The Fundamental Color Correction Tasks

In any post-production workflow, color correction is generally one of the last steps taken to finish an edited program. Color has been created to give you precise control over the look of every shot in your project by providing flexible tools and an efficient workspace in which to manipulate the contrast, color, and geometry of each shot in your program.

When color correcting a given program, you’ll be called upon to perform many, if not all, of the tasks described in this section. Color gives you an extensive feature set with which to accomplish all this and more. While the deciding factor in determining how far you go in any color correction session is usually the amount of time you have in which to work, the dedicated color correction interface in Color allows you to work quickly and efficiently.

Every program requires you to take some combination of the following steps.

  1. Stage 1: Correcting Errors in Color Balance and Exposure

    Frequently, images that are acquired digitally (whether shot on analog or digital video, or transferred from film) don’t have optimal exposure or color balance to begin with. For example, many camcorders and digital cinema cameras deliberately record blacks that aren’t quite at 0 percent in order to avoid the inadvertent crushing of data unnecessarily.

    Furthermore, accidents can happen in any shoot. For example, the crew may not have had the correctly balanced film stock for the conditions in which they were shooting, or someone may have forgotten to white balance the video camera before shooting an interview in an office lit with fluorescent lights, resulting in footage with a greenish tinge. Color makes it easy to fix these kinds of mistakes.

  2. Stage 2: Making Sure That Key Elements in Your Program Look the Way They Should

    Every scene of your program has key elements that are the main focus of the viewer. In a narrative or documentary video, the focus is probably on the individuals within each shot. In a commercial, the key element is undoubtedly the product (for example, the label of a bottle or the color of a car). Regardless of what these key elements are, chances are you or your audience will have certain expectations of what they should look like, and it’s your job to make the colors in the program match what was originally shot.

    When working with shots of people, one of the guiding principles of color correction is to make sure that their skin tones in the program look the same as (or better than) in real life. Regardless of ethnicity or complexion, the hues of human skin tones, when measured objectively on a Vectorscope, fall along a fairly narrow range (although the saturation and brightness vary). Color gives you the tools to make whatever adjustments are necessary to ensure that the skin tones of people in your final edited piece look the way they should.

  3. Stage 3: Balancing All the Shots in a Scene to Match

    Most edited programs incorporate footage from a variety of sources, shot in multiple locations over the course of many days, weeks, or months of production. Even with the most skilled lighting and camera crews, differences in color and exposure are bound to occur, sometimes within shots meant to be combined into a single scene.

    When edited together, these changes in color and lighting can cause individual shots to stand out, making the editing appear uneven. With careful color correction, all the different shots that make up a scene can be balanced to match one another so that they all look as if they’re happening at the same time and in the same place, with the same lighting. This is commonly referred to as scene-to-scene color correction.

  4. Stage 4: Creating Contrast

    Color correction can also be used to create contrast between two scenes for a more jarring effect. Imagine cutting from a lush, green jungle scene to a harsh desert landscape with many more reds and yellows. Using color correction, you can subtly accentuate these differences.

  5. Stage 5: Achieving a “Look”

    The process of color correction is not simply one of making all the video in your piece match some objective model of exposure. Color, like sound, is a property that, when subtly mixed, can result in an additional level of dramatic control over your program.

    With color correction, you can control whether your video has rich, saturated colors or a more muted look. You can make your shots look warmer by pushing their tones into the reds, or make them look cooler by bringing them into the blues. You can pull details out of the shadows, or crush them, increasing the picture’s contrast for a starker look. Such subtle modifications alter the audience’s perception of the scene being played, changing a program’s mood. Once you pick a look for your piece, or even for an individual scene, you can use color correction to make sure that all the shots in the appropriate scenes match the same look, so that they cut together smoothly.

  6. Stage 6: Adhering to Guidelines for Broadcast Legality

    If a program is destined for television broadcast, you are usually provided with a set of quality control (QC) guidelines that specify the “legal” limits for minimum black levels, maximum white levels, and minimum and maximum chroma saturation and composite RGB limits. Adherence to these guidelines is important to ensure that the program is accepted for broadcast, as “illegal” values may cause problems when the program is encoded for transmission. QC standards vary, so it’s important to check what these guidelines are in advance. Color has built-in broadcast safe settings (sometimes referred to as a legalizer) that automatically prevent video levels from exceeding the specified limits. For more information, see The Project Settings Tab.

  7. Stage 7: Adjusting Specific Elements Separately

    It’s sometimes necessary to selectively target a narrow range of colors to alter or replace only those color values. A common example of this might be to turn a red car blue or to mute the excessive colors of an article of clothing. These sorts of tasks are accomplished with what’s referred to as secondary color correction, and Color provides you with numerous tools with which to achieve such effects. For more information, see The Secondaries Room.

  8. Stage 8: Making Digital Lighting Adjustments

    Sometimes lighting setups that looked right during the shoot don’t work as well in post-production. Changes in the director’s vision, alterations to the tone of the scene as edited, or suggestions on the part of the director of photography (DoP) during post may necessitate alterations to the lighting within a scene beyond simple adjustments to the image’s overall contrast. Color provides powerful controls for user-definable masking which, in combination with secondary color correction controls, allow you to isolate multiple regions within an image and fine-tune the lighting. This is sometimes referred to as digital relighting. For more information, see The Secondaries Room and Controls in the Shapes Tab.

  9. Stage 9: Creating Special Effects

    Sometimes a scene requires more extreme effects, such as manipulating colors and exposure intensively to achieve a day-for-night look, creating an altered state for a flashback or hallucination sequence, or just creating something bizarre for a music video. In the Color FX room, Color provides you with an extensible node-based tool set for creating such in-depth composites efficiently, in conjunction with the other primary and secondary tools at your disposal. For more information, see The Color FX Room.