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An Introduction to Color Correction

Sam Morrill
January 26, 2011 by Sam Morrill Staff

For many creators, color correction (also known as color grading) is the last step in the process before a video is completed. Although the raw video taken from your camera may look good already or at least perfectly passable, color correction provides an excellent opportunity for you to make your video look even better.

This lesson will show you three different methods for color correcting your video. The first two show you how to use color correction to subtly touch up your video in Final Cut Pro and After Effects. The third video shows you how to use the popular plug-in Magic Bullet Looks to stylize your video.

Final Cut Pro includes a 3-way color corrector that allows you to adjust the whites, mid-tones and blacks in your video. This can be a very handy and straightforward tool to correct your video’s white balance and flesh tones. Zach King from made this tutorial to get you started:

For a slightly more precise method to color correct your video, Adobe After Effects is a good solution. After Effects allows you to isolate your video’s red, green and blue channels to make very precise changes to your video’s color palate. This method is a bit more labor intensive, but the results are well worth the effort. Michael DeVowe has put together this tutorial:

Last, but not least, there is Magic Bullet Looks. This is a very popular plug-in for various applications, including Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere, that gives you powerful tools for color correction within a very user-friendly interface. It also includes a ton of presets that you can use to instantly achieve certain looks like vintage film, sepia, etc. Philip Bloom put together this video tutorial for using Magic Bullet looks, which has gotten more than 400k views so far. Enjoy:

There are varying degrees to which you can color correct your video. On one hand, you can use color correction solely to make the colors in your video appear more accurate. On the other hand, color correction can serve as yet another tool to express yourself creatively. Similar to a good soundtrack, well-colored video can complement and help set the mood of the story that you are trying to tell. In the film ‘Traffic’, Stephen Soderbergh used three unique color schemes to distinguish the three different story lines in that film, one taking place in Mexico, one in Washington DC and another in Southern California. One other good example is ‘Saving Private Ryan’, which used a washed out color palate to convey to the bleakness of World War II. Lots of World-War II videos on Vimeo now emulate this look, which Spielberg popularized. Marlon Torres's, 'The Bridge', is one such film that hearkens back to this style:

*E***For extra credit:** Keep the tone of your video in mind as you edit. Does the feeling change from one scene to another? Try changing the color palate to reflect the mood you're trying to achieve.

Ready for a challenge?

Try color correcting a 1-3 minute video and then create a splitscreen comparing the color corrected video with the raw video as demonstrated here.

Accept this challenge


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