Sony Vegas Tips & Tricks: Correcting Color in Sony Vegas
Posted Nov 1, 2008

Welcome to Sony Vegas tips and tricks! This tutorial will be the first in a series of Vegas tutorials I’ll be contributing over the next several months. Here’s a quick intro: My wife, Christie, and I own and operate a small video company south of Houston. We primarily do weddings and other events, with the occasional small corporate project. We’ve been using Sony Vegas Pro since version 4. Kudos to EventDV for including Vegas in its mix of NLE coverage; it’s long overdue in my opinion. Let’s get started!

We’ll begin this series by discussing one of the most important features in any pro NLE: color correction.

The first thing you need to do before beginning any type of color correction work is to determine what "correct" color looks like. Rarely does your computer screen display colors correctly.

There are many factors affecting this, but with video you should be previewing your work on a properly adjusted broadcast monitor, or, at the very least, a properly adjusted TV set. Vegas Pro 8 supports monitoring your work through FireWire and other interfaces.

Of course, you’d never need to bother with color correction in your NLE if you got all the colors right the first time, but it’s often required for a number of reasons: for example, because you shot your footage with an improperly white-balanced camera. You’re outdoors with the groomsmen, and you’ve carefully set your white balance manually or to the camera’s outdoor preset. You’ve applied neutral density filters and dialed in some nice depth-of-field, and everything looks great for those shots. Then, you get distracted as you’re walking into the church, you set up your camera on the tripod while remembering to start the audio devices, you turn off ND and adjust exposure, and you forget to reset white balance. Who would ever do something like that? I have. I bet you have too.

Here’s another real-life scenario: You’re in a restaurant reception room with huge windows, and the sun is just beaming in, illuminating the whole room, and the overhead lights are on as well. It’s a midday reception; the bride and groom are about to make their entrance. You’re indoors so you instinctively set the camera to the indoor preset and go. You ended up with poorly colored footage. Here’s how to use the color correction tools in Vegas to fix it.

Step 1: Identify the Clip
The first step is to identify the clip you want to color correct. If you have multiple clips that need the same adjustment, there’s good news: You can apply video and some audio effects to specific events, to an individual track, or to a complete clip within the Media Pool. If you have a complete clip that needs correcting, you can add the video FX to the clip in the Media Pool. Then, any time the clip is used on any track in the project, the effect will be present (Figure 1, below).

Sony Vegas

Keep in mind that if the settings of the effect need to change over time (and most probably do), this may or may not be the best solution. Step 2: Open the Video Effects Tab
Let’s say that the clip that needs correcting is an individual clip on the timeline. The next step is to call up the Video Effects tab for that clip by left clicking the FX icon on the clip. Figure 2 (below) illustrates adding FX at the track level or event level. For finer detail of color, you’ll want to add the effect at the event level.
Sony Vegas

Step 3: Open the Three-Way Color Corrector
Double-click on Sony Color Corrector (Figure 3, below) and click OK. This will bring up the three-wheeled color corrector. The wheels are for color ranges: High, Medium, and Low. You can also think of these informally as Light, Neutral, and Dark.

Sony Vegas

Step 4: Identify the Problem
The first step in correcting the clip is to identify specific areas where the color is off. Find a place in the footage that showcases your principal characters, such as the bride or groom. Weddings are actually really good for this because you almost always have a profusion of white and black.

In this frame, the man’s shirt is supposed to be white, but it has a bluish tint, as shown in Figure 4 (below).

Sony Vegas

Step 5: Click Complementary Color
In the right-most color wheel, click on the Complementary Color button. The icon will change to an eyedropper (Figure 5, below).

Sony Vegas

Step 6: Select Multiple Black and White Pixels
Next, click and drag the mouse in the Vegas Preview Window to select a small area on the man’s shirt, or something in the frame that is supposed to be white (Figure 6, below). Clicking and dragging to select an area selects a range of pixels; this is better than just clicking on the Preview Window, which selects only one pixel.

Sony Vegas

Move to the far left color wheel, click on the Complementary Color button, and select (click and drag) a small area that is supposed to be black, or that is very dark—such as a tuxedo.

You should have much better looking footage at this point.

Step 7: Adjust Flesh Tones in the Middle Color Wheel
You should also experiment with the middle color wheel, clicking the Complementary Color button, and selecting a piece of the frame that is neither very light nor very dark, such as a flesh tone.
This step may or may not improve the video; be sure to preview the clip with and without the effect applied to confirm that the adjustment helped (Figure 7, below).

Sony Vegas

Step 8: Resize the Color Corrector
If you have footage with colors that are somewhat dull, like the bowls of fruit in this example, you can use the same Color Corrector tool to make the colors pop.

Resize the Color Corrector so you can see all the controls by double-clicking the Color Corrector window title bar, as shown in Figure 8 (below)
.
Sony Vegas

Step 9: Make the Colors Pop
Next, bump the Saturation slider just a hair and you’ll make the colors stand out (Figure 9, below).

Sony Vegas

How much should you adjust? How much is too much? The cool thing with Vegas—as with any NLE—is that you can experiment. You may find you come up with some unique looks and color enhancements.

Next month we’ll discuss levels and scopes and further adjust color. If you can’t wait that long and want to get more in depth right now, I highly recommend Glenn Chan and Douglas Spotted Eagle’s Vegas Color Correction DVD, available from VASST.com.

David McKnight (david at mcknightvideo.com) runs McKnight Video, a Houston-based wedding video studio. He is vice president of the Houston Professional Videographers Association, has Sony Vegas and HDV certification, is the technical editor of Vegas Pro 8 Editing Workshop (Focal Press), and is a contributor to TheFullHD Book (VASST).