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Color Correction or How to Create a Look in Post


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#1 Dominik Muench

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Posted 04 March 2007 - 06:29 PM

Hi

as a young and not so experienced DOP when it comes to color correction i have a problem.
i usually know pretty well what i want look wise....but i dont really know how to achieve it in post....i can tell the color timer "make it greener...crush the blacks..."and so on, but it would be much easier for me if i would understand the process and what exactly has to be done to achieve a certain look.

the best way would obviously be to take stills from my shoot, and manipulate them in photoshop to the extend where i think the picture looks how i want it, and then give the color timer those stills.

so my question is, is there a book out there that specifically deals with color manipulation in photoshop and that explains how to achieve certain looks ?


thank you.
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#2 Dominic Case

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Posted 05 March 2007 - 12:16 AM

Jack James' book Digital Intermediates for Film & Video (Focal Press, ISBN 13: 978-0-240-80702-7) has quite a strong section on colour correction. It's not specific to Photoshop or to any other system, but deals in the common aspects of colour correction and colour science - and it's thorough but readable.

My guess is that would serve your purpose better than trying to learn the practical aspects of one system then trying to translate them to another.
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#3 Dominik Muench

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Posted 05 March 2007 - 12:39 AM

hi dominic

cool thanks for the tipp, will check that book out.

i was just looking for a photoshop book because i do a lot of photography work in photoshop anyway, and creating postpro looks and color correction is a bit of a weakness for me:/
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#4 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 05 March 2007 - 12:21 PM

How about attending the actual transfer sessions?
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#5 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 05 March 2007 - 04:28 PM

After you've done it a couple of times you'll get a hang of what can be done. In any given session I will most likely ask for these things:

1. Secondaries - the ability to grab one single color and change it into something else. This can also apply to hue, saturation, contrast, grey levels etc.

2. Shadows, Midtones, Highlights - the ability to affect color, hue, saturation and contrast in these three tones. For instance, it's quite common to contaminate the shadows (the blacks) with some colour - like a slight green or blue-ish cast in the blacks. Or to crush midtones for a snappy look without making the blacks and whites go crazy.

3. Gamma - to be fair this is already set up when the session starts most of the time and is rarely changed. But it can be a good trick to apply a new gamma curve to a project that isn't grading very well. Sometimes when one is stuck it can be a bit of a miracle cure to simply adjust the curve slightly for the whole project.

4. Noise Reduction - this smooths out the picture and makes it less grainy. But it works less well on hectic and moving footage, it can smear the footage somewhat. But for beauty work it's almost a pre-requisite.

5. Sharpness - this is simply the same thing as sharpen in Photoshop. Makes stuff go a bit more bzzzzzz and electronic. Rarely works, but on very softlit, organic scenes it can sometimes do wonders. My Greenpeace ad on my website is an example of where it was used quite a lot. It can also bring back a little bit of that snap that a wide open lens has lost.

6. Power Windows - the ability to make a window of any shape that can be placed anywhere in the frame and that can have it's own grade. For instance to bring up a face without affecting the surroundings, or bringing down a blown out sky and getting some detail back in it. Also see below:

6. Soften/Feathering - the ability to soften a keyed colour or a window. For instance, one can grab a colour and then soften just that area that has just that colour. Can be very useful for getting skies and horizons to look a bit more nice. Or to make an obnoxious object that sings too much get more in line.

7. White Compression - not available on all desks (think it's only on DaVinci), but very useful. It basically takes clipped, or near clipped whites and compresses them down into grey.

8. Dynamics - basically the ability to set a start and an end point for a grade within a sequence. This tool is super-useful and is used all the time. For instance if someone is walking in from a sunlit exterior into a dark interior, you can bring down the exterior and boost the interior so they match closer. I did a video in Barcelona where we shot a girl in a bus going from exterior full sunlight into a tunnel 4 stops under. I simply let it go and overexposed the exteriors knowing that the dynamic pass in TK would bring in line.
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#6 Stephen Williams

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Posted 05 March 2007 - 05:17 PM

7. White Compression - not available on all desks (think it's only on DaVinci), but very useful. It basically takes clipped, or near clipped whites and compresses them down into grey.


Hi Adam,

Sounds like 'soft clip' in Pandoras 'DCT' or that's what they called it 10 years ago.

