Color Correction is one of the most important, yet oftentimes overlooked and under-budgeted aspect of filmmaking in the non-studio market. With today’s digital cameras, professional grade color correction will make a world of difference with any type of production. The quality of today’s high-end cameras – such as the Red Epic, Red One, or Arri Alexa to name a few – is astonishing and according to some, even surpasses film. These cameras are able to acquire so much data that the images don’t look good to our eyes right out of the camera because they look too “flat” and “desaturated.” This allows an extreme amount of creative freedom in post-production but also requires a lot of time to achieve the right looks. I’ll show some visual examples below first, then explain how the color grading process can help your specific project.These are a few examples from a music video shot on Red One so you can see the possibilities of what color correction can do with high-end cameras. The first still is the shot with the camera’s default settings applied in-camera. This is how the shot would have looked during editing if no adjustments were made to the files out of the camera: It’s not a bad starting point, but the color cast is off, the contrast is a bit high, and the highlights have lost details that actually exist in the RAW file with some adjustments. By reconnecting to the RAW files when the project is handed to us, we can immediately go into the settings and re-analyze the footage to acquire the most data possible: You can already see how much more information is available to the colorist (especially around the bright lights in the background), but this image doesn’t look pretty, nor does it fit the look the DP and Director were going for. Next we did some basic adjustments to bring the contrast and saturation closer to the desired look: This image feels softer and prettier than the original RAW file out of the camera, but it’s not the look that the DP and Director are going for anymore, they want to make it cold and hyper-stylized. Using a lot of advanced techniques, we selectively adjusted different portions of the image to get this result: The director is very happy with the color palette on this shot, but the DP still isn’t completely satisfied. Here you can see where the color correction process becomes very much about creative choices sometimes over just technical adjustments. The cinematographer and director finally decide they want it just a touch edgier, and have a glossier look. After a few more layers of adjustments we land on our final image that everyone is happy with: It’s easy to see how this process is extremely time intensive, which is why many projects don’t get the treatment they deserve. Producers often overlook the importance of this step and how much it can add to your project; therefore it is not properly budgeted into production. By talking with us during the pre-production phases of your project, you can make sure it will get the love it deserves in the final, most important steps. You wouldn’t skip getting your film’s audio mixed professionally, so you shouldn’t skimp on the color correction.
Our office has calibrated monitors, high-end computer systems which offer speed and efficiency, a creative atmosphere and knowledgeable colorists that can create your look, fix problem areas, and offer creative input. Back in the days of film it was much easier to know the look of your film stock, light your scene, shoot, develop with the process that fits your look, and print with minimal adjustments and everything would look fantastic. However, there still wasn’t much control outside of your choice of lighting during the shoot and basic color adjustments after-the-fact. Nowadays, digital cameras have an endless number of in-camera settings that can get overwhelming during shooting and is a headache to try to adjust on the fly – which would also slow production down too much.
Documentaries are run-and-gun most of the time and you typically just “get what you get.” Many music videos want hyper-real, stylized, magazine-cover looks that would be impossible to achieve purely in-camera. This is where color correction comes into play. I’ll break down a few different media types and explain how color correction can better your project. Documentaries are typically shot with a number of different types of cameras on different days, with unpredictable lighting scenarios. Sometimes to get the shot you need, you just start rolling, and end up with blown out highlights, bad color balance, etc, but the shot might be absolutely necessary for the story and you must use it in your film regardless of the video’s quality. Doing a basic color pass can help these situations. You don’t want the color and feel shifting all over the place from image to image, thus taking the viewer out of the story.
By doing even basic balancing, you can remedy this by having a consistent look from edit to edit, regardless of the day, location, or lighting scenario of each shot. Additionally, by using advanced color grading techniques, we can use a program such as Davinci Resolve to make multiple passes and recover highlights, fix color cast issues, or even change the color of certain elements.
In narratives and music videos, the cinematographer will have spent a lot of time working with each department (director, production designer, wardrobe, etc.) trying to establish a very deliberate look. Sometimes due to budget, or limitations of the set, camera, or sometimes just creatively, they cannot achieve the exact look in camera. Color correction allows the DP and director to sit in and fine-tune very specific adjustments to make their vision really come to life how they wanted it. It will also help keep shots matching consistently as described above, or fix problem shots that were rushed on set.
We hope you have gained a better understanding of the importance of color correction through this write-up and can see the difference it can make to your project. If you are still unsure, take a look at our color correction demo reel HERE. Go to the contact page here to get us involved in your project early on to keep a smooth, efficient workflow from capture through finished output.