Color Correction Made Easy — Well, Easier

23 07 2009

Color Correction Window in Media Composer

Color Correction Window in Media Composer

One of the mystical and wonderful aspects of finishing a film is color correction where you get the opportunity to give an entire visual “feel” to your image. When I did the low budget JACK IN THE BOX, we couldn’t really afford to light every nook and cranny of the basement location in the dark, moody feel that the director wanted. In post production, using Magic Bullet Looks, among other tools, the colorist (and that was not me — my wife insists that I must be color blind when she sees what I wear to work every day) was able to put the characters into an arena of increasing panic and jeopardy.

But whenever I go into tackle color correcting some work, it’s clear that the task is not as easy as Apple or Avid would have you believe.  “Just click on the flesh tone” or “Just click on something that must be black” or “Find me the whitest part of the frame.”  Never looks right to me.

And then there’s the aspect of what I’m looking at the image on. The temptation among editors (and certainly among many of my students) is to color correct with whatever is right in front of them — often a laptop screen, or the perfectly good but not-meant-for-color-correction client monitors.

Mike Jones, over at Digital Basin, has gone a great way to helping me to understand the concepts behind color correction (or “colour grading” as he calls it). He essentially breaks the process down into three parts:

1. Impression – our visual response
This kind of grade is one designed to imprint on the mind of the viewer an element beyond the picture; to leave an impression by creating a visual response from a set of tones overlaying the image.

2. Expression – our emotional response
The Expressionist grade reflects emotional states, emotional changes and emotional journey’s.

3. Construction – our cultural response
A Constructivist grade is one that builds upon, exploits or plays with or against pre-existing knowledge the viewer may have.

This is actually a pretty good way of thinking of the process. How can we get it look right, then how can we get it to feel right, and finally how can we get it to seem right within our world. He goes into much more detail about this, including giving valuable examples, and it would be well worth a trip to his site to check it out.

He also has a link to a colorist who has a great site of his own, Kevin Shaw. The site has number of great resources for the color blind people like me. One article, From One Light to Final Grade, is a particularly good description of the entire process.

Oh, also, there is a section in my book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, in which I deal with how color and camera influence storytelling.


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One response to “Color Correction Made Easy — Well, Easier”

24 07 2009
Justin Benn (19:18:16) :

Thanks for this!

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