Reel Technical: Color

Reel Technical:

by James Rosario

You might not notice it on a conscious level, but believe me, the way a film is colored is working non-stop in your subconscious. Color grading and color correction are extremely important aspects of the film making process, and ones that should never be overlooked or ignored. Even in black and white films, very careful attention is paid to the blacks, the whites, and all the grays in between. Every color is the spectrum is at your disposal, and it’s important to understand how you can use them all to your advantage.

The movies and TV shows you watch don’t start out looking the way they do by the time you see them. What the camera captures is quite a bit different than the end result. One of the many processes that film and video go through before it reaches your eyes is coloring. There are basically two aspects to coloring: color correction and color grading. The differences between the two are often misunderstood and the terms often used interchangeably, but the difference are important. With software like DaVinci Resolve, or Speedgrade, AfterEffects, and Premiere from Adobe, coloring your video is easier, and more affordable, than ever. It just takes some time and practice.

Color Correction

The House on Pine Street (2015). Before and after color correction and grading.

Color Correction

Color correction, to put it simply, is the process of correcting problems with your video. Maybe your exposure was too high, or your white balance was off, or the lights made everything look orange and gross. The color correction phase is your answer to these problems. The goal of this first step is to make your video look as “normal” as possible.


This is also where you’ll do your best to color match your shots. For example, maybe you shot different pieces of the same scene at different locations. Odds are the lighting and other color aspects aren’t going to match up perfectly, but in order for the audience to stay with you, you’ll need all the shots to look like they were shot, not only in the same place, but also at the same time of day. Color correction is the first step in fixing problems like these.  It can be a tedious process, but the results are well worth it.

Color correction comes with another added bonus. It helps make your video look like film. One of the major complaints about shooting with consumer level cameras is that the video looks like video, not film. We, of course, as D.I.Y. and independent filmmakers want our video to look like film as much as possible. We don’t have the money for expensive and professional cameras so we have to fake it, and one tool in our box for doing this is the magic of color correction. Try it, you’ll see.

Color Grading

The next step is color grading. This is the process of altering your shots for aesthetic purposes. For example, you’ve shot a scene that takes place on a planet whose temperature is always at 105 degrees. The problem is that on the day of your shoot, it was overcast and the sun never came out from behind the clouds. No problem! You can color grade your video to make it any temperature you need it to be. You have a scene that takes place on Mars? Easy, let’s give it a red hue. Cold, grey waterfront? Let’s make it happen. I can’t shoot at night but that’s when my scene takes place! We fix that too.


Traffic (2000) uses different color palettes to differentiate the two different locations the film takes place in, Washington, DC and Tijuana, Mexico.

Color affects mood (this is where your subconscious comes in), and a very easy way to manipulate a certain feeling out of an audience is to alter the color of a scene or sequence, provoking the desired emotional response. They’ve been doing it since day one in the movies (yes, even before color films were common), it’s one of the tricks of the trade that you shouldn’t be missing out on.

Get to know your color software. There should already be built in tools in your editing software. If there aren’t, it may be time to upgrade, or look into purchasing some standalone coloring software. If you want to get serious about your films, this is going to be a necessary step. Make it part of your post-production routine, practice it, and get really good at it. And don’t forget to thank me on Oscar night.

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