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15 essential color-editing terms, defined

November 28, 2016 by Amy Staff

We left you with a bit of cliffhanger in our intro to color editing: specifically, we promised a list of additional terminology defined. Cliffhanger no more! The reason this stuff is so important is that your film’s coloring conveys particular themes or assists in the flow of the narrative. It can save you time and headaches to know from the get-go what visual tone and aesthetic you’re going for. Let’s review color correcting and color grading as a foundation, then we’ll dive into some key terms regarding color editing.

Color correction is the process of altering the overall color of an image (usually balancing out the white and black levels) so there’s a consistent color temperature throughout the entire film — and thus, a consistent look for the story. This is done prior to any color grading, as the actual raw footage needs to be “corrected” so it matches how the human eye sees things.

Color grading, as an optional second step, provides a specific visual style for the film. This can utilize elements of basic color correction, but is taken further. This seriously alters the color of the film to match a particular mood, tone, or theme. Take horror films: often, they feature a low-saturated, cool hue to them, making the video that much scarier to the viewer.

Additive color is color that has been created by combining colors, specifically red, blue and green, which are the primary colors of the additive color system.

Black level is the level of brightness at the darkest part of the video, resulting in what the human eye perceives as black.

Chrominance (or chroma) is the color information within each shot, such as hue and saturation.

Color cast is when the coloring of a shot doesn’t look natural, as a result of either a variety of light sources being mixed, or the white balance being incorrect.

Color gamut is the entire range of colors and brightness that can be displayed on a device. It’s important for a colorist to stay within this scope.

Contrast ratio is the difference between the lightest pixels and the darkest pixels within a shot. The bigger the difference, the larger the ratio. 

Dynamic range is the range between the maximum and minimum light intensities (total white and total black). Knowing this allows you to preserve the relationship between the black and white levels when you’re adjusting the luminance of your video.

Gamma is the overall brightness of an image — but specifically it’s the relationship between a pixel’s numerical value and its actual luminance.

Hue is the pure spectrum color (e.g., red, blue, green), defined by the dominant wavelength. It describes the color at its most saturated.

Luminance (or luma) is the brightness information of a color, ranging from white to black (and all the grays in between). However, it does not include any chroma (remember that term from above??), a.k.a. color information.

Saturation is the intensity of a hue, or how “colorful” a shade might be, varying between its fullest form to no color at all.

Temperature is the warmth or coolness of the shot’s color. For example, blues and purples are on the cooler end, while reds and oranges are on the warmer end.

White balance is the process of removing any color casts from your shot, so that all of the whites in an image are represented exactly as the human eye would perceive white. Unless you’re shooting RAW, it’s important that you get the white balance right in camera. If your white balance is way off, it’s hard to correct it without altering other colors in your shot or degrading the overall image quality.

While studying these terms on flash cards might help you pass a pop quiz or two, take your newfound knowledge and start color correcting your videos in this lesson from our pals Story & Heart. Or, simply tuck this list in your back pocket to keep in mind when you’re out shooting.

Color editing itself is an extremely helpful means of not only establishing the visual aesthetic of the film, but helping fix anything color-related that may have happened during production. However, don’t let the “We’ll fix it in post!” mentality get in the way of being proactive about the coloring of your film. Perhaps you were planning to create a black-and-white video. Why leave it to the colorist? You can utilize your in-camera color and image settings, or take capitalize on the subject matter, like this filmmaker did in their “personal response to treating black and white as an editing afterthought”:



Is this going to be a mauving experience?
Or are we going to learn about the divisions in the butter industry, known as the 50 grades of Shea? Possibly, learning about the gradations occurring in cooking pots...the pan tones?
How to define and list chocolate morsels, known as the chip chart?
Or, maybe we will learn about the making of small cheese tidbits using the fraction grating?

Bruce Birnbaum PRO

Good stuff as usual, but I don't agree regarding shooting B&W. I'm a believer in always trying to get it right in-camera the best you can and avoiding the "Fix it in Post" mentality, but to me, B&W falls into the category of Color Grading. By shooting in B&W you have no options to return to color if desired... Why not just shoot it "normal" and try to get it right in other aspects, but leave the Grading process for post? I normally shoot in RAW or C-Log 2 or similar. I'm open and willing to learn new ideas about this since I also love B&W! :)

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