Why Color Grading Doesn’t Take Five Minutes

Color grading is an integral part of video production projects, but don’t save it for the last minute. This is why it takes longer than you think to get it right.

Tacking on a color grade in the last few minutes before the video is shipped off to the client is not only lazy, it overlooks one of the most important parts of the video, how it makes the viewer feel. In my last blog I went over the 5 Reasons You Need a Colorist. if you haven’t already, take a few minutes and take a look at it so we are all on the same page. Alright now that we all agree colorists are very important and you need one, let me tell you why it won’t take them five minutes to make magic happen.

I’m going to deconstruct some of the color grades I posted in the last article so you can see just how much time each shot took to work through. The first shot has a couple layers that make up the final look, first I put in the base look for the video, then to get it to match the other shots I brought up the exposure. I like when our DP shoots slightly under exposed outside, because this preserves the most detail in the highlights. I can often bring detail up out of the shadows, but it’s very difficult to bring something back that looks natural from over exposure.

This is the untouched S-log2 footage from a Sony FS7 as you can see it’s really flat but has a lot of dynamic range. You can see detail in the highlights on the boat as well as the shadows on the jetski.


The first step is to put quick base grade on the video. This usually has the beginnings of our look, I adjust the tone curve, bring up the shadows a little, and pull the highlights down a little so that you get a some more dynamic range out of the video.


Next I pull up the exposure and adjust the color balance, to match the other shots. This was a very stylized video and needed to look like fun in the sun, the way this was achieved was through adding some golden yellow in the midtones and highlights while moving the shadows to the blue range to make the overall video appear more like a beautiful sunny afternoon. When you move your shadows a little bit into the blue range you can get away with adding a little more yellow to the highlights while the overall image still looks balanced and believable.


The last step is to add some fill and highlight our subject, this is a subtle difference that not every shot needs, but in most cases I like to add a touch of a highlight to the subject of the shot, this keeps your eye focused on what’s important.


This video was shot during sunset on a cloudy day, and we needed it to look and feel like a romantic sunset cruise. The base S-log2 footage straight from the Sony FS7 had so much potential, and I couldn’t wait to get started.


Like before, I start by flattening the color by bring the shadows and highlights closer to the midtones. You can see some of the orange and pink trying to come through in the clouds but right now it’s just not cutting it. No one would believe this is a luxury sunset cruise.


So next I add my base sunset look the which has the tone curve and, small adjustments in the color balance and the vignette.


For the next step I adjust the color balance in the Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows again ramping up the golden yellow-orange tones in the Highlights and Midtones while moving the Shadows to a cooler blue tone to keep balance in the shot. The subjects in this look pretty good but it still looks like a cloudy day.


My last step in this case is to make a secondary color mask, to change the clouds in the middle of the background to look more of a pleasant sunset orange. it’s very important to remember how light falls when making a secondary like this one. If his shirt or the reflections on the water stayed as they were before it wouldn’t sell the look of a sunset.


For a colorist each step should only take a few minutes, depending on complexity of the shot and what needs to be done. However color is very specialised and not something that should be left up to chance, or tacked on last minute.

At ECG we cover all kinds of services, from preproduction to post and If you would like to learn more about our color grading services you can check out our color services page, or send me a quick email at jenn@ecgprod.com.

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