The Final Cut Pro Color Correction Process

As mentioned earlier, color correction has several goals. To outline the process of color correction, this section focuses on two of those goals:

Every video project consists of a series of scenes. Although scenes may differ in color and tone—one scene taking place at night, the next one happening in the midday sun—all the shots within a given scene should match. The goal is to make sure that the transitions from shot to shot within a scene are smooth. If one shot is brighter or redder than the one next to it, the result can be similar to a jump cut, distracting the viewer and making your project look unprofessional.

The overall process of color correcting different shots in a scene to match one another involves five stages.

  1. Stage 1: Picking the Master Shot of a Scene to Use as the Basis for Color Correction

    If you’re color correcting a scene consisting of a single shot, your job is pretty easy. All you need to do is find the settings that work best for that one shot. Most scenes, however, cut between a variety of different shots, such as close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots. In every scene, there is usually a single wide shot that encompasses the entire scene, called a master shot. Traditionally, the master shot is the first shot that is taken for a scene, and it is used as the basis for that scene. After the master shot, you’ll typically use a series of medium shots and close-ups. These other shots are called coverage, because they’re often used to cover different edits made in the scene.

    When you color correct a scene, you begin with the master shot, because that’s usually the establishing shot of your scene. Using the master shot as the basis, you can then make the colors of the coverage shots match those of the master.

  2. Stage 2: Performing Primary Color Correction

    Primary color correction refers to two basic steps that you take using one of the Final Cut Pro color correction filters. After you apply the Color Corrector or Color Corrector 3-way filter, you’ll perform two steps:

    • Adjust the blacks and whites to maximize the contrast of your clip.

      Essentially, you’re mapping the blackest black in your clip to a value of 0 and the whitest white to a value of 100. By doing this first, you widen the range that an underexposed image covers, or bring down overly bright (or super-white) areas of overexposed video into the range considered to be broadcast-safe.

    • Use the appropriate color balance controls of the color correction filter to make adjustments to the balance of reds, greens, and blues in your shot.

      As you make these adjustments, you’ll want to view your clip on your broadcast video monitor as well as check the clip’s luma and chroma levels in the Video Scopes tab to make more informed modifications.

  3. Stage 3: Adding Additional Color Correction as Necessary

    It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do everything with a single application of a color correction filter. For example, if you can’t get the colors in both the dimly lit areas and the highlights of your clip right with a single filter, focus only on the dimly lit area. You can then adjust the highlights with a second application of a color correction filter.

    The way this works is that each color correction filter has a set of Limit Effect controls that you can use to isolate a region of your clip based on color, luma, saturation, or any combination of the three. The Limit Effect controls work in much the same way as a chroma or luma keyer, except that instead of keying the color out, they limit the effect of the color correction filter to just that area. This way, you can target the green grass, the highlights in the trees, and the red lipstick of an actor in the scene with three separate filters, giving you an extremely fine level of control over your image.

  4. Stage 4: Adding Other Filters to Address Specific Needs

    After you’ve finished adding all the color correction filters necessary, you may find yourself with some additional issues to resolve. Perhaps you can’t correct certain areas of your clip without introducing unwanted color into the shadows or highlights. In this case, you can use an additional filter, the Desaturate Highlights or Desaturate Lows filter, to correct this quickly and easily. In another example, you may have discovered that the combination of filters you’re using forces the chroma or luma to extend into levels illegal for broadcast. In this situation, you can use the Broadcast Safe filter to bring down the offending parts of the picture to acceptable levels.

  5. Stage 5: Matching the Coverage of the Scene to the Master Shot

    Once you’ve finished defining the look of the master shot in your scene, you can move on to the rest of the shots. It’s easy to copy the settings of the color correction filters you’re using to other pieces of the same master shot that you may have used in the same scene. For example, if you cut back to the master shot five times in your scene, you can simply copy the filters from the first piece of the master shot you corrected to all other instances used in your sequence.

    As you move into the coverage shots used in the scene, you’ll probably repeat stages 2 through 4 for each shot. You can compare each new shot with the master shot that you corrected, switching back and forth rapidly to compare the look of one clip with that of the other. By comparing the clips’ values on the video scopes, you’ll see how you need to adjust the color correction filters you apply to make the clips’ color, blacks, and whites match as closely as possible.

    Remember, once you finish correcting one segment of a given clip, you can apply those same settings to all other segments in that scene from the same clip. If you apply multiple color correction filters to one clip, you can also apply them all to other clips.