Industrial Media – Analysis and Reflection 4 – Q 1 Colour Grading Exercise

Colour grading is a new area for me but already it’s clear that using colour grading well can have a startling effect on the look and feel of a film. I recently watched The Book Thief (a surprisingly good interpretation of a great book) and really noticed the use of colour grading and how it enhanced an already really well thought out colour palette for the film. For example this shot at the train station has an overall hue of blue with deep blacks. The only warm hues in the shot are Liesel’s clothes and skin, especially the muted deep red of her jacket (not very clear in this image). Liesel is the warmth in this bleak world where her beloved father has boarded an army train for the Russian front.

The Book Thief, 2013
The Book Thief, 2013

Having gone through the basics of colour grading I understand that essentially what is involved is working with hue (the colour), saturation (moving through from white/grey to muted tones to vibrant colour) and luminance (the brightness of a colour). Premiere Pro has a Three-way Colour Corrector that allows an editor to fully manipulate these three key elements.

As I am not currently working on another project I have used clips from the Lenny shoot to work with colour grading. The main limitation is that all four clips were shot in the same location and have the same muted colour and quite flat in tone being dominated by midtones. In the early examples here I am exploring the range of possibilities, pushing colour and contrast to learn how to manage the very large range of choices offered by the Three-way Colour Corrector tool.

Clip 1

This is the original clip. The colours are pretty flat and being a concrete stairwell are very warm.

Clip 1, Original
Clip 1, Original

So the first thing I wanted to try was to cool down the colours. I used the Master to add a blue hue to the whole clip. I then increased the shadows and decreased the mid tones. This is pretty raw but I was working with that overall colour change.

Lenny, Clip 1A_blue
Lenny, Clip 1A

The second clip I kept the overall blue hue but dropped it down a good way. What I really wanted to do was bring out the red of the number NINE on the wall. I did try masking the red in an attempt to bring it out even more but couldn’t get this to work very effectively. All the same the second clip gives a cool, slightly threatening tone to the clip.

Lenny, Clip 1B
Lenny, Clip 1B

The second clip had less contrast than the first, with some black highlights in the clothes and rail fittings. Otherwise the midtones are quite flat.

Lenny Clip 2_original
Lenny, Clip 2 Original

With Clip 2A (below) I worked to increase the shadows and broaden the mid tones to try to get more depth to the image. I used the input levels to do this, playing with the shadows, midrange and highlights to try to get some balance to the shot. I selected an overall blue hue to change the tone from warm to cold.

Lenny, Clip 2A
Lenny, Clip 2A

In the second Clip 2B (below) I pushed the master hue out of the green/blue range into blue and kept the range of mid tones and highlights broader. In Premiere this didn’t look as dark as the image here. But I felt I was beginning to get a sense of how I could use the input levels to really finesse the feel of the image.

Lenny, Clip 2B
Lenny, Clip 2B

In the third clip I wanted to experiment a bit and push what can happen with black and white and colour. The dark of the jacket in the original creates some good contrast in the image as does the wire mesh of the staircase. But again the midtones of the concrete wall are pretty flat.

Lenny, Clip 3 Original
Lenny, Clip 3 Original

With this clip (3A) I first of all reduced the master saturation, bringing the clip back to black and white. Straight away this created a more interesting image. I then increased the midtone saturation only to 80% to bring in a small amount of colour which shows up in the hand rails. I didn’t alter the original colour for the midtones. Finally I increased the saturation of the blacks to bring in a heavier feel to the image. There is now a threatening heaviness to the image as the dark form retreats and this works quite well.

Lenny Clip 3 b&w
Lenny, Clip 3A

With the second iteration of this clip (3B) I went from playing with black and white to the other extreme. Using the colour wheel I pushed the midtones up into the pink range and the shadows into blue. Using the tonal range definition slider I reduced the range of midtones, pushing the shadows more across the image. This brought out the contrast of light and dark on the stairs. By having the darks blue and mids pink I could clearly see using the slider how I was changing the saturation levels.

Clip 3B
Clip 3B

With this final clip I approached it trying to use to Three-way Colour Corrector to improve the image using the range of tools available.

Lenny, Clip 4, Original
Lenny, Clip 4, Original

With the clip below I moved the colours into the blue range to create an overall cooler effect bringing out the coldness of the stairwell and dejection of the character. I increased the saturation levels first using the master and then increasing the midtones and shadows. This created more contrast and created richer, deeper shadows and a much more satisfying image.

Lenny, Clip 4B
Lenny, Clip 4A

Finally I pushed the general hues into the warm range just to see what it gave me and in particular to try and bring out the gold of the backpack. This worked quite well but again looked cleaner and better balanced in Premier than in the screenshot. If I was to choose between the two of these 4A works better as a more balanced image.

Lenny, Clip 4B
Lenny, Clip 4B

Clearly working with colour balance is a specialist skill but it is great to have learned more about manipulating the image to create the look and feel you are after. It is obviously important not to rely on colour grading to fix issues but rather to get the image right in the first place. But it has been great to find out just how much more you can lift and enhance the image using these tools.

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