Color Grading 101: How to Color Grade a Video

This article explains how to use color grading tools including:

  • White Balance
  • Sharpening
  • LUTs
  • Three-way color corrector

Edited by Stephanie Vermillion

February 3, 2020

Color Grading 101: Guide for Beginners

Color grading is an essential yet frequently overlooked video-editing tool. Most editors want to get their best film out into the world quickly, rather than spending time learning how to color grade and the ins and outs of each color-grading software’s tools. But today, we’re breaking it down for you with a 101 guide to all things color grading so you can perfect this editing technique.

How to Color Grade a Video

What Is Color Grading?

Before diving into the nuts and bolts, let’s take a step back. What is color grading in the first place? Color grading is a process that reconfigures the color of a static or moving picture. It’s what makes a cinematic Hollywood movie look moody, bright and airy, or vintage. When you color grade, you, the video editor, can put your signature “look” on a product. Personally, this can help you build your videography brand. But it also benefits the audience. Color grading is part of the overall story – be it dark, cool tones for a thriller or soft, light colors for a wedding film.

Color Grading vs. Color Correction: Do You Need Both?

When comparing color grading vs. color correction, many budding videographers may think they’re one in the same. Spoiler alert: they’re not. They’re different elements that use color theory to perfect footage, and you actually need to use both. Color correcting is the adjustment of raw footage, which includes contrast, brightness, white balance, highlights, and shadows. Most footage that comes out of the camera needs at least a bit of tweaking; this step should come before you begin color grading to guarantee accurate colors that don’t look overly processed. Then, you’ll move on to color grading to set the mood and aesthetic of the film, whether it’s teal and orange tones or soft, glowing hues. Let’s dive into the color-correcting basics for beginners.

Top Color Correction Tools

First things first, how should you color correct your video? Most non-linear video-editing software includes a variety of color correction tools to get you started. The following tutorial guide includes the most common color correcting tips and tricks to get your film or photo in good shape and ready for step two: color grading. (Bonus: These techniques can also be used for photography, too!)

White Balance

Whether you use the viewfinder or an external monitor, it’s tough to perfect the white balance (the warmth or coolness of your footage) during a shoot. Of course, it’s best to get it as close to correct as possible while filming, but video-editing software can come to the rescue in post.

How to set white balance:

Some software tools offer an eyedropper that allows you to select a white area on the footage, and then it automatically corrects it – and all of the other colors – using the true white. If your software doesn’t have this option, or you want to get more granular, you can also adjust the levels manually until the white sections of the footage look close to true white.

Brightness and Contrast

Getting brightness and contrast right is also important. This means adjusting shadows and playing around with highlights to get a precise and accurate look to the footage. This may also mean taking down or elevating contrast based on what your video needs.

How to adjust brightness and contrast:

Just like white balance, most video-editing software has sliders for shadows, highlights, and contrast (although sometimes contrast is simply controlled via the shadows and highlights – this depends on your software). Play around with the levels until the footage looks as accurate to your eye as possible.

Sharpening

Sharpening is an easy way to add vibrance and clarity to a film. It’s a prevalent and popular feature in Movavi Photo Editor because it helps colors stand out against one another or, if used conversely, it can blur out part of an image that shouldn’t be a focus of the frame.

How to use sharpening:

Sharpening is adjusted with sliders that you can adjust, either by upping it to ultimate sharpness, lowering it to more of a blur, or some mix in between.

Now, on to Color Grading

Once your footage is in a good place after color correction, it’s time to start color grading to set the atmospheric look and feel you’re going for in the film. Instead of diving right in, take a step back. What styles are you hoping for? What do you want the colors to convey? If you’re going for fear or drama, cooler tones could work well. If you’re editing a love story, wedding film, or even a family video, you may want more natural tones with a touch of airiness and softness on the warmer side. And, when it comes to travel films, teal and orange and other warm hues with saturation can help sell a destination and its ambiance.

Use a LUT

One of the best ways to begin color grading is using a Look Up Table (LUT) to color-grade RAW or log-encoded videos. LUTs are almost like a more professional Instagram filter or like photography presets for your footage. You can purchase a LUT pack from film editors or software companies, or make your own, depending on your software. Using a LUT is a great way to guarantee mood and aesthetic consistency across your footage, as you’ll want to use the same LUT for most scenes, unless you’re creatively changing the time within a film (e.g., going vintage) or mood (e.g., transition from sad to happy).

