Learn Color Grading for Locations and Times of Day

Published by | Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

The Art of Color Correction

This week, we launched Color Grading for Locations and Times of Day, the second course in Simon Walker’s The Art of Color Correction series. As we were recording this course, a few brilliant pieces of wisdom fell out of Simon’s mouth that I want to share with you. These topics also come up in the course, but I want to bring extra attention to them because they really got me excited. I can’t wait to put some of these techniques into practice on my own projects.

A three-way color corrector tool is probably the most common tool you’ll find in modern color correction software. This tool gives you three color wheels that let you adjust hue and saturation across three different areas of an image: highlights, shadows, and midtones. I’ve always thought of these as the “bright areas,” the “dark areas,” and the “in-between areas” of an image. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you might find yourself poking at these three wheels, discovering your corrections through trial and error.

Highlights are about lighting changes; midtones are about mood.

When Simon laid this simple statement on me, I was thrilled. It’s a very simple way to understand the power of the three-way color corrector, and make some basic, powerful adjustments with it.

“Highlights are about lighting changes” simply means that changing the color and saturation of the highlights changes the color of the apparent light sources in your image. If you want to make it look like the scene is being lit by afternoon sun, you can push the highlight toward a golden yellow. If you want to make it look like the scene is being lit by a 5000K fluorescent fixture, push the highlight toward a bluish white.

Once you’ve set the apparent light source by adjusting highlights, you can effect the style and emotion of your scene by adjusting the midtones. Simon told me that he wishes he’d known that when he first started, and I couldn’t agree more.

The midtone luma slider can be pretty much reliably used to simulate the amount of light in a day. So if you go in a room and you want to make it look as if it’s slightly later in the day, you can move this slider.

I was amazed at how easy and effective this is. In the following video, you’ll see Simon change a midday scene to look like it was shot at the crack of dawn. The midtone luma slider is a big part of that adjustment, and is immensely useful in creating day-for-night scenes.

If you’re shooting a day-for-night scene, try to place some artificial practical lights in the shot. Headlights on a car would be great.

This is more of a tip for the shooting team than for post-production. But as an editor and colorist, if you can make suggestions to the production team, you can usually get better results in your final production. In the course, we used a video clip of one of the canals of Venice, Italy. The scene was shot during the day, but Simon treated it to look like it was shot at night. He used the midtone luma slider trick, as well as a bunch of other corrections. It looked good, but what really sold the effect was a regular exposed lightbulb in a window of one of the buildings along the canal. After the treatment, this lightbulb had a beautiful glow, and looked like it was lighting a nighttime window. This was accidental luck; the shooter couldn’t have asked for that exposed lightbulb. But if you can request artificial light, your day-for-night color grade will be much more convincing.

Interested in more?

Start a free trial membership at lynda.com
• Watch The Art of Color Correction: Color Grading for Locations and Times of Day
• Watch The Art of Color Correction: Artistic Color Grading on the Timeline
• See all Video courses at lynda.com

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