Stephen
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#7 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 05 March 2007 - 06:49 PM

Aha. Is Pandora the forerunner to Pogle? Sounds like the same effect, though.
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#8 Dominik Muench

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Posted 05 March 2007 - 07:26 PM

alessandro: i do attend the grading sessions all the time, but i want a fairly good idea before hand and how to achieve it.

adam: wow thank you, i will print out your post and keep that as reference :)
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#9 Michael Most

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Posted 06 March 2007 - 10:41 AM

alessandro: i do attend the grading sessions all the time, but i want a fairly good idea before hand and how to achieve it.

adam: wow thank you, i will print out your post and keep that as reference :)



The "how to achieve it" part is not what you should be interested in. No two colorists work the same way, although there are clearly some basic methods that are shared by all. But just as cameramen develop their own methods of achieving the looks they want, and no two cameramen work exactly alike, colorists all have their own "bag of tricks" that let them achieve what they want in a way that's efficient, repeatable, and technically clean based on their own working habits. For you as a client to request specific approaches is not very different than a director coming in and telling you where to put the lights. A director communicates with you in a number of ways, some verbal and some visual. He will discuss what he wants out of the scene story wise and visually, and in preproduction will often share references with you - film, paintings, drawings, storyboards, and even non-visual references such as music - and by doing so will communicate the essence of what he's after. It's then up to you to exercise your talent and skills to achieve what he's asking for. A good colorist is very similar, in that he or she is in the position of trying to give you what you want. How he or she gets there should be of no concern to you, only that he or she does get there. The best communication you can have with a colorist is exactly the same as the best communication between you and your director. Give a colorist direction. Show him or her references, either directly from production in the form of stills, or possibly the same paintings, drawings, and the like that you shared with your director. Direct them in terms of the mood you're trying to achieve, or in terms of tone. What you don't want to do is to tell the colorist how to do his or her job. At least not if you want an emotionally invested colorist who will ultimately give you at least what you expected, and hopefully more.
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#10 Dominik Muench

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Posted 06 March 2007 - 08:20 PM

michael: i think you misunderstand me, im not trying to figure out the work process of a colorist so i can tell them what to do.

i try to figure out a work process in photoshop for myself so i can provide references to the colorist to let him know what i have in mind. and exactly that is my problem, i know the tools like selective color, contrast, curves and all that in photoshop....but i dont know which ones to use to what extend and when, to achieve the look i have in mind. often i have a very distinctive image in my mind, but its hard to find references and then its difficult to tell them exactly what i want.
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#11 Michael Most

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Posted 06 March 2007 - 08:58 PM

michael: i think you misunderstand me, im not trying to figure out the work process of a colorist so i can tell them what to do.

i try to figure out a work process in photoshop for myself so i can provide references to the colorist to let him know what i have in mind. and exactly that is my problem, i know the tools like selective color, contrast, curves and all that in photoshop....but i dont know which ones to use to what extend and when, to achieve the look i have in mind. often i have a very distinctive image in my mind, but its hard to find references and then its difficult to tell them exactly what i want.


Like anything else, it takes practice and experience to learn any tool - be it a DaVinci or Photoshop. It sounds like you're trying to use something you haven't taken enough time to learn.

Beyond the immediate issue of knowing Photoshop well enough to achieve what you see in your mind, it might be helpful to collaborate with a colorist you trust, who shares your visual sensibilities. Like production, post is a collaborative medium. A good colorist should be able to take what you've shot and help to make it more than even you might have imagined, given the time and direction to do so. Your task is to find that colorist and allow them to work with you. Unless you're going to invest a lot of time and effort to become a colorist yourself, the collaboration is part of the process. Good directors absorb and appreciate the collaborative input of a good editor. The relationship between a cameraman and a colorist (or a lab timer, if that's the way you're finishing) should be regarded similarly.
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#12 Dominik Muench

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Posted 06 March 2007 - 09:04 PM

well yes, but you know how it is, especially in low budget productions....every hour of telecine cost money...lots of money. so if there is a way of conveying my ideas quickly to the colorist that would be very helpful.

the ideal thing would be a book that has lots of different stills photography styles in them and explains how to achieve those styles in photoshop .
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#13 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 06 March 2007 - 10:00 PM

well yes, but you know how it is, especially in low budget productions....every hour of telecine cost money...lots of money. so if there is a way of conveying my ideas quickly to the colorist that would be very helpful.

the ideal thing would be a book that has lots of different stills photography styles in them and explains how to achieve those styles in photoshop .


