In this month's Cut Lines, we'll see how to tame areas of an image that may be overexposed, such as when you're indoors and there is a window with a lot of light coming in, or a bright sky on a horizon outdoors. We'll also go a step further and see how to use these bad shots to our advantage. We can actually use this situation to enhance the coloring of our shot.
Step 1: Duplicate the Clip
I'll start off with my shot of a ring pull in track V1 (Figure 1, left). You can see my problem; my shot was set against a very large window with translucent curtains that were doing much too thorough a job of diffusing the light. Worse yet, the shot slowly pulls out at the end and there's even more bright old curtain! Yuck! There was only one camera running at the time, and I have to use the shot, overexposed as it is.
So the very first thing I'll do is duplicate this clip to the track above it. I need to combine a regular copy with a copy that kills off that brightness. There is a simple and fast way to duplicate clips in the Timeline window. But be sure to have Linking turned off. Cmd+L toggles off and on the Linking function that "links" the video and audio portions of a clip. We want to duplicate the video portion only. Simply hold Shift+Option, and then grab and drag your clip. It will actually be dragging a duplication of the original. The original will stay right where it is. Now I have two copies of the clip lined up on tracks V1 and V2.
Step 2: Key Out the Color
Next, I'll double-click the version on track V2, the upper-most clip, to open it in the Viewer. Then in the Effects tab of the Browser, I'll go to Video Filters, to the Key bin, and apply the Color Key filter. In the Filters tab of the Viewer, I'll set View to Final, and use the eyedropper in the color picker to select the bright area I want to kill off. Then I'll set Tolerance to 42, Edge Thin to -8, and Edge Feather to 100 (Figure 2, left). I can't see the results right away. What happens is that the original clip on V1 is showing through the black areas, so you don't actually see any difference.
But if I turn off track V1 by clicking the green button to the left of it, I'll see the mask that was just created. I can then adjust it to cover the area I need to darken in the best way I can.
Step 3: Change the Opacity
Now I'll turn track V1 back on and double-click it to open it in the Viewer window. In the Motion tab, I'll fool around with the Opacity slider, punching in numbers until I find the sweet spot. On this particular clip I set the Opacity at 70. Now we can see that bright area toned down a bit (Figure 3, left).
Bear in mind I'm exaggerating a little here, so that the effect will be easier to see in print. It's an improvement, but I want to get greedy with this effect.
Step 4: Create a Custom Gradient Clip
In the Viewer window, in the Video tab, I'll click on the Generators drop-down menu, go to the Render category, and select Custom Gradient (Figure 4, left). I now have this Generator open in the Viewer; it's just a generic white-to-black gradient. I'll place this just as if it were a regular clip into my Timeline window, on track V3 lined up with my first two clips. I may even have to lengthen the Custom Generator clip to match that of my shot. Then be sure to double click it in the Timeline window to open up that copy of this clip into the Viewer. This is a very important step; the duplicate clip has to be opened into the Viewer from the Timeline window first. After that, I'll turn off Track V4 in order to have access to my gradient's controls in the Viewer window and still be able to access my shot in the Canvas window at the same time.
In the Controls tab, I'll use the eye droppers in the Color Picker sections to set my Start color with a pink from my shot, and a red in my shot for the end color. You could also click on the color squares to create your own colors from scratch, too. Then make sure you have both the Dither and Gaussian boxes checked.
Step 5: Apply a Soft Light Filter
Now for the magic. When I turn Track V4 back on, the first thing I need to do is right-click (cmd+click for one-button mice) on my Custom Gradient clip in the Timeline window, and from the pop-up menu, I'll go to Composite Mode and select Soft Light (Figure 5, left).
Feel free to experiment with the various composite modes. They're very useful. The Apple Pro Training Series book Advanced Color Correction And Effects In Final Cut Pro 5 covers the composite modes with some very well done tutorials. I highly recommend learning these composite modes.
Step 6: Set the Gradient Direction
While I can clearly see the gradient, I'll go back to the Viewer and use the compass controller to set the Gradient Direction. Here I have it set for 15 degrees. Finally, I'll jump over to the Motion tab and set the Opacity of my Custom Gradient clip to 30. This is another setting that I fooled around with a bit to find the sweet spot.
Now we have a clip that no longer has a blaring, blinding bright area (Figure 6, left). We have a clip that is more acceptable, and colorful. The "sweet spot" I'm looking for is a very subtle effect, one that makes the shot easier on the eyes, with character, but not a trick you want anyone to actually notice. Subtlety is the key word here. As always, feel free to experiment with these settings. Many will have to be experimented with from clip to clip. But once you do this technique, it begins to come easier and easier. I hope you get as much mileage out of this technique as I have. Happy editing, y'all!
To download a 1.7MB QuickTime 7 movie showing the clip in all three stages, you can find it here.
Ben Balser is an Apple Certified Trainer based in New Orleans, Louisiana.