Color Grading Tutorial

You might have noticed that lots of Indie or amateur movies look and feel cheap. There are many reasons for this, ranging from bad sound, to shaky cameras, to poor lighting. However, one thing that can be improved in post-processing and add a lot of value to your videos is color grading. This encompasses several color and picture functions that up until recently only pros could use. It requires quite some “playing around” to get the right “look” you are after for each scene, but after you understand the basics, you should be able to give a dramatic look to your movie and blow everyone away. The importance of color grading is explained in this article (complete with screenshot examples), written by the author of the best-seller “DV Rebel” book.

A few months ago at the popular video forum DVXUser there was this thread about color grading. Because the picture in question was tweaked by many users who had a go at it, we will also use the same one too for comparison reasons, although our tutorial will be Vegas-specific. I choose Vegas Movie Studio 8 Platinum because it’s the most powerful NLE in the consumer market, for the money ($130).

This is the original captured picture (click for a larger view):

This is the picture the original forum poster tweaked with Final Cut Pro:

And this is what I tweaked with Vegas:

I believe that my version is not only more dramatic, but also boosts the original colors as much as possible, instead of having everything looking greenish (except if that’s the look you are after, of course). The only thing I was not able to do with Vegas was to clip the highlights, so any suggestion is welcome (notice that in my version the boy’s face and t-shirt are shining a bit too much rather than looking matte). So, here is how I achieved that look:

1. Download the free Aav6cc filter and install it. Load Vegas and load in the timeline the original picture above.

2. Add the “Color Curves” filter on your clip. For both “RGB” and “Green” make it look like this:

3. Add the “Color corrector” filter and make it look like this:

4. Add the “Brightness and Contrast” filter and give contrast the value 0.15

5. Add the “Aav6cc” filter and give the following values to it:
Red: unchanged
Green: Hue: 50, Saturation: 80, Lightness: 0
Blue: Hue: 0, Saturation: -70, Lightness: 0
Cyan: Hue: 0, Saturation: -50, Lightness: 0
Magenta: unchanged
Yellow: Hue: 0, Saturation: 0, Lightness: -60 and check “Invert Influence”

Generally speaking, depending what the “main” color of your scene is (in this case we decided it’s green), you change that color’s curve equivalently, and you try to boost it using the “Aav6cc” filter while “killing down” the colors that don’t appear much in the scene (in this case the blue-ish colors). While each scene will require its own tweaking method, the “boost/kill” method is usually your best bet to get it right — at least for dramatic indoor shots.


IvanL wrote on August 8th, 2007 at 1:11 AM PST:

Greetings from the the Vegas Movie Studio forum. Nice getting to know you a bit better! Thanks for the homework!

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Eugenia wrote on August 8th, 2007 at 8:01 AM PST:

l3v1, I am not sure what you mean, because I can’t use the curves tool like on Photoshop. I like the image Vegas produced, because it’s close to the film look. The backgrounds are dark, but the person’s face and clothes are punchy.

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Eugenia wrote on August 8th, 2007 at 9:12 AM PST:

l3v1, ok, I managed that. Yes, the highlights are going away with the 3/4 trick, although the rest of the image becomes less contrasty too. I guess I will have to decide somewhere in between. :D

l3v1 wrote on August 8th, 2007 at 12:21 PM PST:

I don’t really like what you ended up with, but using on the final pic the color curves tool, try to put a break on the curve at around 3/4 of it and bend the rest about horizontally to the right. I don’t know vegas, but see what happens.

Renan wrote on August 9th, 2007 at 2:47 AM PST:

Is it true that VMS can now handle (import and edit) AVCHD (only from Sony cameras of course!)? Does that change your mind about the current crop of Sony AVCHD cameras or you still recommend holding back?

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Eugenia wrote on August 9th, 2007 at 7:09 AM PST:

VMS can handle Sony’s AVCHD, but not a whole deal of the other such cameras. I wrote a few days ago about AVCHD not being ready yet for mass market, and I hold on to that. Buy a new camcorder in 3 years time, not now.

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