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What is Color Correction for Video? How to Prepare Your Footage

In this lesson from David Bode's How to Color Correct Video in Premiere you will learn what types of footage works best for color correction. We'll also look what types of footage are more of a challenge.

How to Prepare Your Video

The color correction process primarily boils down to three different things: adjusting to correct over- and under-exposure, adjusting saturation, and adjusting color balance. We take a look at all three below, and in depth in the course video.

The goal of colour correction is to neutralize the footage to make the colors look natural, even a little bit flat, and to make the exposure look correct. At this stage, we want a well-exposed, easily-readable version of the image to work with.

What Exactly Is Colour Correction?What Exactly Is Colour Correction?What Exactly Is Colour Correction?

Adjusting Exposure

Exposure correction effects three areas of the image. You have the dark part of the image, the middle tones of your image, and then the very bright parts of the image. To get things right, you may need to look at adjusting each one of those separately. Do this so that the image looks, overall, true to what was recorded in the scene and matches the other clips in the sequence. This helps create continuity between clips.


As you add contrast, some saturation is also added at the same time. Yu may need to make targeted adjustments in saturation, to the shadow saturation, the mid-tone saturation, or the highlights saturation. Or sometime the issue is simpler, and all you need to do is bring up the saturation or decrease the saturation, so that it looks right and it matches your other clips.

White Balancing

Finally, white balance is probably the thing that most people think of when they think about color correction, because this involves essentially balancing the color—correcting the color. 

You may have clips that were made when the white balance in the camera wasn't set properly for the lighting, or clips made under unusual lights, or combination of lights, that had a weird color temperature that couldn't be matched exactly. This creates a colour cast that alters the way whites, blacks and grays look.

Part of the color correction process is getting the color balance normalized. This may mean you need to warm up or cool down your footage so that the white looks white, the grey looks grey, the blacks look black and all the other colors look the way they're supposed to look.

Staying Balanced

Colour correction is not a creative process where you're making stylistic decisions - that falls more into the color grading side of things - but it contains the basis of all that creative process. In color grading, later in the process, you'll move the colors away from the neutral and the normal in order to give things a stylized look. 

Creating the Visual Basis for Storytelling

There is a common misconception that anything is possible in the post-production but in reality the color correction process, like everything else in life, has limits and those limits are often based on the type of footage you are working with. Understanding this will help protect you against unrealistic expectation and disappointment. 

Colour Correction and Exposure Challenges

When it comes to the color correction process, it is helpful to think of all changes to exposure, saturation, and color as exposure changes.That's because if, for example, you have a clip that is too warm looking—too orange looking— and you wanted to neutralize that orange look. Desaturating the clip is not going to fix it.

Instead you need to push the color in the direction of blue, because that's opposite of orange. When you do that what you are actually doing is re-exposing pixels. You're taking the red channel and the green channel and you're re-exposing them. The red comes down and, more importantly, the blue channel goes up. You're increasing the exposure of pixels that have blue information and decreasing the exposure of the pixels that have red information. So both saturation and exposure deal with re-exposing pixels, whether that is pushing them up in exposure or pushing them down in exposure.

Clipping Challenges

Each pixel contains a limit of information and when you have footage that's really contrasty, and really saturated, the levels are going to be very close to the limits. This means that when you start pushing pixels around things are going to start to get clipped. The clipped area of the image will typically appear as a uniform area of the minimum or maximum brightness, losing any image detail. Trying to get information from a clipped area introduces artefacts into the image which do not look good.

Lossy Compression Challenges

Also consider this: most of the footage that you're going to be working with is lossy. Meaning that, at some point in the encoding process from the sensor to you, information was thrown out the window.

The way that encoding is done doesn't give a lot of information to things that are really dark. Most of the bandwidth in the encoding process is focused in on the brightest areas of an image. So because there's less data and information in the shadows of any give image, if you try to bring up the shadows you're going to see nasty compression artifacts.

Best Kinds of Footage for the Best Results

Given these challenges, there are three kinds of footage you need to aim for in order to get the best results during color correcting.

Flat Tones

Flat TonesFlat TonesFlat Tones

It's best to work with footage that is flatter in tones. Footage that's less contrasty, less sharpened and less saturated. This is the kind of footage that does not look fantastic, but is usually better to work with in color correction, because neither the highlights and the shadows are extremely light or dark and consequently still have details. This means that the light and dark values are not too close to their limits and you still have some range to work with. When you make adjustments to these areas therefore, you have room to work, and you have detail. When you don't have detail, in the brightest and darkest part of your image, you are limited in the adjustments you can make to the image without introducing degradation of quality.

Log Profiles

Log ProfilesLog ProfilesLog Profiles

The great thing about cameras today is that many offer some kind of flatter picture profile to work with. Others allow you to record with a log profile. A camera that uses a log profile basically re-maps brightness values to squeeze more information into the same amount of encoding bandwidth. Unadjusted, this footage looks even worse than flat-looking footage, but in the color correction process, you can apply something called a look-up table (or LUT), which basically re-maps those brightness values back to where they were supposed to be.

Raw Footage

Shooting raw footage is even better, in terms of providing high quality information and data, but for most folks that's not going to be a realistic solution. Firstly, raw footage takes up a lot of storage space and secondly, you can't use raw footage right out of the camera. It has to be interpolated, and then transcoded into some kind of video format that you can actually edit.  So realistically a camera that shoots to log or a flat picture profile to a compressed format is the best option for most people.

Make Your Footage with Post Production in Mind

It would be great if you didn't have to do a whole lot of massaging of the colors, or very severe exposure adjustments, but when you do need to make large adjustments to the picture, you're going to want room to work and so flat looking footage is going to be the best. Of course, that's not to say that you can't fix high contrast footage, but with this type of footage you need to accept that you're going to have a little less room to work.

More Premiere Pro Resources

Here are more top Premiere Pro tutorials and resources to try from Envato Tuts+:

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