November 8, 2015

A Simple Trick to Make Your Color Grades More Cinematic & Professional

Learn Color Grading Desaturated Shadow Technique
The tools for precise color grading are now widely available, but some of the techniques that professionals use day-in and day-out remain a mystery.

In a quick video from Alex Jordan at Learn Color Grading, Alex shares an extremely simple tip that could make a huge difference in the aesthetic of your film. That tip can be summed up nicely as: keep the shadows in your image relatively desaturated. With that said, it's a bit more complicated than that, so here's Alex to show you how it's done inside of DaVinci Resolve:

It's easy to think that saturation is something that you can only adjust in one fell swoop, an adjustment that applies to the entire image and not individual parts or luma ranges. And in many basic color correction plugins, that's definitely the case. You adjust the saturation control and the entire range of shadows, midtones, and highlights has its saturation manipulated by exactly the same amount. In DaVinci Resolve, however, there's a simple adjustment that allows you precisely control which parts of the image are saturated and which parts are not.

What Alex is doing in his example above is simple. In order to keep the darker parts of the image relatively desaturated, he's creating a new serial node that he leaves at the end of the chain. Any other nodes used to make adjustments to the image will be kept before this one. On that final node, he makes one adjustment. In the Curves editor he selects the Luma vs. Saturation control, and then drops the left side (the shadows) of the curve down while slightly boosting the saturation of the midtones.

It looks like this when it's all said and done:

Learn Color Grading Desaturated Shadow Technique
And here's the massive difference that simple node at the end makes in the final look of the image. Both of these images have the same adjustment, with the shadows pushed towards blue, but the second one has the additional node with shadow desaturation enabled.

Without Shadow Desaturation
Without Shadow Desaturation
With Shadow Desaturation
With Shadow Desaturation
So there you have it. By keeping your shadows desaturated in relation to the rest of your image, you can really punch up the aesthetic, making color casts like the blue one above far more polished and professional.

If you're interested in learning more about color correction and grading inside of DaVinci Resolve 12, Alex has one of the absolute best online courses that you will find anywhere. Be sure to check it out.      

Your Comment

25 Comments

Nice tip. Used more sparingly, desaturating highlights to appear more neutral white is another one.

November 8, 2015 at 4:39PM

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Jason R. Johnston
Director & Cinematographer
86

Make your shadows like velvet; make your highlights like satin; add touches of contrast; use good lighting to begin with to add differentiation to your highlights and shadows.

November 8, 2015 at 4:58PM

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Joseph Arant
Writer
246

Could you expand on that?? Like what do you mean there?

May 8, 2017 at 10:57PM

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Morley Sullivan
Video Editor
20

anyone know of a way to desaturate shadows natively in Premiere CC?

November 8, 2015 at 8:44PM

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I would like to know that as well. For most of my projects there is simply not enough time to really do extensive grading in Da Vinci.

November 9, 2015 at 6:20AM

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Gerbert Floor
DP / Director / Camera / Editor
313

double post...

November 9, 2015 at 2:55PM, Edited November 9, 2:56PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
748

Came here to ask this. Lumetri Color has added some great color functionality to Premiere CC, but I'm not able to figure out a way to desaturate shadows or highlights yet. I have not played around with Resolve yet, but I'd like to see if I can make a custom LUT with desaturated shadows and highlights and import it into Premiere CC.

November 9, 2015 at 9:05AM

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Joe O
Marketing Videographer/Video Editor
88

I guess you could make a secondary correction with the three way color corrector. Mask the shadows with a good feather and desaturate...

November 9, 2015 at 11:38AM, Edited November 9, 11:40AM

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I immediately looked once I saw the video and ....YES. Good ol' 3 Way Color Corrector has it built into the Saturation section. It has 4 controls for Master, Shadows, Mids and Highs. Not exactly sure why that's not integrated into the Color Wheels of Lumetri. On the right side of each wheel should be Saturation slider to match the Luminance on the Left side. Think I'll add it as a necessary feature if people haven't requested it already. Seems like an oversight=)

November 9, 2015 at 2:56PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
748

Yes, this is possible to desaturate the darkest shadows with Premiere Pro CC using Lumetri Color. Please check out my tutorial steps here:

http://imgur.com/a/1zGOR

February 6, 2017 at 6:35PM

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Thank you. This is very helpful.

April 14, 2017 at 5:26PM

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Greg Cairns
Filmmaker
22

Use the HSL selector. Check the box for all colors and all saturations. Then choose the bottom of the spectrum for luminance. Then simply desaturate with the saturation slider. Make sure you also feather out the effect so it isn't too harsh... Hope that helps!

May 8, 2017 at 11:01PM

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Morley Sullivan
Video Editor
20

Any ideas or help on how to desaturate shadows/low end in FCPX? Either natively or with a 3rd party plugin?

