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There are two primary types of color manipulation that takes place in post production and these are commonly known as color correction and color grading. There’s often confusion about the differences between color correction and color grading – and sometimes the words are also, mistakenly, used interchangeably. The two processes do have similarities however, they are strictly speaking quite different aspects of post production.
Similarities between Color Correction and Color Grading – More Similar Than Not.
Although the two processes both work with color to improve the overall look of the footage and, for this reason are often confused, the similarities pretty much end there. Color correction is based around fixing or correcting any errors that were made during the shooting process whereas color grading is more of an aesthetic practise that allows the videographer to bring their creative vision to life on screen.
The two processes can certainly be used in conjunction though – and they usually are in post production. Color correction is a fairly simple task to complete but the color grading will require more imaginative and creative skills to achieve the cinematic results that are associated with top quality work.
What is Color Correction and Color Grading?
Let’s take a look at the two processes to clearly understand the differences to remove any confusion that might remain.
The process of color correction involves ‘fixing’ the colors that have been captured on film to better match the reality they were meant to represent. This also involves ensuring the colors are even and match from one scene to the next so that there are no incoherent cuts throughout the footage.
The process of color correction is particularly important if you are working with multiple cameras in which case the colors may need to be synchronized. The color should be corrected within individual scenes as well as across the entire film so that the footage plays seamlessly without any glaring inconsistencies that can ruin the viewer’s experience.
Correcting the white balance, the color temperature and even the skin tones of actors in the footage are all vital parts of the process and helps to ensure that everything looks ‘natural’ or, at least, how it was intended to look by the director.
Remember though, that it’s usually much more difficult to fix the colors in post production than it is while you are on set so getting it right the first time can save plenty of time later in the editing suite.
Color correction refers to any part of the process of adjusting the colors in photos or film footage to remove any deviations or anomalies from the standard overall appearance of the work.
Some of the main corrections or ‘fixes’ that make up the process include:
- White balance.
- Exposure (including temperature).
- ISO (Noise).
In short, color correction is used to fix any mistakes that you might have made with the camera settings while on set. This is a way to save footage that might otherwise be unusable and is a crucial skill for videographers to have in their post production tool kit.
The process of color grading, unlike color correction, does not try to fix mistakes made with the camera and its settings but instead seeks to actively improve or enhance the footage in post production. Color grading involves giving your footage a unique or coherent color profile that helps to enhance the footage and improve overall aesthetic.
For instance, if you had shot a gritty dystopian sci movie you would most likely want to create a very different color profile than if you were editing a wedding video! The color grading is extremely subjective – and much more so than color correction – because instead of fixing or ‘correcting’ a mistake it is a process of actively enhancing something. You might want to bring out a particular hue in the footage to exaggerate certain features of the footage or else increase the intensity of complementary color sets.
This can have a dramatic impact on the experience of the viewers because you can change the entire tone or ‘feel’ of the footage using well chosen color grading. To get a better idea of how this is done you can study the work of other films in your genre to see how themes and imagery are enhanced using color grading techniques.
Some of the areas that you can work in with color grading include, but are not limited to:
- Removing objects or features from the footage.
- Creating cinematic scenes (day to night, conceptual flashbacks or underwater scenes).
- Shot matching.
- Color enhancement (intensity).
Color grading is a more difficult process than color correction and often takes more skill and experience but the results can be stunning. It’s a labor intensive process and will usually involve longer rendering times.
Origins of Color Grading and Color Correction.
Both techniques, color grading and color correction, are essential to create truly cinematic, professional looking footage and although the methods have changed over the years both of these have played a part in post production for decades now.
Originally, this had to be done on celluloid! This made the possibilities fairly limited although starting in the 1990s the celluloid was transferred to a digital intermediate to work on in post production. This gave editors a far broader scope but compared to the modern world it was still pretty basic! After the editing was complete the digital intermediate was then printed back onto 35mm film for distribution.
However, starting in the early 2000s, digital video has taken over the industry and today even lone wolf videographers have access to better editing software than an entire Hollywood studio of the past! Using fairly cheap and easily accessible editing software you can use post production techniques, including color correction and color grading, from the comfort of your own home editing suite.
Why Use Color Correction.
Footage which hasn’t been corrected in post production can often look amateur and disconnected. This applies whether you are working on a short real estate video, a wedding shoot or on a longer commercial project. Maintaining consistency throughout the footage is a key factor in creating coherent and professional grade projects and by smoothing out any errors of discrepancies between scenes you can easily achieve this.
If, for example, the color schemes change dramatically between separate shots of the same scene or events then these will clash and spoil the continuity of the footage. This is something that your clients will notice and object to so it must be corrected in post production.
When you’re shooting on location there are always bound to be a few mistakes that occur because the camera settings were not quite right – especially if you are working in a fast paced environment under time pressure and deadlines. Making use of post production color correction will fix these issues for you and allow you to deliver top quality content to your clients every time.
Why Use Color Grading?
Although not as vital as color correction, good use of color grading can help to make your footage stand out and better portray your creative vision for the project. Using color grading you can achieve a truly ‘cinematic’ look and feel in your work which will raise your status as a videographer in any genre. This will help you to get the very best from your work and although the technique should not be overused it remains a powerful part of your arsenal of editing tools.
You can use color grading to highlight features of the scenery and draw the viewer’s attention to details they might otherwise have missed. You can also intensify the atmosphere of your work and expand on the feeling of dimensional depth on the screen.
How Can You Improve Your Color Correction and Color Grading Skills?
Both color correction and color grading are vital tools to have in your skillset as a videographer but improving your abilities in these fields can be pretty hard.
Tuition and Courses – On and Offline.
One way that you can rapidly improve your post production skills is to go on a short, focused course. This will give you great value for money and let you quickly get your color correction and color grading skills up to a professional quality level.
You can take an online course and study flexibly from home in your own time to fit the classes around your own schedule. You’ll get a very competitive price if you study online. Alternatively you can attend workshops or courses in person when you will have the advantage of getting one on one individual advice and tips; although this may cost a little more.
Lastly, you can find a lot of free online content that will walk you through how to use various post production software in which case you can make a donation if you are happy with the results.
Study the Work of Others.
Another way that you can improve your color correction and color grading skills is to study the work of other videographers whose projects you admire. You can watch a film for example, and then try to replicate what you see in a project of your own. This will be as much a case of trial and error as anything but it’s an incredible way to get some inspiration and new ideas for your own work.
One good thing about re-watching some of your favorite scenes in movies with a close eye on the color is that you will notice things you didn’t see the first time around. You can learn a lot from this.
Practice Makes Perfect!
Is there any aspect of videography that can’t be improved by practise, practise, practise? Well, of course not, but color correction and color grading are no exception to this rule and the bottom line is that the more you practise the better you will get. Once you have mastered the basics and got some inspiration from the work of others this part of post production will become second nature to you, but only with a little practise!
Color Correction and Color Grading – Crucial for Professional and Cinematic Footage.
Getting a handle on these slightly elusive aspects of the post production process will upgrade your work from the realms of a good amateur to a top quality professional. Keep on practicing and learn as much as you can from the work of others and if you feel it’s necessary don’t be afraid of taking the leap and getting some tuition to help you on your path.
Which software do you use for color correction and color grading?