More like an encyclopedia, with each book devoted to a specific film stock, and a good idea I might add.

I found Adam's list very interesting. Ironically the one that I value the most in my own betacam sp studio is the white compression/clip, lol, the one that Adam stated is not always available. I've found the ability to ever so gently massage the white clip levels can have the biggest impact as all the other adjustments then have more room to breathe and can be better adjusted if the white compression/clip has been optimized.

Sometimes I can do more in one pass to recorrect an image by using white compression/clip along with proc amp and standard joystick color wheel then by running it through a high quality component color corrector, especially on very low budget video productions that are run and gun guerilla style of cinematography and are only using natural lighting conditions.

The white compression/clip function is very risky to use during the actual film to tape transfer because one can actually gain visually by using clip but the new look cannot be easily undone later. Usually the idea is to not clip anything when doing the actual film transfer but then do it afterwards, either during tape to tape sweetening or on a high end non-linear correction system. However, avoiding clip at all costs during the film transfer stage might not be optimal if the bright to the dark contrast range is huge. One runs the risk of having critical information sort of mired in the bottom of the gamma curve and to "boost" it back up later may not prove as clean as if it had been done at the time of the actual film transfer. Clip strategy is huge when lights actually end up in the shot (by design) or a window is in the shot and the contrast differences between the brightness from outside versus the interiors is several f-stops. If the colorist is able to preserve detail in the window without clipping, then there is the chance the interior portion of the scene will just not have enough exposure during the film transfer session even though the film itself captured both inside and outside perfectly within the same frame. If the colorist decides to do a slight clip and bring up the inside levels then the risk is that someone downstream will be unhappy that the detail in the window has already been clipped and cannot be undone.

While there are methods for doing a lower exposure on the window while retaining better gamma for the interiors, doing it during the film transfer stage can be very risky especially if the shot has movement in it.
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#14 Michel Hafner

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 09:40 AM

4. Noise Reduction - this smooths out the picture and makes it less grainy. But it works less well on hectic and moving footage, it can smear the footage somewhat. But for beauty work it's almost a pre-requisite.

I have to disagree here. Rather the opposite. For beauty work you can't be too careful about noise reduction as it always messes somewhat with the textures and grain behaviour if it's effective at all (if not, why bother). There is nothing more ugly than a grain reduced DI full of noise reduction artifacts IMHO (e.g. The Aviator, Mr. and Mrs. Smith).
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#15 Michael Campanella

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 11:51 AM

Fantastic post by Adam ... I've got a long way to go before I'll be sitting in any DI sessions, but you explained a lot about what can be done. I'll have to get the book recommended by in the previous post as well.
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#16 Dominic Case

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 06:11 PM

Like anything else, it takes practice and experience to learn any tool - be it a DaVinci or Photoshop.

As usual, I guess Mike Most is right on the button here.

And you will find that practice and experience comes all the quicker if you combine the practical "try it and see" process with a theoretical understanding of what the various tools do to the image. That's where the book references come in - not as a substitute for hands-on, nor as a phrase book for talking to colorists, but to supplement them.
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#17 Michael Most

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Posted 07 March 2007 - 06:59 PM

well yes, but you know how it is, especially in low budget productions....every hour of telecine cost money...lots of money. so if there is a way of conveying my ideas quickly to the colorist that would be very helpful.

the ideal thing would be a book that has lots of different stills photography styles in them and explains how to achieve those styles in photoshop .


I hate to say it, and I don't mean any disrespect here, but it sounds to me like you're looking for the instant "make what I want" button. If you want to learn any of this stuff, you have to devote some time and effort to it. There isn't any magic cookbook that lets you instantly call up what you have in mind, there isn't any instant correction button, and there aren't any shortcuts. If you want to dabble in post, you have to be willing to learn what you need to know in order to do it. There are probably 100 books on Photoshop at every Barnes and Noble in the US. I'm sure it's the same around the world.

If you can paint, perhaps that's a better way of communicating your intent. Or perhaps simply taking stills during production. Or, perhaps, hiring a Photoshop artist for a few hours to get you what you want at a lower rate than a telecine suite.
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