Maybe the most immediately obvious, but definitely one of the least understood parts of the filmmaking process is colour grading. As technology changes at an ever increasing pace, the art and science of colour grading have become more commonplace in smaller productions. As high-end cameras have come down in price, it has opened up this mysterious and highly technical aspect of filmmaking to lower budget and smaller productions.
This new camera equipment offers increased flexibility to producers on how their final image will look. It is now possible to be more focused on colour grading as opposed to colour correction. Colour correction is fairly self-explanatory – it’s the process by which any inconsistencies in the colour of an image are addressed, usually with an aim to make the image as realistic as possible and usually a more technical treatment of the image.
Colour grading, on the other hand, is the more creative aspect of the colour process, where a colourist (or editor) will treat an image to produce a different emotional response or feeling depending on the story being told. The “flat” image out of the camera allows for much more latitude in how the picture can be manipulated by recording a higher dynamic range – more information is retained in both the shadows and the highlights of the image. With the relevant software, it’s then possible to manipulate this image to get the feel that you want from each shot.
Grading an image can have a massive effect on how it makes the viewer feel. In our video production company at TopLine, we have used blue or muted tones in projects around science and technology, lending a more serious and focused look to the film. On projects with a less information heavy focus, we might use warmer tones to help drive a more emotional response. Blue and cooler tones can also lend a horror project an unsettling atmosphere, as seen in this example we made for Absolute Radio:
The purple grade (and some lighting choices made on set too) really set a spooky unsettling tone. One of the best books on colour grading is called “If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die” and you can see from this film that we’ve really taken that adage to heart.
On most projects though, the grade is much more subtle. This recent shoot for Edenred, for example, is mostly just giving the image a realistic, natural feel but we have also chosen to really push the saturation of red colours in particular as this is the main brand colour for this client. You can also see here the difference between the raw image straight from the camera and what the finished shot looks like.
Because every project is unique, we always shoot a flat image with our projects here at TopLine so that we have the maximum amount of flexibility with colour grading in post-production.
As you can see colour grading can have a huge impact on a production so we always recommend allowing enough time (and consequently budget) to properly treat footage at the final stage of a project.