What is Colour Grading? An explanation in plain English

Posted on July 14th, 2016 by · Filed under Video Production articles

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Clients often ask us: what is colour grading? So here’s a blog post that gives an explanation in plain English.

Here at YourFilm we colour grade all of our footage. Our main camera shoots in SLog 3 format… Mean nothing to you? Don’t worry, we’ll explain all you need to know, with no fancy jargon or technical speak.

Colour grading is a very important part of the post-production process. Quite simply, it can make a good shot look great. It allows the editor to manually tweak colour, contrast, hue, brightness etc. down to the finest of details, manipulating the picture to suit the needs of the production.

Both hardware and software elements of video production have placed even more emphasis on colour grading, as most cameras will now shoot in SLog or a ‘flat’ picture.

In simple terms, this means that even though the camera operator shoots in the same way as usual, setting focus and exposure etc. the camera is doing something different. The video format itself is the difference. SLog is capable of storing more data than older video formats and it uses the extra data in a very clever way. Essentially it doesn’t fully commit to the decisions that the camera operator made whilst shooting, mainly in terms of the contrast. This extra data stores a much wider exposure range of light, so for example, an adjustment in colour grading would allow you to see the darkest details of the picture as well as a bright summer sky RATHER than committing to which you would expose for whilst shooting it. This gives you flexibility to play with these settings later on.

So in essence the editor can make pretty much any adjustment they want to the picture. Ungraded, SLog footage looks washed out, desaturated and flat. However with very minor adjustments in colour grading the true potential of the SLog picture quickly displays the endless possibilities for the look of the shot.

In the example image here from one of our TV commercial projects for Hippobag, you can compare the ‘before’ image above to the ‘after’ image below.

Colour Grading

Notice the huge difference in the colour saturation. Hippobag have a very recognizable bright yellow brand and branded bags, so this colour had to pop from the image. Also in the picture there are some lush greens in the garden, and also the nice clear blue sky.

All look vivid after Colour Grading has taken place.

Specific work was also done to increase the contrast and accentuate the Hippobag logo on the side of the bag.

Look closely again and notice the detail in the shadow/darkest parts of the picture (in this case the lady’s black top and the shadows on the driveway).

Now look at the highlights/brightest parts of the picture (in this case the sun reflecting off the bath and bag).

Both ends of the exposure are clear and detailed, which shows how much data is in the picture the SLog format has captured, then through colour grading really produced a clear, vivid image.

In most of our productions the color grade we would add would simply boost the contrast and colour, making the picture look more vibrant and attractive. Other times you may go for a more desaturated, film look.

That’s the beauty of colour grading, you adjust the picture to your own needs.

So hopefully that explains colour grading in just enough detail to help you understand why we do it and what can be achieved with colour grading!