What Is Colour Grading?

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 create continuity between each shot in a video.

But increasingly, colour grading improves the aesthetics of an image, establishes stylized looks, and sets 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 in fixing the colour of an edit. It corrects problems in the original image and ensures visual continuity from one shot to the next.

Scenes may have been captured at different times of the day or in different locations. If so, the colours may 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.

Secondary colour grading gives 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.

  • Brightening the colour of the eyes
  • Adjusting skin tones
  • Using gradients and masks to draw the viewer’s eyes to certain parts of the screen
  • Motion tracking
  • Using stylistic presets called Look Up Tables (or LUTs) to give a more impactful colour effect

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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. Here are some examples using stills from an award-winning short film I shot and edited.

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. This is very useful for checking if there are any ‘hotspots’ in the image, such as a bright sky or harsh light. 

Waveform scope in a colour grading session

The RGB Parade works in a similar way, but separates out the Red, Green and Blue values. This way. any inconsistencies or colour casts are easier to spot.

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. The points around the scope indicate different colours. 

A YUV Vector Scope

Colour correction and colour grading can greatly impact the final look of a video. It’s tempting to go overboard on colour grading and throw on all the effects you can,  but this isn’t always the best (or most attractive!) approach. A perfect colour grade helps tell the film’s story. 



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