Clients often ask us: what is colour grading? Here’s an explanation in plain English.
Time-lapse example of a basic colour grade on a talking head from S-Log ‘flat’ footage
Colour grading is a very important part of the post-production process. Quite simply, it can make a good shot look great.
It allows us to manually tweak colour, contrast, hue, brightness etc, manipulating the image to suit the needs of the production.
Colour grading allows us to make a dull sky blue. Grass look more green. It allows us to isolate and emphasise certain colours in a shot if needed. That’s the beauty of colour grading, the ability to adjust the picture to the project’s specific needs.
If you’ve made a gritty crime movie, then you might increase the contrast of your footage, desaturate the colour and maybe even add a vignette to create an oppressive look which matches the narrative.
In most cases we’re aiming for an attractive, aspirational look and feel to our productions, so generally our grade boosts the colour saturation, vibrance and contrast to really bring the image to life.
In the example video above we are simply emphasising the stylish look of the location we filmed. We used a warm lighting setup to offset the potentially cold feel of the bare brick wall, and then enhanced this look through the colour grade. The video demonstrates that whilst we keep checking the final image, there are various scopes and waveforms that display colour and luminance info that we use to guide our adjustments – it’s almost a science!
We shot the interview in an S-Log (a ‘flat’ format). The evolution of camera technology means that the sensors in digital cameras are now capable of capturing a huge amount of image data, potentially surpassing the quality of 35mm film. S-Log is a gamma curve that is designed to record as much as possible of the information being captured by the camera’s sensor.
In simple terms, this means that even though the camera operator shoots in the same way as usual, essentially there isn’t as much commitment to the ‘look’ of the footage as it’s recorded, as we’re able to make big adjustments through grading without any loss of picture quality. The extra data recorded includes a much wider exposure range of light, so for example, an adjustment in colour grading allows you to see the darkest details of the picture as well as a bright summer sky, rather than having to commit on the day of filming and choose which areas will potentially be underexposed.
Ungraded, S-Log footage looks washed out, desaturated and flat, as you can see at the start of the video above.
However, even with very minor adjustments in colour grading you can start to see the true potential of the images.
Colour grading is a key part of our post-production process, ensuring that the final video looks the best it can.