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Color Grading With RAW Video: Part 2

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All video production companies think critically about color during each stage of the production process. In pre-production, we might make note of a particular logo’s main colors or the overall palette of a brand. During production, we concentrate on shooting in a way that emphasizes important colors and attenuates distracting colors. In post-production, we have the ability to creatively  use color grading on individual shots to match our client’s vision and desired aesthetic mood.

Color is one of those things that, as media consumers, we’re all conditioned not to notice. If done well, an image’s color design will blend into and enhance the viewer’s overall experience, even if the coloring is very surreal or unorthodox. Of course, if color is executed poorly it may very well draw attention to itself in a way that detracts from the perceived quality of a particular project.

The task of coloring is being made far more approachable with the democratization of RAW-capable video cameras. RAW image formats allow post-production flexibility to a degree that is simply not achievable with highly compressed, “baked” footage. RAW is the harbinger of a post-codec world.

To demonstrate the myriad ways we can approach color grading in post-production, I selected a still frame from the Tutto Metal Design artist profile film. To begin, we have the shot as it was recorded in the Blackmagic Cinema Camera:

Raw video footage before color correction

If you’re wondering why it looks so bad, read through our post on RAW image capture and color grading. We swear it looks like that on purpose.

RAW is all about flexibility. You can do as little or as much as you want (though we definitely don’t recommend doing nothing). The next image is essentially a simple color correction – basic adjustments were made to fix white balance and balance exposure. If that’s as far as you want (or need) to take your footage, you could be done at this point.

Simple color correction applied to image

Of course, some projects call for a little more. What story are we trying to tell? What emotions are we trying to evoke? What impression do we want to create? Sometimes those questions are not yet answerable during production, and we want to see everything in context before we make our decisions. RAW allows us the freedom to experiment with different aesthetic looks in a non-destructive way.

In the next two images, you can really see the difference between two color grades: the first is “warm” (more orange) and the second is “cool” (more blue). What does the color say about the subject? The warm subject looks calm, reflective, and friendly. The cool subject appears more aloof; maybe even sinister. Color grading has the power to change your impression of someone even when all else is equal.

Warm color grading applied to image

Cool color grading applied to imageFinally, RAW allows us the ability to render special effects like day-to-night conversions. With total control over over the image’s 12-bit tonal range, we can plunge our scene into darkness and make it appear as if we were filming by moonlight. It takes time to perform this kind of conversion, but if you consider the amount of headache it could save when compared to actually staging a full production at night, you could still easily end up saving time and money.

Day to night color grading applied to RAW video