What is Color Grading? Photo & Video Editing Ideas [2024]

what is color grading

Key Takeaways:

  1. Defining Color Grading:
    • Color grading is the process of fine-tuning the colors in your images or videos to get a certain look.
    • Use color grading to influence the visual storytelling of your film or video by adjusting color, brightness, and contrast. (Example = a blue hue can create a sad or ominous atmosphere).
  2. Why Use Color Grading:
    • It’s not essential, but it’s a key part of making your visuals stand out – and, audiences will start to recognize your ‘signature look’.
    • Color grading helps you create a visual style that’s all your own!

Are you wondering what the heck people mean when they talk about ‘color grading’ their photos or videos? Or maybe you want to learn how to color grade yourself so you can level up your photo and video editing skills?

With color grading, you can easily transform the look of your photos and videos with a few simple steps.

If you become really good at color grading, you can even sell your services as a freelance colorist for $700 – $1,000 a day, according to Backstage.

It can be as easy as selecting a preset, or you can level up your skills and create your own custom look — whatever suits your style best!

Get creative by adjusting exposure, saturation, color temperature, and more for ultimate control over the scene.

Let’s take a look at what color grading is and how you can use it to make your photos and videos look amazing!

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What is Color Grading?

graphic defining color grading

You may have heard the term “color grading” thrown around in the film and video or photography world, but what exactly does it mean?

Simply put, color grading is the process of adjusting and enhancing the colors and tones in an image or video. It goes beyond simply correcting color balance as it involves manipulating hues, saturation, contrast, and brightness to create a specific mood or style.

Have you ever wondered why all western movies have an orange tint to them? Or why ‘Ozark’ is always so blue? That look was decided by the director and colorist to give a specific atmosphere to the story, which can alter how the audience subconsciously feels as they watch.

Think of it as adding an Instagram filter but with much more precision and control.

Whether you’re a filmmaker crafting a cinematic masterpiece or a content creator sprucing up your latest YouTube video, color grading is a powerful tool that can take your visuals to the next level.

flat screen TV

Why is Color Grading Important?

Color grading is more than just a finishing touch – it’s a crucial element that can make or break the overall look and feel of your content.

By adding a carefully crafted color palette, a story can be brought to life in a way that captivates and resonates with its audience. Color grading allows a director or cinematographer to control the mood, tone, and even the narrative of a film or video.

Whether it’s highlighting a specific emotion, creating a sense of time or place, or simply adding a touch of elegance, color grading is an essential tool for any creative looking to make their mark in the industry.

It’s the difference between bland and breathtaking – and in a world where visuals are everything, there’s no room for bland.

The Basics of Color Grading

Let’s take a look at some important concepts in the world of basic color grading tools.

Color Grading vs. Color Correction

Color grading and color correction are often used interchangeably, but they refer to distinct areas of filmmaking.

Color grading involves adjusting the overall “look” of a film and is typically done as one of the last steps in post-production; it includes manipulating things like color saturation, color hues, and contrast. Typically, color grading is done as one of the steps after color correction.

In contrast, color correction focuses on addressing issues like white balance and lighting inconsistencies within individual shots, as well as color adjustments to account for changes in footage between different cameras used in the same scene.

It is usually a more technical process carried out in the earlier stages of post-production to create a consistent look across the entire image. Generally, it has less impact on the creative aesthetic of the film footage.

Silhouette of Tree Near Body of Water during Golden Hour

The Goals of Color Grading

The art of color grading in film and video production involves adjusting the colors to create a distinct look, mood, or emotion.

The main goal of color grading is to enhance the visual storytelling process and help communicate the director’s vision.

Color grade can also be used to correct exposure and white balance issues that may have occurred during the shoot.

Other objectives of any color grading feature include creating consistency between shots, making the images look more cinematic or stylized, and drawing the audience’s attention to certain elements in the frame.

Color Grading Process

Typically done in post-production, color grading requires specialized software and skills to achieve professional results.

Once you have this software, you can use the tools available in the software to color grade, such as using color wheels, curves, and masks.

Pro Tip: There are endless amounts of free YouTube videos that have very in-depth color grading tutorials for all of the software programs out there. Give it a try! But remember that it will take time to practice and master these skills.

Color Grading Techniques

what is color grading

Primary Color Correction

Primary color correction is one of the essential techniques in color grading, as it allows for the control and manipulation of the fundamental colors present in the composition.

The primary colors, red, green, and blue, can be adjusted to get a dramatic effect. The process can help to create balance, richness, and depth in an image, and it can even alter the temperature of a shot, resulting in a warm or cool hue.

Primary correction is a dynamic tool that is used in a wide range of films, from fantasy blockbusters to subtle dramas, to create a consistent look in all the footage.

Secondary Color Correction

Secondary color correction is a technique used by the creative team to fine-tune the color palettes of specific objects within a shot.

Whether making a person’s eyes appear more sparkling blue, adjusting skin tones, or enhancing the reds and oranges of a sunset, secondary correction allows for endless creative possibilities.

By isolating specific hues in an image, colorists can adjust brightness values, saturation, and hue to achieve the desired effect.

color grading

Color Grading with LUTs or Presets

There are so many different techniques for color grading, but using LUTs or presets can be a somewhat effortless and practical approach.

LUTs or lookup tables, are digital filters that apply a specific color grade to footage. Similarly, presets are pre-built adjustments that can be quickly applied to footage, like an Instagram filter.

Though some film colorists may argue that these shortcuts take away from the art of color grading, the convenience and efficiency they provide are undeniable.

