Color grading is like a new world

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 10, 2023, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

In recent years I've been noticing the "look" of movies in a more specific way. By that I mean, I've been seeing choices about color, dynamic range, lighting. While a lot of this is set up "on the day," the finished product arrives by way of a colorist who grades every single shot. I mean, nothing in the shot is left to chance. Now multiply that times several hundred (or thousand) in a typical movie. It's a lot of work, a lot of creative choices.

I'm partly more aware of this because color grading is a first-class function of DaVinci Resolve, the thing that I previously mentioned is my hot new video editor. This is an area of learning that's fairly new to me. Remember that the foundation of my video knowledge is from the days of 3/4" tape. When we edited, at best, we might have a timebase corrector that allowed us to make tweaks to a signal that wasn't particularly robust compared to what we can get today. These days, my hobby camera is a Canon C70, which has pretty extraordinary dynamic range and detail for what it costs. It's a new world for me. The camera can, if I'm willing to eat up crazy disk space, record the raw signal, the way still photos work, meaning you can recover an incredible amount of detail out of something that you exposed wrong. Even in the compressed mode that I normally record in (10-bit 4:2:2 long GOP at 24fps, 4K, if you were wondering), there's a lot of latitude there.

One of the ways you do this is to record in a log format, logarithmic, which is super flat and looks pretty terrible until you mess with it. But you apply what they call a look-up table, which maps the image information to the typical color space that you're used to, and from there you can make adjustments. For example, the sky might be over exposed, but you can pull the detail out of it and see the clouds and blue sky. Again, for still photographers, this is hardly new, but it's pretty great for video. So for my most recent LEGO time-lapse and review, I shot everything in log, as an experiment. There are literally more levers to pull than just exposure, and there's a curve (see what I did there?) to learning how to manipulate the image. It's fascinating. In this video, I see that the yellow-ish bricks look a little washed out, even though the rest of the image looks pretty good. I could isolate that color and adjust it, I just didn't see it at the time. And yes, handheld shooting is a choice.

One of my favorite recently discovered channels is this guy Darren Mostyn, a professional colorist, using Resolve. When you watch through one of his videos, he points out things that are not obvious to a novice, but they make a difference. A dozen small changes end up making a huge difference between some schmuck's iPhone video and professional results.

Never stop learning, y'all.


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