Colour grading is the dark art of the film making process. Not too long ago it was something that had alluded me. Any films or videos I had done in the past would have been (thankfully) placed in the hands of the editor and if I was lucky, a colourist, so it was a part of the process that I was more than happy to bury my head in the sand over. In recent years, as I have began editing my own stuff more, I have started to look a little bit more at grading. Still, it was always from afar. I would have been guilty of throwing a fancy LUT on my finished video and bobs your uncle...... that's me done (wipes his hands and opens a beer).
Recently, two separate instances occurred, that made me want to explore the topic in a bit more detail, so here we are... The festivals very first blog post (first of many he says filled with hope). The first was in conversation. Someone asked me if there was anything they need to worry about when it came to editing their footage, I explained a few things but for the most part I said not to worry. This stuck with me a little because I thought, that's not necessarily true, what if they wanted to colour their footage.
The second point and maybe the one that stood out was a comment on a Facebook group about colour grading. It was a reference to using colouring to make their movie more cinematic. It echoed this sentiment I had noticed over a period about how colouring your film, particularly adding LUT's was the key to making something more "cinematic". This word is thrown around a fair bit in relation to filming with your phone and I am not quite sure exactly what it is referring to, is it the addition of black bars or the use of an anamorphic lens? For me cinematic should come from things such as your shot selection and use of lighting
From my own experience colouring footage from my phone has some limitations and you need to understand those limitations to do it effectively. Colouring is all about the quantity of the information that is being recorded and it has more to do with the type and format of the video being recorded. The less compression of a recorded file the less information you have to work with.
HOLD UP... COLOR CORRECTION OR COLOR GRADING...AND WHATS THE DIFFERENCE?
Great question (if i do say so myself)! Colouring footage is made up of a number of steps. Doing the steps in sequence goes a long way to ensuring you nail your colouring. Colour Correction is that critical first step and it's a manual process. I spoke with Richard Lackey and he summed it up in the best way.
Say you have been tasked with painting a wall in your house. The problem is the wall has various different patches of color on it. This is your uncorrected video clips editing together on your timeline. Color Correction is the process of adjusting these clips, one by one making sure they are all balanced, blacks, whites etc.
In essence, you are tweaking each patch on the wall until you get a consistent look across the whole thing. It's only when you have created a consistency that you start grading your footage (more on that later).Needless to say it's not the sexiest part of the post production process. It is manual and often times it's a step that gets missed or skipped. However there are tools to help streamline the process. Using a color checker like the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Photo can be ideal here. Including this in each shot or anytime the light changes in a scene means you are ensuring perfect adjustments every time. The important thing is to ensure you balance and expose your shot correctly. If this is off from the start then it is not the best foundation to start grading.
Check out the checker in action below;
Once you have ensured a consistency through your corrections it's time to Color grade your footage. This is where you start adding your atmosphere and tone. MAD MAX fury road is probably the most extreme example I can think of over the last few years. Grading is where you add in color to help shape the mood of your movie. Using color correctly not only adds style to your film, but also aids in setting a tone for the audience. For example horror's with their cold blues or warm romantic comedies. The color of your film goes a long way to selling the story to an audience. Your films color pallet is something that should be thought of in advance and should normally not be something that is "discovered" in post.
BUT LUT's HAVE ALL THIS COVERED...RIGHT?
LUT's (quick google search) stands for look up tables. These are a set of numbers that are "looked up" by whichever app you are using (keeping it phone) which equal a specific set of colors. With the addition of LUT's in apps like LumaFusion and the ability for people to download or create their own, LUT's have become all the rage and they are very impressive.
However, if we go back to Richards wall metaphor for a second ; say you have your wall before you have done any adjusting, all the patches are still there. If you don't make any corrections to the colors to get them to match but simply decide to add your LUT. Its like a light coating of paint. Sure you can paint the wall with it and call it a day but the underlying patchy colors will still end up sneaking through.
On the other hand if you have made your corrections and gotten everything to balance first, the addition of a LUT can add a cohesive consistency to your clips.
BUT FILMIC PRO LogV2 HAVE ALL THIS COVERED....RIGHT?
We are back to the term "cinematic" here. The general held view is that if you want your footage to look more professional, shoot it in Flat or Log. Thanks to Filmic Pro, being able to shoot in this format, is now an option for smartphone filmmakers and isn't just reserved for traditional larger camera users.
Yes Rob but what is it?
Without getting to much into the maths (because I am not very good at it) LOG means Logarithmic and essentially is a picture profile that allows you to preserve more information in your shots, in the shadows and mid tones by reducing some of the information in the highlights. You end up with a video that looks washed out but with much more information in the shadows. Shooting in this format makes it easier to add colours and detail back in post production.
Grand, I will just do that so?
Hold on not so fast! Much has been made about shooting in LOG but a quick look online will show you that their is some for and against. Shooting in log means you are removing some information from the shot assuming that you will have the knowledge, skill and tools to add it back in post production. It's not as simple as turning it on and away you go, it still requires you to nail your exposure and balance on the day of the shoot as well as understanding the complex nature of coloring. Again with most things, plan, experiment and do the leg work before committing to using it. I suppose what I am trying to say is just because you have the option doesn't mean you should. Understanding is key. If you have a particular look and style that you want to achieve for your film then go for it.
In a lot of cases nailing your exposure and white balance on the day in camera, controlling your lighting and making adjustments on set can help you accomplish your goal without having to "fix it in post production".
Want to hear from the expert, check out our PODCAST episode on the subject with Richard Lackey
Not enough for you?
Subscribe below to receive more hints and tips as well as information from the festival.