One thing to note as well with Color: I know I’ve mentioned in the past that anyone doing serious video editing work on the Mac should be using a multibutton mouse; Color requires it. You must have a three-button mouse to use Color. Not only will it make your work faster and more efficient, as with Final Cut Pro, but in Color it’s a necessity. In Final Cut Pro, right-click functions always mapped to control-click, and for the most part, this is true in Color. But Color also includes many essential functions that are middle-click-only, and there’s no way to access them using your keyboard. So if you want to use Color to enhance your work by taking you beyond the color correction capabilities of Final Cut Pro, now’s the time to buy that three-button mouse and step into a new world of clicking versatility.
Step 1: Choose a Clip with Typical Color Issues
To begin, I’ve got some problem clips in a wedding project, and one clip that there is absolutely nothing wrong with (Figure 1, below). I’m going to run through fixing each problem, and then show you a little bonus afterwards. All of these clips are the original, untouched clips. I didn’t dirty anything up to show off. These are real problems from a real wedding. All of what we’re about to do here can be done with the 3-Way Color Corrector in Final Cut Pro, of course, but not with the speed, control, and unbelievably beautiful results Color will give you.
Step 2: Correct the Hue
I’ll start in Final Cut Pro, after all my edits are done. My first clip has bad white balance. Since the walls of the room are a sort of pinkish off-white, and there was so much pink and red in the dresses and decorations, the camera got thrown off. The operator (which would be me) didn’t catch it until after the ceremony had started. But these things happen.
To correct the problem, first, from the Timeline window, I’ll go to File > Send To > Color. I’m prompted for a name to save this Sequence. This is typical of Final Cut Studio’s nondestructive editing paradigm. Nothing I do in Color will change my original Sequence, nor the clips in it. You’ll see this as we progress.
In Color, the first thing I have to do is go to the Set Up room, and to the Project Settings tab at the bottom of that room, and turn off Broadcast Safe (Figure 2, below). This is a must-do for all color correction work. Broadcast Safe filters "clip" whites and blacks which can have detrimental effects on an image. This is not the same as doing a true color grade that reins in these extremes. Do not confuse a quick-fix filter’s quality with professional grading work; they do not deliver the same results.
Then I’ll go to the Primary In room and perform the first task of all color work, adjusting my contrast. I’ll use the contrast sliders first on the Shadow settings, while watching the Luma scope to get my blacks as close to 0% as I can, without messing up the image, or going beyond 0%. Then I’ll work with the Highlight settings, using the contrast slider to get my whites up as close as possible to (without exceeding) 100%. Then, if I have to, I’ll adjust the Midtones the same way. You may have to go back and forth between them a bit to get a good balance. This is vital to do first in any color correcting or grading work.
Next I have to decide if the color wheels will work, or if I’ll need to use the graphs. The color wheels affect areas (black, midtones, white) that overlap a bit. The graphs don’t overlap with their effects. With the graph, higher up toward the upper right are the Highlights, and on the lower left are the Shadows. Note that there is an Auto Balance button (lower right portion of the screen) that can help with the right image, but don’t rely on it.
With this specific image I simply drag my Highlight color towards 7 o’clock to get my color balance just right. What I end up with is a perfectly colored image. The pinkish tint of the wall is still there, the floor is the dark white it should be, and my blacks are not affected (they’re good as is). I play the clip and it looks great throughout. That was really quick and easy with a great deal of control. Note: Once you adjust a clip in Color, it is vital to play the clip to be sure your corrections hold up through the movement throughout the duration of the clip.
Step 3: Color Correct in the Secondaries Room
The one problem I notice now is that the pedestal is still way too blue. Here’s where we go beyond working with these issues in FCP. I’ll go to the Secondaries Room, tab 1, Enable it. Make sure you have the Preview tab in the middle section selected so you can see the matte you’re creating. Also, that above the Highlight controls the Control drop-down menu is set to Inside.
Using the eyedropper, I’ll drag across the pedestal to isolate it. To the right of the matte preview, I’ll make sure the button that is red, green, and blue is selected. This shows the whole clip in its final form. Then I’ll use the Midtones color wheel and drag toward 11 o’clock just a tad, opposite the blue I want to get rid of (Figure 3, below). Presto, a naturally white pedestal! It was really that fast and easy!
Step 4: Correct Underexposure Using the Luma Curve
Next, I’ll double-click my next clip in the Timeline to select it. I’ll play it through and watch my Luma scope to get a good feel for what’s going on. Trust that Luma scope more than your eyes! This image is way too dark (left side of Figure 4, below). In my Primary In room, first I’ll adjust my Highlight contrast slider to bring the highlights way up, adjust my Shadow contrast slider to bring the highlights back down, adjust my Midtone contrast, and back to the Highlights, etc., until my contrast is correctly balanced. This image takes me a minute to play around and get the right balance, and your clips will likely take a similar amount of experimentation. Be aware that the contrast sliders are infinite; you can drag them up and down forever. This is good, but be careful. For one thing, it makes it very easy to blow out your Highlight settings.
As a side note, I took a moment to experiment with using the Luma curve. Here’s how it works: Click on the line to make a point, then drag it up or down. This method gave me an awesome Bleach Bypass look, but in this instance that’s not what I’m going for. So the contrast sliders for the color wheels are the best way for me to proceed with this specific clip. But that experimenting is really important to learning to do color work properly. Now, to get the image to look good, I had to go above my 100% white limit. So I’ll go to my Primary Out Room. Here I’ll use the Luma curve. I place a point just a little bit down from the very top right, and pull that very top right point down just enough to bring my Highlights to 100% (right side of Figure 4, above).
