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What Is Colour Grading?

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Colour grading (sometimes referred to as colour correction) is the process in video production where the colour of video footage is enhanced through digital manipulation.

These processes are typically used to create continuity between each shot in a video.

But more increasingly, it can cover improving the aesthetics of an image, establishing stylized looks, and setting the mood of a scene through the use of colour.

Colour correction and colour grading can have slightly different meanings, but what are they?

Primary colour correction

Colour correction is the first stage. This corrects problems in the original image and ensures continuity from one shot to the next.

Original
Corrected

Perhaps scenes were captured at different times of the day or in different locations and the colours need to be tweaked so they match perfectly. Things like fixing brightness problems, setting correct black & white levels, expanding the contrast or adjusting saturation. This is done to every shot in every video.

Secondary colour grading

Once you have consistent colour across all shots with a good primary colour fix, the next step is secondary colour grading.

Original
Graded

This is where you can give a more creative look to the image. This isn’t always required, but it may include more intricate and subtle work on parts of the face such as brightening the colour of the eyes or adjusting skin tones, using gradients and masks to draw the viewers eyes to certain parts of the screen, motion tracking, or using stylistic presets called Look Up Tables (or LUTs) to give a more impactful colour effect.

The tools

To create an accurate colour grade, we use diagrams called scopes to help us interpret the colour in an image better.

There are a few types we use.

A waveform scope shows the brightness across an image, the scope shows brighter pixels near the top of the screen and darker pixels at the bottom.

Waveform scope in a colour grading session

The RGB Parade works in a similar way, but separates out the Red, Green and Blue values of an image so you can better see any inconsistencies or colour casts.

The RGB Parade in Premiere Pro

The Vector Scope helps you measure the hue and saturation of your colours.

The distance from the centre tells you how saturated the colours are and the points around the scope indicate different colours. That’s what colour bars are for as when you show colours bars on a vectorscope, it should look something like this!

A YUV Vector Scope

Colour correction and colour grading can have a huge impact on the final look of a video. It’s tempting to go overload on colour grading and throw on all the effects you can, but the best look for a film’s colour grade is one that helps tell the story.

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