Color grading is commonly known as “color correction,” but I prefer the more British term “grading” since “correction” implies a colorist’s job is to fix mistakes, when it’s really much more creative than that. In fact, the line between cinematographer and colorist is increasingly blurring, and today you can’t be great at one job if you don’t have a good understanding of the other.
Since this is a “cinematography” guide, I won’t go too deep into grading other than to say that you should absolutely have a project-specific aesthetic in mind before you shoot, as opposed to figuring it out once the footage is already in your NLE. As for how to grade, Stu Maschwitz has made a terrific tutorial demystifying color correction using his own software Magic Bullet Looks and Colorista, collectively part of the Magic Bullet Suite (of which I’m a user). The techniques presented in the tutorial apply to any three-way color correction tool (such as those included in Final Cut and Premiere Pro, the incredibly deep but frustrating Apple Color, or the oft-overlooked Color Finesse plugin that ships with After Effects). Here’s the tutorial, which focuses on “summer blockbuster” looks:
Finally, here are a lot more incredibly helpful tutorials from Stu.
Deft use of digital color grading, in conjunction with the shallow depth-of-field images possible thanks to the large DSLR sensors, can make for amazing images at incredibly low prices points.