Color Correction in video editing is relatively self-explanatory, at least with regard to defining the (often complex) process.
Color Correction is simply a term that encapsulates the technical corrective methods and procedures for getting your footage to be properly exposed, balanced, and saturated so as to appear “correct” and as neutral as possible.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a firm grasp of what constitutes Color Correction, and how you might go about applying some of these fundamentals to your own work.
Table of Contents
- Key Takeaways
- What is the Purpose of Color Correction?
- When Should Color Correction Be Applied?
- Is Color Correction Necessary in Video Editing?
- What Are the Basic Steps in Color Correction?
- How Long Does Color Correction Take?
- The Differences between Color Correction and Color Grading
- Final Thoughts
- Color Correction is not the same as Color Grading.
- Correction is essential to ensure consistency and also quality images.
- It is often best to apply a base correction and revisit and revise as needed.
- Color Correction is not a core editing skill (despite what some employers may say to the contrary) but it does enable you to secure higher paying positions and rates than editing alone.
What is the Purpose of Color Correction?
As stated briefly above, the goal of Color Correction is to bring your footage into a corrected or neutral state. It’s essential to do, especially in today’s modern world where so many cameras are producing raw and log based digital files. However, the concepts and practice of this art have been around long before the digital age.
If your footage is not corrected, or balanced, it’s safe to say that neither you, nor anyone out there will be interested in watching it for very long, if at all.
When Should Color Correction Be Applied?
Color Correction can be applied as often as you wish, though in the digital age, it is often done either when the edit is locked, or it is done prior to editing.
The choice is yours, but generally speaking, it is a great deal more work to color correct all of your raw footage than it is to color correct your final editorial assembly.
Is Color Correction Necessary in Video Editing?
I tend to think Color Correction is essential, though some may disagree. In my estimation, a viewer will never be able to tell whether there has been color correction applied, especially if it is done right and well.
As mentioned previously, in today’s digital raw/log domain, color correction is ever more necessary to get your raw files looking true to form, and how you saw them on set.
Without color correction or balancing of any kind, images can appear “thin” or downright awful prior to color correction.
And beyond the log/raw needs, there are many instances where you might need to change the overall temp/tint of an image due to lighting changes, or the appearance of a bothersome cloud that has totally thrown off your light exposure.
Truly too many scenarios to list here, but you get the idea, color correction is wildly helpful and necessary when issues arise.
What Are the Basic Steps in Color Correction?
Generally speaking, you want to first begin with the Exposure. If you can get your Highs/Mids/Blacks at the proper levels, you can begin to see your image come to life.
Next, you’ll want to work on your Contrast, which is essential in getting your middle gray point set and ensuring that you aren’t losing too much image detail in the shadows or the upper highlight ranges.
After that, you can adjust your Saturation/Color levels to an acceptable level. Generally speaking, it is good practice to raise these to where they look natural and not surreal, and then drop the level just a hair. You can always come back and adjust this later.
Once all of the prior steps have been achieved, you should now be able to more or less see where your image is tracking in terms of genuine corrections.
How is it looking to you now? Are there any color casts in the Highs or the Mids or the Lows? What about the overall Hue and Tint? What about the White Balance overall?
Adjust your image accordingly through these various attributes until you arrive at a place where your image is looking proper, neutral, and natural to your eyes.
If you are still having issues, you can retain your changes, but simply start from the top again, and tweak very slightly to see if any of the above attributes need to be modified.
This is entirely possible as each of these settings can dramatically impact the image and so there is a bit of a push-pull effect at play here.
It’s important to note this, and not allow yourself to be frustrated with the fluidity of the process, simply ride the wave and experiment, and simply undo your changes if the image is degrading at any point.
Also, it is worth mentioning here too that you should avoid whenever possible to use any “Auto” settings for color correction or balance. Not only will this hurt your growth and skills, but it also often results in very poor balancing and correction. No professional will use this, and neither should you.
How Long Does Color Correction Take?
The correct answer here is that Color Correction takes as long as it needs to. There is no right/wrong answer as the process can sometimes be very quick (if only adjusting a single shot) or quite long (if color correcting an entire feature film).
It can also depend greatly on the state of the footage you seek to correct. If it was well lit and well shot, you may not need to apply many or even any corrections beyond simply balancing and getting the saturation dialed in.
If, however, there are myriad issues and there was little or no thought to how the footage was being captured or there were production issues that forced their hands, then you may be looking at a very long road ahead with regard to correcting the footage.
And lastly, it also greatly depends on your familiarity, comfort, and skill with the color correction process in general. The better you get at color correction, the faster you can fix all of the issues at hand and get your footage balanced and neutral.
The Differences between Color Correction and Color Grading
Color Correction differs greatly from Color Grading. Color Correction is a means to neutralize an image, whereas Color Grading is more akin to painting and ultimately modifying (sometimes greatly) the overall image.
Color Grading also can only be done (at least properly and effectively) on an image that has already been Color Corrected. Without proper balance and white/black points, applying Color Grading to a scene or film will be an exercise in futility (or madness) as the Color Grade will not apply correctly and uniformly unless the underlying footage is at a neutral state.
Taking this into consideration, you can see that Color Grading is an elevated form of Color Correction, whereby the Colorist is now stylizing the image, and often taking it in very surreal directions.
Whatever the intention may be, they are not required to maintain reality in the Color Grading stage, but it is still good practice to keep skin tones looking somewhat normal and natural unless the goal is to do otherwise.
Here are some other questions you might have about color correction in video editing, I’ll briefly answer them below.
What’s the Difference between Primary and Secondary Color Correction?
Primary Color Correction pertains to all of the initial Color Correction and balancing steps listed above. Secondary Color Correction enlists the same methods and tools but instead of addressing the image as a whole, is more concerned with a particular element on-screen.
The goal and method is to isolate this color or item and modify it exclusively while preserving all of the corrective efforts you have done in your primary correction stage.
What Software Supports Color Correction?
Virtually all software these days supports Color Correction, and certainly any modern NLE. There is some difference in the way the software handles the various settings and attributes listed above, but generally speaking, they should all include these and largely operate the same way across the board.
Still, not all software will operate or color exactly the same as the last, so it would be incorrect to assume you can directly apply or effect/correct footage in exactly the same manner across the board.
However, despite their differences, the fundamentals (once you have them down) will be extremely valuable and allow you to color correct images on anything from a Hollywood-grade system to a built-in app for adjusting the color settings of your phone’s pictures.
Color Correction is a vital and crucial process in the video editing world. As you can see, it has a wide array of uses and just as many means for achieving it.
The good news is that while Color Grading can be time-consuming and awfully complex at times, the fundamental tools, and settings you will encounter (and ultimately wield) to achieve balanced and neutral results will translate broadly to most (if not all) applications where color and image modifications can be applied.
As with most of the tools of the trade, it’s best to learn hands-on and practice, practice, practice. You may not be able to color correct quickly or even well on first attempts, but you will learn to develop and hone your eyes to see critically and color correct efficiently in time.
As always, please let us know your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below. What are some of the ways in which you have applied color corrections? Do you have a favorite software for color correction?