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Color grading, sometimes referred to as “color correction” (though this is a misnomer)  is one of my favorite parts of my work.  I love taking a great video and making it into something outstanding through the use of color grading.  Fixing contrast, shifting hues, adjusting saturation; color grading is an essential task in video production.  Because of the difference between the optics of human eyes versus a mechanical lens, what we see is not what the video records.  Color is subjective.  Color is creative.  Color is where it’s at.

As a video producer, I have incredible amounts of information at my control.  I control the complete image.  I get to choose what is in the frame and what is out of the frame.  I get to set up the lighting.  I get to direct the talent.  I get to cut and paste and fool around with narrative as I build my pieces.  Music.  Voiceover.  Text.  I get to choose and sort and pick and choose.  And then I get to color grade!

Take a look at the two images below:

Jessica Wendling from Fuzednotions

Before Color Grading (Jessica Wendling from Fuzednotions)

Jessica Wendling from Fuzednotions after color grading

After Color Grading

First of all, you’ll notice that the second video still, after color grading, has been cropped slightly.  Actually, in video we don’t crop single images, but rather whole clips at a time.  Since the color graded images in this posting are all taken from a video that is currently in the end stages of post-production, you’ll notice that some of them already have lower thirds and are similarly cropped.

The images for this blog entry are taken from our current production of “Entrepreneurship Prep” — a video showcasing young entrepreneurs in and around Sault Ste. Marie.  The video is being commissioned by the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre.  All stills are from either the original footage that was shot using our Canon XH-A1 HD Video Camera, or are taken from the same footage after color grading.


Making Terrible Backgrounds Look Vibrant

Before color grading, Matias is kind of boring.  We were shooting in a basement classroom that houses Sault College‘s new Video Game Art program.  The walls were of cement blocks painted in blocks of blue and white — and there isn’t a more boring background than cement blocks.  Maybe some, but not many.  So our challenge, in this clip, is to produce an image that changes the boring blue and white cement blocks into something more vibrant and alive.  And there’s problems with Matias’s face too.  Too much shadow and kind of dull.

Matias in a drab orange shirt with depressing institutional walls. (Matias Kamula from Matkam)

Matias with a makeover.

In the above still from the color graded almost-finished video, Matias is sitting in a room that has a little more life to it.  Notice the lightening of the skin tones, especially on the right side of his face.  Check out, too, how his shirt is now a much more acceptable orange.

Some Grading Is Quite Simple

Sometimes, all you have to do is adjust the contrast and increase the overall luminosity of the clip.  In the still below, Jeannette Orazietti, the owner of “Jeannette’s Custom Cakes” is applying edible adhesive to a fondant taxicab so that she can stick tires on its sides and have them stay there.  We had a great time shooting all of these clips from this video, and watching Jeannette work on her cake was fascinating.  She offered us pieces of chocolate cake, but we turned them down.  Stupidly.

Jeannette Orazietti creates scrumptious offerings at "Jeannette's Custom Cakes"

Jeannette applying tires to a NYC taxi. (Jeannette Orazietti from Jeannette's Custom Cakes)

Jeannette Orazietti creates scrumptious offerings at "Jeannette's Custom Cakes" after color grading

You can get all kinds of foods in NYC -- even edible tires!

The image below, taken from a different clip, required only contrast control — didn’t even need any luminosity adjustments.  Check it out and see the difference that contrast can make.

A still from Jenny Romanchuk's work on The Zombie Hunters

Before adjusting contrast. (From "The Zombie Hunters" by Jenny Romanchuk)

After color correction still from Jenny Romanchuk's "The Zombie Hunters" after color grading

After adjusting contrast; darks are darker, lights are lighter. There is a greater tonal range even in this almost monochrome imagery.

Some Grading Is Much More Complex

This clip of Tom has a lot of problems with it.  First of all, it is underexposed.  Worst of all, his face is terribly underexposed.  We had a bit of difficulty working in Tom’s office.  It was kind of cramped, and there wasn’t a lot of room to set up our lights.  In order to set up the shot, we had to have our key light further from Tom than I would have liked, and so the resulting image is also very low contrast.  The window is exposed nicely.  Small mercies, right?

A problem image. (Tom Vair of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre)

Tom = Big Cheese at the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre

During color grading, I had to lighten the image considerably overall, without letting the window blow out into a white blob.  Tom’s face is much smoother overall; the contrast is adjusted nicely and the darkest parts of his face are beautifully adjusted.  The shirt is a more accurate rendition of what the color of his shirt was on that day, even if it is mostly hid by the lower thirds.  Overall, a coloring success!

Check out the grading below for similar problems faced and similar adjustments made.

Candace at her massage studio in Garden River. (Candace Zack-Coneybeare from The Massage Gallery)

Candace in her studio, color graded.

Jenny Romanchuk, creator of "The Zombie Hunters"

Jenny "The Zombie Hunter" Romanchuk gesticulating generously.

Jenny Romanchuk, creator of "The Zombie Hunters" after color grading

A carefully corrected Zombie Hunter generously gesticulating, gladly.

Darlene Solomon, General Manager of the Anishinabek Information Technology Centre, after color grading

Darlene Solomon, General Manager of the Anishinabek Information Technology Centre, in Garden River.

Darlene Solomon, General Manager of the Anishinabek Information Technology Centre, after color grading

Darlene looking radiant.

In Closing

Why do I love color grading so much?  Because it is so creative.  Because it lends itself to interpretation.  Because it is absolutely brilliant to be able to work on a clip for hours and to look back at your original and see the difference before your very eyes.  So why do I love color grading?  Because I do.