Beginner's Guide to Color Grading

Beginner's Guide to Color Grading

Posted by Ayo Olasupo on 18th Apr 2022

As you may already know, color grading is a process of altering colors in a video. With color grading you have the power to build the atmosphere, to create your personal style, and to evoke the desired emotion from the viewer. As a visual storyteller, your videos are how you communicate with your audience. Color is one of the most powerful tools you have to speak to your audience effectively.

Because of its power, color grading should never be neglected. Color has too much communicative power to be ignored. Becoming familiar with the theory of color grading is the first step to improving your work. Next, you’ll need to learn about a few techniques to build a foundation for your workflow.

There are a few tools you’ll need to be very familiar with to improve your color grading, so make sure you take time to practice to build your knowledge and develop your own style. Hue, saturation, and brightness are the basic elements of color. Hue is the actual color, saturation is the amount of gray in the color, and brightness is how much pure black or white you add to a color. When adjusting colors, you can use that knowledge to gauge how well you’ve adjusted them and will know whether or not you’re headed toward your goal.

A few of the things you’ll adjust when color grading are contrast, color balance, white balance, black level, saturation, and luminance. Those are all important parts of the grade that will move you closer to effectively using color to set the mood. One sequence to practice is to adjust blacks, then highlights and mid-tones, then boost saturation. That is a basic rundown to get you started before moving on. When you’re done, you can move on to more detailed, complicated adjustments to precisely edit your colors, and really start to build a mood.

When color grading, it’s important use tools like vectorscopes, to adjust colors by the numbers instead by the look, to ensure consistency across viewing devices. Colors may look good on your screen when you’re done, but if you’ve only made adjustments by eyesight, the colors won’t look how they’re supposed to on other devices. The histogram will tell how many pixels (for a given color or overall) are in the shadows and in the highlights, so you’ll know from that information how much you’ll actually be able to adjust colors.

Curves are another tool for precision color adjustments. Curves allow you to select points on a color curve, in the shadows, mid-tones, or highlights, and adjust the color from that point. A time-saving way to grade colors is to use a LUT (Look Up Table). LUTs allow you to save a color grade and apply it to a new scene or new project, so you don’t have to repeat all the actions you did when you first made it. Though it’s not recommended that LUTs be used for color grades, they can be a good starting point to get your ideas flowing if you’re stuck. Another good way to make the color grading process smoother is to plan your color grade before you start. If you have an idea of how you want your colors to look, you can move in that direction early, instead of changing your mind after having already spent a lot of time grading.

An important aspect to remember about color grading is that it’s not the same as color correction, and that color correction should be done before color grading. Color correction makes colors look more natural, while color grading is then used to stylize color for emotional effect. There are many techniques for grading colors, so there isn’t really a right or wrong way to do it. After spending time practicing and learning, you'll develop your own distinct style that will attract viewers to your work. Try to keep color theory in mind when color grading and remember to at least have an idea about where you want to go before you get started. Then, the entire process will be much easier.