Are you bored yet?
A great color-grade is what separates a good image from an amazing one and learning just a few simple principles can take you far in this nerdy never-land.
So, ready for some un-geeked color principles? Here they are:
It’s all relative.
What matters most for film-makers is that our brains see colors in the context of their surrounding, not what they actually are.
Take Kiefer Sutherland here. His skin is actually green, but our brains are telling us that it’s totally appropriate because of the surrounding colors. If you’re really interested, read Stu Machwitz’s post on memory colors.
If you’ve seen a movie where you thought the colors looked great, it’s probably because the colorist limited the color pallet in each frame to its basic complimentary colors, that is, each color’s color wheel opposite.
Which means if what you’re producing has people in it, you don’t have a lot of options. Your color pallet should more or less consist of pinkish-orange (skin tone) and tealy blue.
Typically, pinkish-orange is added to the highlights of an image and tealy blue to the shadows. Just about every Hollywood blockbuster uses these complimentary colors.
Especially if you shoot DSLR using available light, your shots don’t always match in exposure or white balance. The true “correcting” of color correction is just that: compensating and adjusting for shifting light (or pick-ups).
Order of Operations:
What you do first matters. In color-grading, if you put a vignette on an image to adjust the brightness after you’ve shifted the shadows, midtones, and highlights, you’ve really re-defined what your shadows are making your previous color-grade irrelevant.
Here is the order of operations I use to ensure consistency.
- Match. Make sure your white balance and exposure are the same shot-to-shot scene-to-scene.
- Relight. Usually this means boosting the exposure on the subject and pulling down the background a little bit with a vignette.
- Color. Pick your color palette or look for each scene and push your colors there (i.e. shadows to teal, highlights to orange).
- Saturate. Or rather, desaturate. I usually pull saturation from the skin-tones and go back and push my color a little harder.
- Hue. If I want the scene or shot to have an overall color- warm or cool, I do that here.
- Re-Match. Make sure that your adjustments haven’t messed up your exposure etc.
And the most important principle of all…
Looks Good = It Is Good:
No color-grade is better than a bad color-grade. The better the image you shoot, the less you will have to color-correct.
What’s your approach to color-grading/color correction?