Color Correction 201

Ever want to enhance a washed-out sky or push the color on a less-than-vibrant hill of grass? How did they do that black-and-white/color effect in Sin City or Pleasantville?

In Color Correction 101 (August 2008), we learned how to use the Color Corrector 3-Way filter to isolate blacks, whites and mid-tones, in order to alter contrast and color balance of a shot. We also learned how, in conjunction with our video scopes, to keep our images “TV-safe” (e.g., recover a blown-out shot) and how to “crush our black levels” for a stylized look.

Now we will take a look at a second powerful color-correction tool, the Color Corrector. This filter looks similar to the Color Corrector 3-Way, though it is a bit stripped-down. We use this tool to accomplish Secondary Color Correction or Selective Color Correction. Here our goal is to isolate and affect a single color in an image, for enhancement or effect. In a way, it is a bit like blue-screen or green-screen keying effects, where we are trying to completely control one color.

Find the Filter

The Color Corrector filter usually lives next to the Color Corrector 3-Way filter in the Video Filters folder or pull-down menu, as with Apple’s Final Cut Pro. It could also be part of the Color Corrector 3-Way filter, as with Adobe’s Premiere Pro. Check your user’s manual for your particular software package.

Though the Color Corrector is slightly different in each program, the general idea is mostly the same. You will most likely see a color wheel or two, some sliders for controlling saturation or ranges of color and a set of “limiting” tools. These tools let you hone in on a specific color by isolating its hue, saturation and luma, in combination with other tools such as Edge Thin and Softness. It takes some getting used to, as you need to use all the wheels and sliders in delicate combinations with each other.

Enhancement

Many of the editors here at Videomaker use Secondary Color Correction to enhance the hue of a dull sky, the limp color of a field of grass or a less-than-vibrant forest. We just add a subtle punch to the color, barely noticeable on a conscious level, but noticeable when viewers ask how we get such rich images. It takes a few steps, but once you get accustomed to the procedure, you might just find yourself using it for more shots than not.

The key concept here is isolation. Secondary Color Correction is a lot like blue/greenscreen work, where the goal is to select the blue or green background, or, more precisely, isolate that one hue to affect it. Our goal with Secondary Color Correction is to adjust a narrow range of color value, while leaving the rest of the image alone.

Let’s take, for example, a blue sky that’s not as bright as we’d like. Most Secondary Color Correctors come with an eyedropper, which tells your software which color you want to alter. If you are lucky, a single click on this color will select the entire area. Chances are, the color tones shift in the object you are trying to select, requiring you to select each shade in the spectrum. Usually, you can accomplish this by holding down the Shift key and adding each different shade of hue to your selection. This can be time-consuming, as you must re-select the eyedropper each time you click on a new shade. Avid Media Composer has the unique syringe tool that allows editors to click and drag the tool over an area to select multiple shades in one pass.

Changing the color of the sky is a good example for a number of desired results. An editor may not only want to have a brighter sky, but may also need to match two shots acquired at two different times of the day, or two entirely different days, for that matter. The Secondary Color Corrector may help you not just with aesthetic touch-ups but also with actual continuity issues.

Another common use for isolating individual color values for correction with the Secondary Color Corrector is to improve or match skin tones. When we shoot a scene, we usually set our focus on the main character in that scene, specifically to that character’s eyes. This is because, as viewers, we are drawn to a person’s eyes or face when watching a movie. Thus, it is important, again, for aesthetic reasons and for matching contiguous shots, to have correct or pleasing or matching skin tones.


Style

You can use the Secondary Color Corrector for purposes other than correction. You can isolate colors and enhance them to form effects such as those seen in films like Sin City (2005) and Pleasantville (1998). Though Francis Ford Coppola probably spent tens of thousands of dollars – and that’s at early 1980s dollars – to make those Siamese fighting fish the only colored objects in his stylized black-and-white film, Rumble Fish (1983), you can accomplish this with sub-$1,000 software on a sub-$3,000 computer.

In our sky example earlier, where we enriched a dull sky by isolating it and boosting the blues, we could just as easily have transformed it into an orange sky for a surreal dream sequence as in What Dreams May Come (1998) or for an effect like the virtual Mars vacation scenes in Total Recall (1990). By isolating individual hues, we can change them into just about anything we want, right in our own little ol’ computers.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, unlike in our Color Correction 101 article, we cannot explain a step-by-step procedure for Secondary Color Correction.

Unlike their similar procedures for the Color Corrector 3-Way tool or filter, each editing platform (Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, Sony Vegas, Avid Xpress, etc.) has a very different way to handle Secondary Color Correction. Your user manual most probably has a cryptic explanation on this procedure, or you can search online to find free articles, blog entries and video tutorials for your specific program. Don’t be intimidated. It may seem alien at first, maybe even counterintuitive, but once you learn and get used to using the Color Corrector, you may wonder how you ever edited without it.

Contributing editor Morgan Paar is a nomadic producer, shooter and editor, who is currently teaching high school video production.

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