14. Hi Vashi,

    Should I apply de-noisier to the native 5Dmk 3 clips in the Premiere cs6 timeline before I “send to speed grade” ? Then reimport the new dpx files into the timeline for final adjustments (ie. mojo and sharpening)?

    Why would denoising after speedgrade be less optimal?

    And on a side note: Can I approximate Mojo style looks within Speedgrade, using secondaries? As I feel that that would be more ideal than re-grading the dpx sources with MB-Mojo.

    Thanks,
    Basil

    Post a Reply
  15. Hi Basil…here’s the way I would do it. I always denoise first on the source footage so I can have a clean start to add my color corrections, grade and fx. I find that if I add all the additional color and curves then denoise after..I can introduce additional noise into the original image and it can be harder to remove at the end. Just my choice.

    You can approximate most any look in Speedgrade including the Mojo style. You can do it with secondaries to isolate the skin tone and boost the flesh tones…or you can do it on a separate node in Speedgrade and apply mid boost to orange and lows towards blue/green to get that look.

    The good thing is you have many different choices and methods to accomplish your goal. Good luck!

    Post a Reply
  16. Thanks for the repost and your support! Glad you enjoyed the article…All the best.

    Post a Reply

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