Begin with the end in mind – Color begins in pre-production

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Color Correction Techniques & Tutorials for Commercial Videos

We describe one of the simplest color correction techniques with a recent post color editing sample for a commercial of the University of Auburn Montgomery!

More than just one of the 7 habits of highly effective people, beginning with the end in mind is a great way to arrive at a successful look for a commercial or film. Outpost Pictures recently handled post for a commercial for the University of Auburn Montgomery where the creative and production team did just that. Before a single frame was shot, consideration was given to what the look would be for the final product. The agency, Fitzmartin, had an idea for the look and they discussed that with the director and me early on. The intent was for the spot to have an urban, gritty and muted look. This look is more difficult to achieve when wardrobe and locations are full of color, so the production team chose muted colors for wardrobe and locations that had generally less colorful backgrounds, with the exceptional of some subtle orange coming through since that is one of the school’s colors. Handheld shots, a few lens flares and hard edged lighting added to the effect. These early considerations and choices made for a successful color session that allowed time for creative exploration and enhancement of the captured image rather than time spent “fixing” things that could have been dealt with on the shoot. Have a look at the final product here: AUM “Why We Learn”

While this commercial was well planned and thought out, not all projects are. I often color projects that are documentary in nature, didn’t go as planned or didn’t have time or budget for thinking about what the final product would end up looking like. Even small things can make big difference, so here are a few tips for DPs and videographers that will improve the look of your work from a color point of view.

Light your subject. Seems obvious doesn’t it? Many digital cameras these days boast impressive low light handling, but they ALL really still LOVE light. Plus, you’re not just getting exposure, you’re shaping your image and ideally, separating your foreground from the background. As impressive as that new camera’s sensor may be, it will be better with light. Also, light the scene with the contrast level you’d like to see in the final. In other words, putting a bright light on the foreground with no light on the background and then expecting an overall “flat” look in the end would be problematic.

Get a healthy exposure. Not the same thing as above, but certainly connected since more light allows for a better exposure. As long as nothing is over-exposed, making your image darker in post is better than bringing up an underexposed image. If an image is recorded very dark, brightening that up in post will significantly increase noise. “I like a film grain look!” you say. Noise ain’t the same. Grain good, noise bad. One reason this is so is because when making secondary selections for skin tones or other areas of the image, noise (which is part of the image already) will make those selections less precise. Working with a clean image allows for good secondary selections and the flexibility to add real film grain back on top of that image if desired.

If you’re shooting an interview or a portrait and you have control over wardrobe, don’t put your subject in a flesh colored shirt. Complimentary colors for a person’s skin would be in the cyan, teal, blue, green range, generally speaking. Avoid pinks and beige unless the luminance or saturation values are very different from skin tones. Solids or simple patterns are best.

The above apples to backgrounds too, particularly if you don’t have control over the subject’s wardrobe. Again, a background that has complimentary hues will add color contrast to your image and will help separate foreground from background. Avoid putting your subject in a spot where beige or flesh colored walls are the background for the shot, for example, any hospital ever.

Think about the final product. If at all possible, talk to your colorist before the shoot. A colorist can help you think about the final look of the project or identify potential issues before they arise. Begin with the end in mind!

-Chris Tomberlin, Outpost editor and colorist

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