Color speaks to everyone. It’s true, science says so!

When we set out to create a unique piece of visual content, we understand that choosing a complimentary color grading scheme is imperative to eliciting the intended emotional response. And at the end of the day, we are really selling emotion. When asked to drive web traffic, we may want to focus on promoting a feeling of curiosity and mystery to entice the viewer to seek more information. If asked to promote a charity, we may decide to evoke the empathy of our audience to promote a feeling of giving. Regardless of the intended emotional response, color grading plays an incredibly important role in achieving that goal. Even at the most basic level, proper color grading is an essential part of finalizing your piece. No one is going to take a principal actor’s words seriously, if they look like an Oompa Loompa.

First on the agenda: Choosing a color space. Selecting the right color space depends on where the content will be seen by the audience. For projects intended for viewing on the internet, we start with a rec.709 space. Using rec.709 gives us the most dynamic color range and allows us more granularity when color grading a project. The lion’s share of our work is slated for the internet so we mostly live in the rec.709 space, but we also employ the rec.2020 color space when necessary. Rec.2020 is better when your intended viewing space is based on equipment. So color grading for a specific projector would necessitate starting with a rec.2020 color space. Now that we have a starting point, we can start reviewing the content files for color correcting and then ultimately for color grading.

After color correction is completed, we can dive into grading. We save color grading for last, because like music, it can heavily influence the tone of the project. This is our last chance to change the emotional tone of the piece before it is finalized.

LUT up…

Color grading choices will depend on the goal of your project, but adjusting the look and feel of your piece can be as easy as applying a LUT. Simply put, LUTs, or Look Up Tables, are pre set looks for your footage. Input the LOG file, and out comes the color grading edits of your dreams. If you want a gritty grain, there is a LUT for that. If you want to mimic a popular TV show or movie, there is a LUT for that too. The realization is, if you can think of it, you can probably find a LUT that will truly transform your footage. While LUTs may be a great start, we try not to rely on them, even when we create them. Every project needs to be assessed and graded to promote the emotional response needed for THAT project. Using LUTs exclusively, will leave a lot of that potential on the table.

Passing Grade

To get the most out of your color grading remember a few key things:

Before and after the color grade – Coast Mazda commercial
  1. Good color grading should be unnoticeable. You don’t have to bathe the entire scene in blue to show that the emotional tone is “sad”. Pick key elements and be strategic with your grading choices.

  2. Don’t get too LUT-happy. LUTs are great for providing a starting point, but don’t rely on pre-canned configuration to tell your story. After achieving a base look with a LUT, play with your settings to find the perfect grading effects that hit the emotional tones that are right for your project.

  3. Prepare for the process. Remember the color correcting and grading processes while on site. No amount of correction or grading will fix a shot that was washed out on capture. Lighting is everything when it comes to post production edits.

  4. Do your research. There is a lot of science behind the correlation of certain colors with certain emotions. Understanding these relationships can really enhance the effectiveness of your color grading. Remember, color can mean different things to different cultures. Red may mean passion  in western society, but something completely different in others. Choose wisely young padawan.
Before and after the color grade – Monin Pomegranate Video

At the end of the day, color grading comes down to the needs of the project and the creativity of the editor. Make choices that fit your project’s emotional tone and trust your gut, not your LUT!

We hope this has been helpful. Check back with us for more useful tidbits and go out and create something amazing!