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Make your videos pop with color correction perfection

Story & Heart
July 13, 2016 by Story & Heart PRO

Color correction is a coveted thing: it’s the first step to making your footage look really, really good in post. When you perfect the process, you ensure that each shot from the same scene looks consistent with the rest, and that they all look great. The result is a video that sings in perfect harmony.

But achieving that unity is rarely easy. That’s why we enlisted the help of colorist Jordan Snider to breakdown the basics of color correction and help you achieve your ideal look and feel. Read on and glean the step-by-step insight.

Why does it matter?

Color grading gives you control over the final look of your film, and immensely ups your production value with relatively little cost or labor … well, compared to everything you just poured into the making of your film. In other words, it’s totally worth it! To get a high-quality film, you need to invest in color correction.

The step-by-baby-step process

Now that we know what color correction is, let’s break down the process. We’ll overview what to do when working your magic in Lumetri, a commonly used coloring tool that’s available in Adobe Premiere, and one that we — and Jordan — love. But if you prefer another tool, the themes below can still be of use! Let’s get to it.

First, let’s add a Lumetri effect to our shot. This will allow us to color the image however we see fit. In our case, we have a lovely scene from a local forest, but it was filmed in Log — which means that it’s kinda ugly and we need to bring it to life.

We’ll go to the Basic Correction tab, where we’ll work work our color correction magic. We’ll also open up our RGB Parade Scope so we can see what each color correction step does to our red, green, and blue color channels individually.

Now we’re going to balance the exposure, using the aptly named exposure slider. The goal is to find a good middle, meaning balanced mid-tones.

Dragging our exposure slider a little too much to the right clips our whites.

Dragging our exposure slider a little too much to the left crushes our darks.

Ahhh, just right: a nice balance between our whites and darks.

Then, adjust the highlights and shadows sliders, to either bring down the highlights or lift the shadows.

When adjusting these sliders, be mindful of your highlights to ensure no clipping occurs in your whites or solid blacks area in your darks. Remember, the goal is to find a great looking and natural image during the color correction process, and often that means keeping your whites and darks in check, just as our eyes naturally do.

Here, we bring down our highlights slider a tad to ensure we’re keeping all that data in our waterfall.

We also bring down our shadows slider to ensure our darks are falling where they should as well.

The goal is to stay within the range of your waveform monitor. This is used to measure the luminance of your images based on a scale of 0-100 IREs (a made-up unit courtesy of the International Radio Engineers society), in which 100 is blown-out brightness and 0 is dark nothingness. Once you hit 100, your image will be clipped. Once you hit 0, there is no more detail. If you want to dive into the vast world of scopes, watch this tutorial:

After tweaking your exposure, highlights, and shadows, your image may look flatter than you would like, which is where we find ourselves in this example. It’s time to add some contrast.

Adjusting the contrast slider pushes your highs up and your lows down, so take care not to get too crazy, as you just spent all this time ensuring your are within the 0-100 IRE range.

Even with adjusting highlights and shadows in the previous step, our shot could use a little more contrast. Here we slide the contrast slider to the right to add even more punch.

Now, we can move on to fiddling with colors., a.k.a., the fun part!

Start with temperature slider to adjust how warm and cool you want your colors to be. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin, and usually falls between 2500-9999 degrees. Higher temperatures are cool, lending a bluishness to your footage. Lower temperatures are warm, giving your footage a yellow-orange color.

In the case of Lumetri, sliding the temperature slider to the left will cool your footage, while sliding to the right will warm it up.

Sliding our temperature slider to the left results in a sad waterfall. :(

Sliding our Temperature slider to the right results in a happy waterfall. :)

We got the white balance correct in-camera, meaning we didn’t have to adjust our temperature in post to correct it.

No temperature slider adjustment is needed for our original shot.

But, alas, our shot is a little too green. These trees are a bit intense, even for the Pacific Northwest. This is where our tint slider comes in. Just as color can be additive, it can also be subtractive. By dragging the tint slider to magenta, it removes the green from the shot. Neat, right?

A little magenta added to our shot removes a little green.

Lastly, it’s time to add some punch to our colors by adjusting the saturation, or the amount of hue in each color. This will affect how bright or muted the colors will appear.

You can do this by adjusting the saturation slider. Shifting to the right will add more saturation, while moving left will remove saturation. Play around with it! You won’t break anything, even if things start to look weird.

And finally, a dash of saturation rounds out our color correction.

Ta-da! We have a nicely color corrected shot of a beautiful forest.

Now, all that’s left to do is repeat this process for each and every shot in our film. Easy!! Just joshin’, it can be a lot of work. But you don’t have to stress: if you’ve got a bunch of shots from the same location, you can copy and paste your Lumetri effect to all of them, saving you lots of time while still ensuring your shots look reeeeaaaaallll good.

Keep color in mind, all the time

While color correction is a post-production step, it doesn’t mean you should put off thinking about color until post.

It’s true that you can do amazing things in Lumetri, like compensate for footage that’s over or underexposed, or change a slightly too-green forest back to something realistic. Even so, it’s helpful to keep color in mind even when you’re filming. Capturing well-exposed shots with correct white balances will make your life much easier when it comes time to correct and grade them in post.

In other words, shoot your film for post. If you’re seeking a specific look, shoot some tests before production and play with them in Lumetri to ensure you can achieve the look you’re after. If not, adjust accordingly before your shoot.

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p>Have questions for us about the nitty gritty of color correction, or simply how to get started? Let us know below.

9 Comments

Becca Prins

I have a Canon 70D, which doesn't come with these features built in. Any suggestions on programs or firmware that can help with this?

Story & Heart PRO

Hey Becca,
While you can't technically film in Log with a 70D, you can import picture profiles from various creators that are pretty flat. You can also get the image pretty flat by just adjusting the picture profile settings yourself (reducing contrast, saturation, and sharpness).

That being said, you can always just shoot in whatever profile you're comfortable with and use that as your starting place for color correction / grading in Adobe Premiere (or whatever software you use to edit).

Hope that helps! :)

Marcello Della Longa

Usually post production work like this is done on a PC. On the canon you might experiment with the various profiles when shooting, you have option like neutral, technicolor etc...
The general idea is that you shoot with the profile that lets you tweak the picture so when you take the footage to the pc and put together various scenes they look consistent. Usually it is the neutral style or the normal style. Then you use the movie editor or even a dedicated grading program to tweak the color.
I use free software on linux, and have little tweaking needs so kdenlive is almost always enough (save often), there is cinepaint (never tried) for grading and cinelerra (it takes a while to get used to that one, has nice curves so transitions can be made smoother) and several others. Audacity and Ardour (with plugins like calf) for audio, ffmpeg to convert the camera footage to a better compressed version in mkv format (kdenlive seeks faster with it, also use proxy clips). Enjoy!

Dave Shaw Plus

great tutorial. super helpful. I noticed you didn't touch your whites or blacks sliders. any particular reason for that? would you consider those sliders to be part of the exposure process? thanks!

Jacob Deighton

I am using premier pro cs5. Are there any add on programs that would work like Lumiere. If not how would you do this with cs5

Bryan Wiggins Plus

If someone is already familiar with correcting and sweetening still photos, what gotchas should they look out for? (Especially if they are spoiled rotten by the latitude of RAW files.)

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