There are many great tutorials on color correction online. Sometimes all you need is a breakdown of terms and tools that relate to color correction, gradeing, or any other topic. We all want that cinematic look in post. There are some basic principles that must be followed. You can use any effect filter you like, but if you don’t know how to differentiate luma from gamma or think that adjusting the brightness/contrast will improve your dynamic range, then you will be left with a visual similar to an Instagram filter.

There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a good idea, especially if you are aiming for a particular look. Color correction does not mean that your image will look better. It is about matching the footage from clip to cut. It’s about achieving a standard that is universally acceptable on large screens, computer monitors, or your brand new UHDTV.

When color correcting footage, there are two main factors to remember: dynamic range and color balance. Color balance refers to the ability to balance the amount of red and green on your footage. The dynamic range refers to how many levels there are of black and white. Your footage will look closer to what the human eye can perceive if you have a greater dynamic range. It is actually the dynamic range that will make your digitally-recorded footage look more like analog film stock. Film stock has always had a greater dynamic range than video.The contrast chart appears in the editor viewer to the right. To the bottom-left is the brightness & contrast effect (circled in white).

The contrast chart is shown in the above image. The chart shows a simple gradient of whites and blacks. This chart allows you to see if the dynamic range has been maintained based on how bright or dark the visual is. This is a great tool. This is especially true when I’m about to discuss the brightness/contrast effects. You’re probably aware of what I mean. The brightness/contrast plugin is not only the most used, but it’s also the most inefficient.

Let’s now look at the image with the brightness/contrast effect, while increasing the brightness factor.

Brightness-Contrast-Raised-Brightness

You can see how different shades of black work together. It’s the exact same for whites. The brightness & contrast effect is causing you to lose that dynamic range. This is not a good option if you need to darken or brighten your footage. It’s better to use the Quick Color Corrector for Premiere or the Three-Way Color Correction in Final Cut Pro. You can use any color correction effect that adjusts the input levels, rather than the “brightness”, or “contrast” settings. Take a look below.

Input-Level-Brightness

Without affecting the dynamic range, the input levels can be used to lighten or darken an image. You can use this instead. To darken an image, you can use “level” to increase the contrast. This is why the term “crushing blacks” is used. You simply make the blacks appear darker.

You might think, “Okay, so input levels are what I should use when I want the image to be darker or lighter.” You might be wondering what the outputlevels are. The output level allows you to control the input level that you have created so that it conforms to broadcast standards. It doesn’t matter how dynamic range an image has, if a television or monitor cannot display it properly. The output level maximizes that standard’s dynamic range.

Let’s now discuss “color balance.” Everything viewed on a television or monitor is composed of reds, greens and blues (and everything else in between). cyan, magenta, etc.). It is a simple concept that is easy to understand. While you are color correcting, ensure that all colors, reds, and blues, are balanced. You want to ensure that your images are as balanced as possible. There are many tools available in a post production application that will help you with this. This is especially important when editing clips that were shot in different lighting conditions. Oder if you didn’t white balance one clip while the other did.Here are two clips after they’ve been successfully color matched. The image in the viewer to the right acted as the source clip (the clip with the color information that will be applied to image on the left).The color corrected clip appears on the right while the non-corrected version appears on the left.

You will see three controls for a Three-Way Color Corrector (or Fast Color Corrector): “Gamma,” “Pedestal,” and “Gain.” This will alter the color of your film’s shadows or blackest black. The pedestal can be used to lighten or darken your film’s mid-tones. You can now guess what the gain will do. The level control adjusts the brightness/darkness in your dynamic range, but the gamma/pedestal/gain controls lightness/darkness for the RGB colors that are recorded on the image.

This is very important when it comes down to balancing colors and how this relates with tools such as scopes, waveforms, and curves. Scopes and wavesforms are visual charts that display the intensity, saturation and lack thereof of the RGBs. This is how you can balance the colors. If the reds in one scope are less than the blues, then we can adjust the size or amount of those reds to match the blues. Or vice versa. These tools can also be useful if you don’t own a calibrated monitor to view your footage. These tools act as guides. The curves control the intensity and color of each RGB representation on the scopes or waveforms.Image above displays the waveforms and the scope (the circular, radar-like object on the top right). Note the red, green and blue variations of the same shape on the grid on the bottom right. The colors are not balanced. Each version can be adjusted to the same height and fall within the same place within the grid.

Referring to the previous example, you can determine the RGB content of the source clip and then use this information to match the clip. This, my friends is color correction.

Wait! There are still three terms that you need to be familiar with. Luma refers to the brightness luminance or aspect of a particular color. Or, it refers to the proportion of whites, greys, and blacks in an image. You can desaturate your footage and all that’s left is the lumia, which will make the image black n’white. Gamma, not to be confused with the Gamma that adjusts a color’s darkness), refers to the luminance visible through a broadcast signal. The “Chroma”, which refers to the combination of red, green, and blue colors, is the range of colors you get. You can also change the hue and saturation by changing the chroma. You can also select a color using a chromakey to eliminate it altogether. This is why green screens are so useful. The chroma causes them to become “keyed out”.

I’ll promise you one more thing. I promise one more thing. If you ever hear a director, producer, or videographer dismissing your efforts with a smug “we can fix that in post,” don’t be surprised. It shouldn’t have to happen. This is a problem that often comes up in post production. This is why there is a white balance function. Use the color picker to choose an area of the footage that should be white. The white balance will automatically correct any other areas. If you are unsure what area of the image should be white, then desaturate it completely. You’ll only have blacks, whites, and greys. Note the whitest element in the image, then re-saturate it and then choose that element.

Let’s take a look at the basics.

Dynamic rangeRefers to the different levels of grey to white in an image.

Use theinput levelYou can adjust the brightness or darkness of your image. You’ll be able to maintain your dynamic range.

Images of color are always a mix of colorsRed?GreenAndblue. You can then separate the image into these three parts and adjust their brightness by focusing on thegamma?PedestalAndGain. Gamma = shadows. Pedestal = midtones. Gain = Highlights.

When we are focusing on the specific pigments of red, green, and blue…

LumaRefers to the luminance, or the proportion of black to white in a colored image.

GammaRefers to the brightness as seen on a computer monitor or television.

ChromaThe range of colors that have been created after the red, green and blue elements have been combined.