August 11, 2016

How Do You Know When You're Done Color Grading?

As Leonardo da Vinci once said: "Art is never finished, only abandoned." If you're a colorist working on a grade, you might just agree.

You're looking at the footage you're color grading and it looks good, but you think you need to add a little bit of contrast to the shots, and maybe a little more highlights, and a slight vignette wouldn't hurt either...and then you realize, you've been working on the same grade forever. Will the madness ever end? 

Editor Casey Faris provides a fantastic answer in the video below, in which he explains not only the many variables that will determine how long the process will take, but also his philosophy when it comes to grading a project.

Color grading doesn't have that "future bride trying on her perfect wedding dress" moment where you'll say, "That's it! That's the one!" Every project you're going to work on will have different needs and requirements, so the answer is a little more nuanced than a simple, "You're done when you think it looks good"—or, in my case, "when someone is sent to your house to make sure you're still alive."

Being done with a color grade depends on more variables than simply painstakingly achieving the aesthetic you want, like delivery deadlines, budgetary constraints, and the desire to be a functional adult. Because, as we all know, you could tweak the color on a project ad infinitum.

"Do I have the time and budget to make it better?"

If you're working on your own project, you can certainly keep color grading your shots forever. Have fun. However, if you're working on a project for a client, you're probably working on a deadline. If you're dealing with a grade that you're not quite happy with, you've got to ask yourself: "Do I have the time and budget to make it better?"      

Your Comment


when the money runs out...

August 12, 2016 at 9:57PM

Craig Swanson

I am slightly confused about the fact the author discusses the time and money, round and round, then technical quality, but not a purpose of the shot. He just briefly mentions there is something like realistic and stylised look.

Do I really need hair to shine, eyes standing out? Is this the true base I should move from on?

I would prefer to have technically less perfect shot, with the mood matching the purpose well, over the opposite.

These ideas came up just watching the demo shot in the video - the girl does not look very happy, why shoud I "fix" this by making her eyes glow in the dark? Wouldn't be underlining the mood with some less happy tones (if that is what viewer should feel) a better choice?

I think this video is more about "normalizing" the shot. And that is something it does a pretty good job at. But I understand grading as process of adjusting the overall look to aid purpose we had in mind.

What do you think? Am I way off?

August 16, 2016 at 4:26PM, Edited August 16, 4:46PM

Petr Schreiber
Passion for video in all forms