I’m done! It’s broadcast legal, without the clipping that can make the image look artificial, and I’ve spent only about 3 minutes on it.
Step 5: Correct Overexposure
I double-click my third clip to be sure it’s active (Color sets itself to the specific clip the playhead is on). This is a clip I used in the February 2007 installment of Cut Lines. So here we are a year later, doing the same thing, but faster and easier, and with more beautiful results!
In my Primary In room I adjust my contrast, watching my Luma scope carefully. I’m only going to adjust the Highlight contrast, because it seems that in this clip the Shadow and Midtone levels are be just fine.
Next I’ll go to my Secondaries Room, Tab 1, and enable it. Then I’ll use the eyedropper to drag across that blindingly bright window. Ouch! I watch in the Preview tab to see the mask I’m making. I tend to pick up some of the white table cloth, too. So in the upper right of my screen, next to the eye dropper, I’ll deselect the Hue and Saturation, turning those controls off. Next I’ll adjust the feathering control of the Luma bar to isolate the window from the table as much as I can.
Then with the Control set to Inside, I’ll bring down the contrast slider of the Highlight controls. I notice it makes the window tone down, but also makes it an ugly, unnatural gray. That’s easy and fast to correct. I’ll use the Color Wheel control to tint it.
I also find, with this image, that using the hue and saturation sliders give me more minute control to tweak the tinting of the window curtains to just the right value. Again, very quick, very easy, and very powerful.
But wait, the bride stands out from the window, making the image look artificial! That’s easily fixed; I just need to play with my Key Blur setting. You can middle-click your mouse and drag left and right to set this, or just highlight the numeric field and type in numbers. I find that a setting somewhere around 8 makes my key look more natural. Finally, in my Primary Out Room, I’ll adjust my Midtone color wheel toward blue a tad, and bring my Highlight contrast slider up just a bit to bring my brights up closer to 100%. Again, just a few very short minutes, and I’m done!
My next clip is very similar. But after my initial contrast adjustments in the Primary In Room, I’ll also introduce some blue into the Midtone and Highlights as this image is way too yellow/gold- looking. Then in my Secondaries Room, tab 1, I use the eye dropper to create a matte and tone down and tint that pesky window again. Finally, in my Primary Out Room, I’ll do some more contrast adjustment and add a tad of blue to my Midtones, and I have a nicer image. The window being blown out is not 100% fixable, since it’s way too blown out, and the detail was just lost in the original, but it looks much better than before with only 3 minutes of work. See Figure 5 (below) for the final versions.
Step 6: Additional Adjustments for a More Filmlike Look
My final shot is perfect—nothing wrong with it. But I’m going to play with the contrast adjustments of my Shadow, Midtone, and Highlight settings just for fun. And guess what happens? It "pops" way more! It actually looks like it has more depth—not depth of field, but more of a 3D look than the flat 2D medium that video actually is. This can make my good shots stand out from the crowd and give my productions a quality that is more like film than any of my competition.
Simply correcting the contrast of an otherwise perfectly good shot can really make your productions stand out so much more, and Color makes it very easy to achieve this kind of effect (Figure 6, below).
Step 7: Create Custom Presets
Now for a little bonus lesson to streamline your workflow even further. Since I’m cutting from camera to camera in each shot, will I have to go through and do these corrections for each instance of that camera’s footage in my Timeline? Not in Color. Let’s say I’ll go back to the third clip I fixed. That camera was at that position and in those settings for the whole ceremony. But there are over a dozen clips from that shot in my Timeline.
First, I double-click that one clip from that camera in Color’s Timeline (or just place the playhead over it) to make it active. Then in the Browser, I’ll set it for icon view, then I’ll click the Save button, save it as a custom preset in my Browser. I can then use Control+click to select all instances of that shot in my Timeline, and click the "Copy To Selected" button (Figure 7, below), and Color will apply that "Grade" to all selected clips. Done!
Step 8: Back to FCP
The final step is to get all this work back into your already-open FCP project. This is the easy part. First, I’ll go back to the Set Up Room and turn Broadcast Safe back on. This will catch any stray pixels that I may have missed in my grading, but it will not "clamp" my Shadows and Highlights in a way that would ruin the image. Then I go to the Render Queue Room, click the Add All button, click the Start Render button, and let it all render out. Once that’s done, I’ll go to File > Send To > Final Cut Pro. Back in FCP, you’ll have a new Sequence. It will have the name of the Sequence you sent to Color with "(from Color)" after the name. Nondestructive! You have your original, and your graded versions of that Sequence ready to go!
So there you have it, how to use Color in a practical, fast, and easy manner to make your video work stand out above all the others. Although this is not a comprehensive beginners’ tutorial on Color, the tools in the application are not very hard to learn. I personally consider it the easiest application in Final Cut Studio to learn. But the hard part is developing the eye to see color and contrast and all the very slight details that make color grading really work for you. To really learn Color I recommend Michael Wohl’s Apple Pro Training Series: Color book. It’s only 10 chapters and comes with a DVD full of projects and media all set up and ready to guide you through learning this really wonderful and exciting application. Alexis Van Hurkman’s Encyclopedia of Color Correction is also a very valuable resource for learning to do proper color work. Until next time, Happy Editing!
Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Trainer based in southeast Louisiana. He teaches Final Cut Studio for LA Tech College and the N.O. Video Access Center. Contact Ben with Final Cut Studio questions and he will try to address them in future tutorials.