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How to Find Your First Color Grading Work for Film and Video Projects

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If you're a filmmaker and you’d like to know more about editing, particularly colour, then you’ll love our free course, How to Colour Grade Video. In this lesson you're going to learn about tips for practicing essential skills, and how to find work.

Can You Get Work as a Colourist for Film and Video Projects?

Any time you start something new you need some material to work with in order to develop your skills and you may be thinking, ‘the only video that I have to work with comes off my mobile phone,’ and that might not be the best material to use for grading. Even though it’s better than nothing, you can find some better material if you look around a little bit.

Where to Find Good, Unprocessed Stock Footage

One of the resources that you may find useful is looking around on the web for folks who have done video camera reviews, where they have links in the review to the RAW footage that they used to test the camera. This can be a great opportunity for you to get footage from high-end cinema cameras or maybe cameras that you haven't worked with before; potentially ungraded and maybe even in a log profile or RAW.

Sometimes you can find footage right from the manufacturer of the camera so try searching for your favourite camera with ‘test footage’ or ‘review footage’ and see what you can find.

Get to Know How Your Colour Grading Tools Work

You might see on a colour grading tool or editing suite that there's a shadow slider, for example, but what does that actually do? Is that just a narrow band of shadows, is that all that it's adjusting? How far up the luminance scale does that actually affect?

A horizontal black and white gradientA horizontal black and white gradientA horizontal black and white gradient
A horizontal black and white gradient / David Bode

One thing you can do to help, is to use a horizontal gradient from black to white. When you put that in your editor, or your video grading tool and you pull up a vector scope and start manipulating some of the colour tools, you’ll see exactly what they do.

Altering exposure on the black and white gradientAltering exposure on the black and white gradientAltering exposure on the black and white gradient
Altering exposure on the black and white gradient / David Bode

The vectorscope gives you the entire luminance range and you can see very clearly what the highlight slider does what the exposure slider does, shadows, blacks, whites and so on. It’s a really great way to figure out what does what.

Knowing exactly what your tools do makes the transition from the idea that you have in your head to actually moving the sliders on-screen a lot faster because you're not doing so much experimentation.

How to Develop Your Colour Grading Skills

Watch TV. Yes, Really.

Be a really observant viewer of TV and movies. One trick is to look away from where the cinematographer or director wants you to look. Say you had scene with two people talking, you’d usually be looking at them, but instead try looking in the background of these scenes, or at the stuff that isn’t dead centre. It can reveal a lot about the production like when vignettes are used — as an example — that you might not have noticed otherwise. What’s going on with background objects can really help you see what’s happening – maybe there’s a little selective colour or some blurring. You need to make sure you’re watching in a high resolution, something with a high bitrate, otherwise you could miss those little details.

Practice Creating Different Looks

Another thing you can do to both practice and develop your essential skills is to go through the steps of creating different looks.

You’ll see a lot of presets in the applications, things like a bleach bypass, or a day-for-night preset and you might even want to use one of those as a starting point, but mostly it’s better and more important to go through the steps yourself to get to know how your application works and what you need to do to get the end result you want.

Going through steps to recreate popular looks – even if you don’t really like them – gives you a lot of insight into what it takes to achieve a particular style or to solve a problem.

Getting a Job Colour Grading

Once you’re comfortable at colour grading, you might want to try and get a job doing it professionally. It helps to get your name out there, put a website together with some demos and maybe even a reel to show what you can do. When you reach out to other people and they ask for examples of your work, you’ll then have somewhere to point them.

Woman colour gradingWoman colour gradingWoman colour grading
Woman colour grading / Envato Elements

Put your work on YouTube or Vimeo too, but a nice, clean and representative website is essential so that people can find you and see what you do.

Local work may be a possibility but it’s very dependant on the area you live in. See if there are any post-production facilities in your area and set up a meeting so you can show them your reel and see if they have anything available in terms of work.

You can also look at ad agencies in the area, some of those have their own built-in post-production facilities; sometimes they're large, sometimes they're small. Agencies will often hire out post-production companies to work on video projects, so a lot of the time they'll know people who work in audio or motion graphics, filmmakers… and you’ll be a good name to have in the mix as a colourist or grader, if the opportunity comes up.

Don’t be afraid to tap your own personal network. Talk to family, talk to friends, put it out on your social media channels so that people can see it. Your friends, family and neighbours generally all have jobs too, and many of them work for companies, a lot of whom will produce video or go to an agency to produce video. If they know you and they know your work is good they're much more likely to think of you when they're in that meeting with the decision makers. It makes sense to have some business cards with your contact details on too so that you can hand them out when you’re chatting to these people about what you can do. Word of mouth is big business, people want to work with people they know and trust, so do a great job and one job can need to the next, and so on.

Summary

Get good at colour grading, and get your name out there. Those are the two things you really need to do to get started with colour grading as a job. Find footage to practice on by checking out review sites or by searching for the camera footage you’d like to work with.

Get to know your editing software properly. Using a horizontal black and white gradient can help you to see more easily which sliders do what and to get to grips with each individual tool. Recreate common and popular styles so that you learn how to make certain effects or how to problem solve.

When you’re ready, get some demo footage together in reel and have a nice, clean website to host that on where you can send people to look. You might want to also have it uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo, along with some other examples of your work if you have them.

Get in touch with post-production facilities and ad agencies – with anyone who produces video actually – to see if you can help them out with your skills. Lastly, don’t be afraid to use your own network; word of mouth is a big deal and the more people who know what you do and can recall your name and details when the time is right, the more chance you’ll start to get work coming in.

Grading in Other Editors

About the Authors

David Bode created the video course that includes this lesson. Dave is an expert on video and audio production, and he lives in the upstate NY area. He works as a camera operator, editor, inventor, motion graphics designer, recording engineer, and studio musician.

Marie Gardiner wrote the text version of this lesson and it was edited and published by Jackson Couse. Jackson is a photographer and the editor of the Photo & Video section of Envato Tuts+.

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