November 8, 2015 at 9:46PM, Edited November 8, 9:46PM

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Joshua Fernandez
Director / Director of Photography / Editor / Colorist
81

It's actually super easy to do in FCPX. Using the built-in Color Board you have 3 tabs Color, Saturation and Exposure - in the Saturation window you have 3 sliders: Shadows, Midtowns and Highlights. Just adjust each slider to your liking. You also have 3 sliders for Exposure making it pretty quick and simple to get a nice grade.

November 9, 2015 at 2:16AM

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Lance Bachelder
Writer/Director/Editor
172

Thanks, Lance, I was wondering what built-in features can be used in FCP. I personally am not a fan of overly blue-gray scenes meant to look like night. I just saw the pilot episode of a British series Black Mirror and one of their first scenes was like that. Bleh.

November 15, 2015 at 5:02PM

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Suzie Park
Director & DP
88

Nice Tip!
What would be the best way to go about doing this in premiere pro?

November 9, 2015 at 11:07AM

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If you have Premiere CC, I've figured out a way to do this with Lumetri Color:

Please check out my tutorial steps here:
http://imgur.com/a/1zGOR

February 6, 2017 at 6:37PM

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To all those people going 'how do I do this in X/Y/Z editing program': you can't, at least with nowhere near the nuance the above tip demonstrates.

Unless you want to pay for, install and learn the Baselight Editions, which is almost as complex and just as GPU-hungry as Resolve.

This is why colourists exist.

November 9, 2015 at 1:44PM, Edited November 9, 1:45PM

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Or just download resolve. It's free and really not that hard to learn.

November 9, 2015 at 8:12PM

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LJ
537

I'm a Resolve colourist. :)

Baselight editions is the only plugin that works within FCP and Avid with features close enough to a full grading application.

November 11, 2015 at 1:33PM

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Just to point out, make sure you use the link that Rob put on the end of the post as it'll give you 70% off the course price. Bought Alex's course to help my slow (hopeful) transition from PPro.

[ramble] I've actually been testing Resolve 12 for the last few projects from start to finish and I'm fairly impressed with the edit page now. Still needs some tweaks and performance isn't quite the same as PPro, also missing some key shortcuts from PPro, including the invaluable "Ripple Trim Next/Previous Edit to Playhead" (http://nofilmschool.com/2013/06/premiere-pro-tutorial-keyboard-shortcuts...). But all things considered, for simple edit projects, I'm happy to continue with Resolve, but would probably use PPro for anything more complex edit-wise. Of course Resolve's other strengths are just too good to overlook and will sway my decision heavily on each project..

Just on edit<->grade workflow in Resolve - It just so seamless in the final stages to go back and fort between edit and grade pages and tweak both simultaneously as you need without having to export anything, worry about footage mismatch or having to perform last minute paperclip & chewing gum fixes in Resolve which doesn't match PPro edit etc. There was definitely a moment of 'I'm sure I'm not supposed to be able to do this' followed by pure delight when I first went back and forth between the two pages and seeing all the grade changes in your edit page and tweaking the edit accordingly (even swapping takes if the grade revealed issues).

I know people probably say (as I would've in the past) that you have to have a picture-locked edit before you go to grade, but that's just not realistic these days on sometimes massively evolving projects.[/ramble]

November 10, 2015 at 6:09AM, Edited November 10, 6:10AM

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PJ Palomaki
Cinematographer | Motion Graphics
416

I use the Resolve Edit only for cutdown versions once I have done the full edit in premiere / After Effects. The migration of an edit from CC to Resolve is buggy and I seem to spend a few hours fixing translation errors but once that's done it's fine to stay in Resolve

I found the Edit is too limited compared to PPro for a full edit and some functions don't work as expected - Replace Edit for instance. Of course it's quite possible I'm not using it properly - just started using rather than reading user notes - have bought Alex's course and will have a look at the weekend. (By the way Alex's courses are all great - very clear, very straightforward and interesting)

November 10, 2015 at 7:44AM

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Ianmac
88

Often on NFS I see that people say Resolve is the best and that they use it to color almost everything they shoot. Resolve has way more color features and no editing software is able to match it. And in the meantime, I see people asking how to desaturate shadows in Premiere, no offence. So really, which features of Resolve really cannot be found in Premiere Pro? For professional colorists it is of course the control surface, ability to color Raw formats, what more? I am not a professional colorist, so I don't know about pro features, but if I am coloring just a regular DSLR video, what do I miss when doing it in Premiere?

November 10, 2015 at 4:04PM

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ReinisK
Cameraguy, editor
84

Really helpful.
Thanks

April 2, 2016 at 10:15AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
661

I've made a tutorial how to achieve this effect in Premiere Pro CC using Lumetri Color:

http://imgur.com/a/1zGOR

February 6, 2017 at 8:25PM

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People tend to desaturate what they can't balance; management v. correction. Interesting curve on the GUI; neither LOG nor LIN. Instead of desat blacks, try to find the specific color that is causing the unbalance and desat that particular frequency. More likely than not it'l be blue from neg, red from IP. GL.

September 12, 2017 at 4:25PM

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Michael Bellamy
Retired
1