Colour Grading – What it Involves in a non Technical Way

It’s been a very busy time over at Midway Media, hence the lack of recent blog posts….

Thought it was time to put together what goes into our films during the editing process.  We film, we edit then we colour grade.  So what is colour grading?  It can be many things but it is usually changing the appearance of how the film looks to make it more appealable and to ensure colours are being portrayed correctly such as whites and blacks.  Often whites can can have a cool appearance and be tinged with a hint of blueness. Likewise with yellows and oranges – something you get with tungsten lighting appear more bright making the skin appear quite orange with reds and pinks highly saturated.  I myself prefer to correct this as much as I can, it also gives me the opportunity to fiddle with the highlights, midtones and contrast as well as adding a bit of fill light when needed.  We often shoot a little under exposed so that we can do all the contrast and brightening up in post than relying on settings on the day.

Wedding filming is fast paced, you have to have eyes everywhere, plus lighting well that’s another post on its own – filming into windows or a room full of glass walls with a bright exterior.  We have such a lot to concentrate on during a wedding when it comes to colours and light settings, it’s not just a case of pressing that little red record button.  Everything we do, we do manually, so that’s focusing, filming and setting our lighting settings to get the best out of what we’re filming be it a wedding or corporate film.

In setting up our cameras, we have opted for flatter less saturated colour settings for filming so that we have full control when editing.

When I edit, I use two main colour grading programmes one is my ultimate favourite called Film Convert and gives a true cinematic look and a plugin that allows me to add contrast and fill light as well as ensure black looks black and not a grey.  I do occasionally use the Magic Bullet plugin but not too often – Film Convert does pretty much what I want colour wise.   Time wise it can take me up to an hour to fully colour grade a clip.  I have to tweak wheels (you’ll see one example of the wheel in one of pictures below) here and there, constantly watching the histogram (a graph that basically tells me what my shadows/blacks are doing, midtones/contrast and lastly the highlights that tell me what’s over exposed, too dark etc).  A big file such as a church ceremony can take over an hour to colour grade and match colours!  Technology is good but it still needs me to give it some direction when it comes to colours, exposure and saturation!   An individual clip of 20 seconds though can also take a while to fully colour grade to satisfaction – lots of tweaks here and there, playing with sliders.  Plus every now and then, I have to recalibrate my iMac to ensure that the colour correction I’m applying is both correct and broadcast safe!  Of course my colour grading taste could be totally different to the next person!  It’s all about style and creating that style that people instantly love and recognise!

Some examples of before and after:-

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