Color Grading & its Impact on Video
Film, at its essence, is a feeling — a medium through which each frame is imbued with the kind of boundless creative potential and emotional resonance that sticks with you long after leaving the screen.
From exposure to framing, context to subtext, each shot presents a rich tapestry of possibility, often overwhelmingly so.
As a creative, developing a keen understanding of the options at your disposal is vital when tailoring the tonality of a project to its subject. In the paragraphs below, we’ll take a look at one of the most versatile and dynamic resources in your arsenal and the importance of its inclusion in any video production workflow — color grading
In-Frame & In Post
A common misconception is that, as a filmmaker, you are bound to what you shoot in-frame. While this holds true for certain factors, such as lighting and composition (necessary ingredients for high-impact cinematography), an argument can be made that how you handle that footage in post is just as important as capturing the image itself.
Thanks to an ever-evolving class of post-production tools, once-complicated workflows have found an accessible niche at even the most casual consumer level.
For example, in the era of social media, it’s likely that you’ve already had your first experience grading a shot and you may not even realize it. Don’t believe it? Just check your Instagram.
Every hour spent applying and tweaking filters, image contrast, and a variety of sliding levels is an hour spent color grading and the reason is simple — it makes a difference. Filters can evoke a mood or a feeling — be it tranquil contemplation or sun-kissed bliss. We can manipulate the subjective lens through which we contextualize a shot simply by adjusting elements of an image in post-production. When done properly, the results can be dramatic.
The same general methodology applies to color grading your footage. Well, sort of. For starters, rather than filters, we use Look Up Tables (often referred to as LUTs) and the results of your grade, while impactful, should be far less noticeable — and for good reason.
One of the pitfalls of post-production is that, if you have done your job well, the results should largely go unnoticed. Signs of manipulation should be invisible and the final product should look seamless and natural — just as if it were achieved fully in-frame.
So, how do we get here? As mentioned above, a great shot is born twice-over — first in-frame and then again in post, and so, before we paint the house, we must lay the foundation. When on set or in the field, it’s important to film using settings and presets that afford the most versatility down the road. One of the most popular picture profiles that fits this bill? LOG.
Known for its “flat” profile, abundance of visual information, and high-dynamic range, shooting in LOG is a common consideration for the budding videographer.
When shooting on a Sony system, you have the aptly named S-Log and for the Canon users out there, there’s Canon Log or C-Log. Both are proprietary to their respective systems, so, if you’re shooting on a 5D, don’t expect to see S-Log2 under your profile settings.
When exposed correctly, Log footage is invaluable. It provides a high degree of control over nearly every aspect of the image, allowing you to crush the blacks and bump the highlights as needed, providing a product rich in depth and detail. Your footage will begin to shine as you start to explore the creative elements of your grade and that often entails brining in a LUT.
However, it’s important to note that you should not expect a “one-size-fits-all” solution to each grade. Every shot is unique and, as such, plan on spending ample time in Lumetri (or your color panel of choice) tweaking and tailoring your levels on a shot-by-shot basis.
A stellar LUT may provide a strong starting point but there is no silver bullet solution when approaching a grade.
While arguably one of the most-involved facets of post-production, grading your footage should always be a consideration taken seriously by any rising videographer. Details which were once bound by what was achieved in-frame are now malleable and as such, creating a sense of tonal and visual continuity is easier than ever.
As seen in the interactive stills throughout this blog as well as in the video at the top of the page, the result speaks for itself. Be it capturing that coveted “golden hour” hue or conveying a sense of cinematic wonder, color grading provides you with seemingly endless opportunity to turn great footage into extraordinary footage.
Just remember — start with a versatile picture profile, keep an eye on your exposure, don’t overdo it with the LUTs, and like any other facet of the creative process, don’t be afraid to experiment.
#Nofilter, no more.