The variety of LUTs and presets available plus the ease of application, make them a great option for any video editor or photographer looking to enhance their work.

Color Grading Software

Software for Color Grading

Best For Beginners

Movavi Video Editor Plus

Movavi video suite home

A lot of video editing softwares will come with a built-in coloring space. For beginner and amateur video editors, Movavi Video Editor Plus is a popular option that stands out.

This intuitive program allows users to easily adjust colors, brightness, contrast, and saturation to create stunning visuals. It also offers a range of features, from basic editing tools to effects and transitions, making it a versatile and user-friendly choice.

Whether you’re creating a vlog, short film, or home movie, Movavi Video Editor Plus is a great starting point to improve your basic color correction process and make your images and videos shine!

Best for Advanced Color Management

DaVinci Resolve stands out among the popular video editing software programs in terms of advanced color grading and video editing features, often being used by Hollywood studios.

With a user-friendly interface and deep controls for color correction and color grade, this software is perfect for projects with high standards and intricate color requirements.

It also has the capability of handling many different footage types from cinema cameras, like CinemaDNG raw files and LogC footage.

Best for video editing and color grading on the same platform

Adobe Premiere Pro is considered one of the best video editing software and digital color-grading tools.

Premiere Pro has various features, such as curves, color wheels, and color match adjustments, that allow users to achieve high-quality video image results.

With its user-friendly interface, beginners can learn and master the basic tools quickly, while professionals can deep dive into its advanced features.

Pro Tip: Many professionals I know will edit their videos in Adobe Premiere Pro, and then color them in DaVinci Resolve. Editors tend to prefer Premiere, while colorists tend to prefer DaVinci.

Best for Color Grading and Correction on macOS

As a tool specifically designed for macOS, Final Cut Pro X offers an intuitive digital color grading workflow that makes it easy for professionals to achieve a polished, professional look for their motion picture and digital video projects.

Whether you’re using Final Cut Pro X for basic color correction or more advanced grading techniques, the software’s range of powerful features and easy-to-use interface make it a top choice for video editors and colorists.

Best for Color Grading Images

Adobe Lightroom is a cult favorite for photographers wanting to adjust the colors on their images.

Lightroom offers presets you can drag and drop directly to your images, or you can use their color wheels and HSL panel to manually adjust all the coloring until you end up with the photo you imagined.

It also has a great masking feature with AI capabilities to quickly mask the right parts of your image.

Color Grading for Different Media

Color Grading for Film and TV

The way colors are manipulated in post-production can have a significant impact on the mood, tone, and overall feel of your film. And it’s not a one-size-fits-all process, as color grading for different media can produce strikingly different effects.

black flat screen tv turned on near brown wooden shelf

While the genre of certain types of TV shows dictates the color palette and picture profile, video color correction and grading in film allow for more creative freedom and can emphasize certain emotions or create a unique atmosphere that can transport viewers to another world.

It’s a delicate art that requires a keen eye and a deep understanding of how colors work together to create meaningful imagery.

Color Grading for Web & Socials

Social media platforms have become the go-to avenue to showcase creativity and attract audiences. But with all the content available right now, standing out from the crowd can be tricky.

By using an edgy color palette, you can grab your audience’s attention and more effectively communicate the style and mood of your content.

person using both laptop and smartphone

A properly color-graded image or video can attract more views, shares, and engagement.

Color Grading for Photography

Color grading is also an essential part of photography. Whether you’re a professional photographer or simply capturing memories with a smartphone, the correct color grade can elevate any image.

It’s not just about making colors pop, but also about creating a specific mood and atmosphere. With color grading, you can turn a sterile image into a warm, inviting scene or emphasize the drama in an action shot.

silhouette of person standing on rock surrounded by body of water

Color grading goes beyond simply applying a filter and being done with it. It demands meticulous attention to details like hue, saturation, and luminosity to achieve the desired outcome.

An excellent color-grading software program for images can help you create beautiful, artistic images that you or your clients will love!

Final Thoughts

Color grading is an important skill that lets you evoke emotion through the colors used in images and videos, just like a painter uses different pigments to show their feelings through a painting.

For those looking for creative ways to make their videos or images more interesting, color grading is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal.

Take time to experiment with what works for you, and have fun along the way.

Get creative and start playing around with color grading today!

pin about an article defining color grading

Common Questions (FAQs)

What is meant by color grading?

Color grading is the technique of altering the colors and lighting in a video or photo. It’s about playing with the color tones, how light or dark the image is, and how vivid the colors are. This helps to give the picture a certain style that can emphasize a specific emotion.

How is color grading done?

Color grading is carried out using advanced software and equipment. The process includes tweaking the hues and brightness in images or videos. This is done through basic color fixes, targeted adjustments for certain colors, and applying color filters known as LUTs or presets. Professionals can also create their own unique tools for matching colors perfectly.

What is color grading for photography?

Color grading in photography is the process of modifying the colors and lighting to give a photo the right look or feeling. This is done with special software where you can adjust various aspects like color curves, which help control the tones, color wheels for fine-tuning specific hues, and white balance to ensure the colors are true to life. You can also play with the saturation and contrast to create a really beautiful image!

Is color grading necessary?

Color grading isn’t something you have to do, but it’s really important if you want your videos and photos to look good and professional. It can make your picture or video feel deeper and show more feeling. It also makes sure that all the parts of the video or photo look like they belong together.

Interested in video and image editing? Check out these other fantastic articles:

7+ Best AI Image Upscaler & Enhancer Software Tools

Best Software for VFX [Visual Effects for Film]

The 40+ Best Gifts for Creative People: Reviewed

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