Every shot will require color correction in post. Even if you decide to "bake in" a particular look, versus shooting in a flat, low-contrast picture profile, it's important to touch up each shot with some color correction. First, let me delineate between two terms:
- Color Correction is the process by which the editor manipulates the colors in the image to their most accurate representation.
- Color Grading is the process of manipulating the colors of a shot to achieve a specific tone, color palette, or look.
For the purposes of this post, I want to highlight how I approach basic color correction when working with my footage.
The first thing I do is look at the waveform monitor within my NLE. I can tell at a glance exactly where my footage falls within an IRE spectrum. The goal is to get the highlights around 100 IRE and your shadows around 0 IRE. I adjust the curves to bring up my highlights and to bring down my shadows. This gives the entire picture more contrast.
After adjusting the curves, I adjust the Gamma levels for my midtones to bring them up to the proper level. After the midtones, I bring up the Gamma levels of the highlights to make the footage "pop" a little more and to give it a little dimension. It's especially important to raise the Gamma of the highlights if your raw footage is very flat.
Once the exposure, levels, and contrast are set, I move on to balancing the RGB levels of the image. This is when I pull up the RGB Parade window within my NLE. The goal here is to adjust the reds, greens, and blues to the point that all three colors within the RGB Parade are even, relative to one another. You can make these adjustments by adjusting the Curves levels for each color separately. For example, in the graph to the left, the green level is higher than the blue and red levels. To adjust, you can start to bring the red and blue levels up, or bring the green down, until all look even. This is done by creating a node on the color's graph and then dragging that node up or down on the graph. If you want to adjust the color of your midtones, create a node in the middle of the graph. To adjust the highlights, create a node toward the top of the curve.
Once these adjustments are made, I then will work on giving the footage a particular tone, style, treatment, etc. through color grading.