Color Grading Theory | 7 Steps For Better Looking Videos

Updated on October 2, 2021

Color grading is a crucial part of any professional, and enthusiastic video production these days. You can color grade something to adjust its mood entirely, from atmospheric and calm to gritty and dramatic. Our blog post about color grading theory involves adjusting colors, temperature, saturation, brightness, and contrast to create what you want for your film or video project. So here are our 7 tips for better-looking videos, whenever it is short travel movies or video ads.

1. Color selection begins in pre-production, not post.

Preparation is key to successfully achieving the desired color grading results you want in your video project, and this actually begins when you create your shot list/storyboard. If you film travel videos or other unplanned scenes, keep in mind that you're more likely to capture the mood you had at the moment of shooting.

Let's say your video was filmed in the sunset, and you want to make that footage look like it was shot in the cloudy afternoon, it will probably be close to impossible to make that look in post-production. The view will look not natural at all if you will overdo it with white balance correction. Well, it is an extreme example, but you should keep in mind that it is worth choosing the right time of the day to create the look you want if you film outside.

2. The right exposure first.

Exposure means how bright, or dark is your frame. Short travel videos could get away with slightly underexposed shots, but if you go for a really cinematic look, exposure is very important in color grading. The right exposure at the moment of shooting will save you from unusable footage or an additional major correction in post-production.

In the pre-production stage, you can adjust this by correct lighting setup, daytime, lens, ISO settings, and shutter speed together with FPS rate.

In post-production, you can fix exposure more precisely. Just keep in mind that overexposed shots lose their details in highlights irreversible, while underexposed shots sometimes still keep some details, but they tend to appear noisy if you apply an extreme amount of correction.

3. Use histogram.

Don't rely on what your monitor displays, use a histogram. Color grading is all about manipulating tones of color, and sometimes the tones are hidden in shadows or bright areas, too bright to notice instantly. So, keep your eye on the histogram as well! Also, make sure you have enough contrast to work with by comparing the left and right sides of the histogram.

4. Adjust Color Temperature.

Once you've set the correct exposure, then you can start manipulating the color and look of your project. Color temperature means how warm or cold is the frame. Color temperature is actually based on the color of light, red will be warmer than blue for example. If you are not sure about the color temperature for your footage, I suggest you stop for a while and think about what mood do you want to enhance. Blue has a tendency to make images colder, while orange tones bring warmth.

5. Grading Process.

Color grading is like painting with colors, you can make any scene look natural or unreal, depending on your preference and the mood you want to achieve. Color grading. Sometimes you could be unsure what mood you would like to get on your footage, and then LUTs are the best help.

Color LUTs are pre-made presets with different grading settings - you choose one that suits your footage, and apply it. Color grading is a more complicated process actually, but Color LUT simplifies post-production workflow immensely! In some cases, LUT's can give you some ideas of the general look for your video. However, LUT's aside, color wheels together with color curves are the best way to polish the colors of your footage.

Once you have a fine-tuned color grading, make sure not to overdo it. Color grading is all about finding the right balance between the natural and unrealistic appearance of an image. It can take a while to master this process, but once you get it, you'll be ready to make incredibly beautiful videos.

6. Color Matching.

Color matching is about making colors of different shots blend together in a natural way. Color grading can be applied for each shot independently if needed, but sometimes it's easier to match colors between different shots to make the scene flow naturally. You just need to match the color temperature and hues of shots together. Color grading can be applied to different shots, but it's easier to keep everything consistent if you copy the look from one shot to another.

7. Use Masks.

By using color and shape masks, you can use color wheels or color curves to apply precise coloring on particular objects, for example, you could darken the shadows of an actor's face, and make his face skin brighter, this will make him stand out more against the background.

Color grading should be subtle, sometimes it's difficult to notice it at first glance, but if you want your color grading to look natural, you have to be careful. The color grading of particular parts of the video can also be used as a stylistic effect. For example, in the landscape clip, you can lower exposure of the sky and make it more saturated while keeping everything else in the shot at a normal appearance. So the more you experiment the better results you'll get!

When you color grade your footage, think about what attracts the eye most (and what causes the viewer fatigue and how to fix that), and then think about the mood you want your video to portray. Color grading, together with lighting and composition is a great way to add style to your videos!

If you would like to learn more about how color and music influence your video, check out our article about color and music importance in the video.

To summarize, color grading is an incredibly useful technique in post-production. It is not something you master in one day, it takes time and practice to become a master of the color grading process, but when you learn what good color grading is all about, every video you produce will look incredible! If you're interested in learning more about color grading, check out the Color Grading Central website. You can learn how to achieve great color grades just by watching their videos! So if you didn't understand everything I said here, don't worry - you'll get there with practice.

I hope this article was useful for everyone who read it. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or add suggestions of your own. Thanks for reading!

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