The RGB Parade

No LUT is perfect, so you’ll want to get in there and play around with the colors to make it fit your vision. That’s where the RGB Parade – a tool that displays the red, green, and blue values in your film via waveforms – comes into play. You can use this tool to adjust certain colors that may seem too loud, or not pronounced enough. You could technically use this tool in color correction, especially if you’re going for a mild or natural color grade, although it does come in handy during color grading given how precisely you can control the film’s colors.

How to use the RGB Parade:

Head into your video-editing software and adjust the scales of the blues, greens, and reds to reach the look you’re going for. If the blue scale is high, the photos or videos are cooler. If the red scale is high – yep, you guessed it, you’ll have warmer red tones. Some of the free video editing software has qualifiers to select and adjust secondary colors such as teal and orange, too.

This is a fun one to play around with, but a word to the wise: Don’t get too bogged down in your first edit. Take a break from the computer monitor then come back so you can see how it looks with fresh eyes (then get back to tweaking).

Three-Way Color Corrector

If you want to get super granular with your colors – which, if you’ve read this far, you definitely do! – head over to your software’s three-way color corrector. This tool gives the video editor control of the shadows, midtones, and highlights via color wheels. That means instead of adjusting lighting like you did while color correcting, you can now adjust those colors in the shadows, midtones, and highlights. Just like the RGB Parade, this one can get pretty addicting!

How to use a three-way color corrector:

Open up your video software’s brightness and adjustment panels, then click into the circular wheel. Drag the control from the center to the sides of the wheel for each adjustment option (shadows, midtones, and highlights) and play around to see what works. You can also increase or decrease saturation of your video or even photo while you’re doing this. Just start with smaller adjustments, because a little goes a long way.

Color Match

What happens if you shoot some video on a Sony camera and other footage on a Canon? You either spend hours laboriously editing colors manually or save time, energy, and frustration with your software’s color match tool. This feature is used to harmonize video clips from different cameras, or even cameras that captured footage in different settings. It’s a lifesaver and timesaver, and a tool you absolutely can’t miss!

How to use the color match tool:

Unlike all of the sliders, color wheels, and panels we mentioned previously, this handy trick is as simple as hitting a button in your software platform and watching the magic unfold. Of course, like everything in editing, you can’t always trust “auto.” Check through the footage and make tweaks as needed to guarantee it looks like it should.

There you have it! Our top color grading and color correcting tips to get you started on perfecting those films or photos. Color grading varies from software to software, but Movavi Video Editor Plus is a smart choice to learn color-grading tools as a beginner. With this program, you can create a movie, cinematic trailers, and learn and practice all of your newfound color grading and color correcting techniques. Movavi Video Editor Plus makes it easy to see the before and after of your hard color grading work, and you can even use the effects pack from the Movavi Effect Store to add more color to your video. Happy color grading!

Frequently Asked Questions

A color correction is the act of fixing colors in video footage or photos to make it match the editor’s vision. It’s particularly helpful when white-balance is off, as correcting white balance corrects the colors.

Color correction is the first step in the process. This involves adjusting white balance, colors, highlights, shadows, and saturation to get the footage of photo looking natural and as the editor wants it to look. Then, color grading is adding a look, feel, and aesthetic to the visuals, whether it’s a LUT or simple adjustments to get a feeling across for the photo or film.

A LUT (Look Up Table) transforms an input value, recorded by your camera, and produces a color value for your output. It is somewhat like an Instagram filter for footage; you add it to your visuals to change the overall aesthetic so it looks and feels a certain way – moody with cool tones, happy with warm tones, or anything in between.

Color grading in photography is similar to that in videography; photo editors use color grading to adjust the look and tone of an image. This could be cooler tones across the board, warmer hues to elicit happiness, or bright and airy visuals that are common in wedding or lifestyle product images.

Color grading in video changes the hues and tones of footage to make the viewers feel a certain way. Video color grading can be done manually, through LUTs, or a mix of the two. It makes the footage feel a certain way. For example, dark and moody tones work well for a drama or horror film, while light and vibrant colors can work in advertising for a travel brand film.

 

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