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Let's be honest. Nobody really gets the color balance right on a shoot. There's inevitably going to be some footage that will need fixing in post. That's where color correction comes in. We'll be showing you how to read color scopes and monitors, how to use color correction tools to fix your footage and even how to use secondary color correction to make sure your footage can look it's best.
One of the most ironic parts of color correction is that the tools that are meant to help you the most, such as waveform monitors, vectorscopes, and the RGB Parade, are also some of the most confusing to learn. So we're going to do our best to show you how each of these tools can help you make your footage look great. Let's start by opening our editing program and repositioning our windows in a color correction layout. Most editing programs will have a pre-made color correction window layout that will make this task a lot easier. If you choose this preset, you may still want to reposition some windows to make your color correction tasks easier. Since we're using Adobe Premiere, we had to go to our Reference Monitor window and click on the Output option. With the drop-down menu open, we chose to display the vectorscope, RGB Parade, and Waveform Monitor.
Let's first look at the waveform monitor. Simply put, the waveform monitor is a visual representation of the brightness values in your image. If you look at our footage you can see the brightest areas are represented by a rise in the waveform level here. On the left of the monitor you will see a series of numbers. Basically, they refer to incremental brightness values set by the Institute of Radio Engineers... but you don't really need to know much about that. All you really need to know is that you should avoid letting the darkest areas of your image fall below 7.5 IRE and the lightest above 100, otherwise you'll be losing some of the detail in your image. It's alright if some parts of your image go above or below these values for now but before you hand the video off to a television station, you'll need to make sure you stay within these boundaries.
The next monitor we'll look at is the RGB Parade. This is the same thing as the waveform monitor except that it has three graphs for each channel of color in your video. This can be helpful when trying to find out which colors need more or less saturation when color balancing your image.
Vectorscope - The last helpful monitor is the vectorscope. The vectorscope shows the color or chroma values of your image. Of all the monitors, this one can be the most confusing for first time editors so we'll break down what each part of the monitor represents. To do so, it's helpful to look at a color wheel. Just as a color wheel shows the primary colors of red green and blue as well as the secondary colors of cyan, magenta, and yellow, the vectorscope shows these colors as well. Here's the blue, green, and red areas as well as the cyan, magenta, and yellow. It's also helpful to know that the center of a vectorscope represents completely unsaturated, or black and white footage, while the outermost ring of the vectorscope represents 100% color saturation. Using these tools, you can accurately know when saturation and brightness are perfect in your image.
Let's take a look at an extreme example. Here we have a triangle that goes from a light gray to a dark gray. As you can see, our vectorscope is showing no data since there is no color in the image. You can also see that we have a perfect representation of our triangle in our waveform and RGB Parade monitors. The reason the RGB Parade monitor is showing a value for red, green, and blue is because it takes equal parts of those colors to form white in a video image. If we decided to add some green to the black and white image you can see that our vectorscope shows a straight line towards the green area of the graph and our RGB Parade shows a rise in the green brightness values. If instead we merely raised the brightness values of our triangle, then our waveform monitor will reflect that by raising as well.
With a basic knowledge on how to monitor color, it's time to get our hands dirty and do some color correction. There are a bevy of tools you could use to correct your footage but we'll just be looking at three of the most common.
By far, the most popular color correction tool is the Three Way Color Corrector. This tool gives you precise control over your white, gray, and black color balance in your image as well as a hue and saturation control. In a nutshell, it has just about everything you'll need. We're going to use this tool to fix a wedding shot with some color balance issues.
Color Correction - As you can see, the highlights in our footage are orange instead of white. We could just add a lot more blue to counter-balance the orange in the image, but we may as well let our expensive editing software do the work for us. By selecting the eye dropper tool next to the 'White Balance” option, we can actually click on an area in the image that should be white and let the software judge how much blue to add to the image instead. You see how the center circle moved closer to the blue side of the color wheel to compensate? To get even more precise, you can also take a sample of an area that should be neutral gray in the image as well as the darkest area to get a good black balance. From here, we can slightly tweak the color by moving the dot closer or further from the blue values until our image looks natural.
ii Input Levels - Taking a quick look at our waveform monitor, you can see that this piece of footage also has too little contrast. Our blacks are well above zero and our whites aren't getting close to 100. As a result, we'll want to use the input level slider to give our image more contrast. By sliding the triangle up from the black side, we can make the darkest gray areas of our footage become fully black like these areas here. If we slide the white side to the left, we can brighten our scene until some areas are reaching the 100 IRE value in our waveform monitor. See how much easier it is to discern the edges of the people in the scene?
Unfortunately, as a result of our color correction, we have lost some color saturation in our scene. One look at our vectorscope confirms that fact. So let's fix that using this tool. First, we'll want to click on the drop down menu next to “Tonal Range” and select “Master.” This will allow us to add saturation to the highlights, gray areas, and dark areas of our image. From there we can scrub our “Master Saturation” level until our vectorscope shows a healthy amount of color in our image. It's sometimes helpful to turn the effect on and off to see the difference your color correction made. You can see ours has changed quite a bit from how it first appeared!
Though it may seem like we're done with our color correction, there's still more that we can do. We can do some secondary color correction. For example, this footage of a rose garden has corrected levels and color balance, but has oversaturated levels in our red channel. To fix this, we can use a color correction limiter or in the case of Premiere Pro, a “Change Color” effect to lose the red saturation while keeping the rest of the image intact.
With the effect applied, we can simply select the eyedropper tool next to “Color To Change” and click on the rose in our image. From here we can change our view to “Color Correction Mask” in order to see our selected area more clearly. It might be best to bring up the tolerance level until the rose is fully selected or soften the area of the selection to include more of the rose. Once that's done, we can switch our view back to the final result and lower the saturation until our vectorscope shows safe red levels. Now our rose has a similar saturation to the rest of our scene and the footage is ready to put on the big screen.
Color correction is one of the most important parts of video editing. It not only fixes bad color but shapes the emotion of your scenes in a way that will connect with your audience. By using the tools we've demonstrated, you'll be on your way to making your video look great.