Tutorial: Making Fast and Simple Color Adjustments in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5
Posted Feb 2, 2012

When you compress video for the web, the video can darken and colors can become muted. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to correct color and adjust brightness and color saturation with Adobe Premiere Pro’s Fast Color Corrector. If you’re a Final Cut Pro 7 user, I’ll also show you that Premiere Pro’s tools work very similarly to those that you’re used to and should be much easier to learn than those used in Final Cut Pro X. Let’s take a look.

Figure 1 (below) shows the clip we’ll be working with, which was shot at Streaming Media West in Los Angeles last year. There are two problems: First, the color is a bit off—the sign is white and not brown—and second, my face is a bit too dark. So we’ll fix both of those with the Fast Color Corrector.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 1. The clip we’ll work on, with multiple color issues.

(Go to page 2 of this article to continue.)

Working in Premiere Pro’s Waveform Monitor

Before adjusting brightness in Premiere Pro, open the Waveform monitor by first selecting Window > Reference monitor. The Reference monitor opens with composite video showing; change it to the Waveform monitor by clicking the Output button and selecting YC Waveform Figure 2 (below).

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 2. Selecting YC Waveform in the Reference monitor.

The Waveform monitor shows the Brightness value of the pixels on a scale from 0–100 IRE, with 0 being black. (The Brightness value of the black you see in Figure 2 is 7.5.) After the adjustments that we’ll make in the Waveform monitor, the black portions of the image will be close to zero and the whites will be close to 100. You can see my face in the Preview Monitor on the right, which is represented by the clump of pixels circled in Figure 3 (below). If I move the video back and forth, that clump of pixels moves as my head moves, which highlights the fact that the horizontal location of the pixels in the video corresponds to where they’re located in the Waveform monitor. So it’s pretty easy to see exactly what you’re adjusting in the Waveform monitor and that’s helpful for a couple of reasons that we’ll discuss throughout the tutorial.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 3. The clump of pixels representing my face in the Waveform monitor.

Now let’s adjust the Waveform. I prefer to show only brightness adjustments so I’ll deselect the Chroma checkbox at the top of the Reference monitor (Figure 4, below).

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 4. Deselecting Chroma so we see only Brightness adjustments represented in the waveform.

I like my blacks to be set at zero IRE, so I’ll click set up and bring the blacks down to 0. I like the intensity set to 100 because it’s easier to read, but these are subjective and you can find the settings that work best for you. When we look at a Waveform, there are two things we care about: First, we want the maximum whites to be up close to 100. Second, we want the blacks to be around zero; once the blacks come off of zero, everything starts to look faded. Whatever adjustments you make, you want to make sure that blacks portions of the image stay at zero, and for a subject in my skin tone range, you want the face to be between 70 and 80 IRE. So when I say the face is too dark, basically what I’m saying is that the values are clumped between 50 and 60 and I would prefer to see them between 60 and 70, or even 65–75.

We need to adjust the face without pulling the blacks off of the 0 IRE value and without boosting the whites way into the 110 or 120 range.

(Go to page 3 of this article to continue.)

Making Simple Color Changes in Premiere Pro’s Fast Color Corrector

But let’s tackle color first. The Fast Color Corrector—which you’ll find under Video Effects—is a very, very simple tool for making simple color adjustments. Click the disclosure triangle adjacent to Fast Color Corrector to reveal the White Balance control. Click the eye dropper and click a pixel in the frame that’s supposed to be white. In our example, the color chip is brown. That tells us that the clip is brownish and corrects for that (Figure 5, below).

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 5. The color chip next to Fast Color Corrector shows that the clip is more brownish than it should be.

To boost the adjustment a little bit further, drag the little circle in the color wheel or scroll down in the Effect Controls tab and adjust the Balance Magnitude value, as shown in Figure 6 (below).

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 6. Adjusting Balance Magnitude in the Fast Color Corrector

If I want to preview with and without the adjustment applied, as with any filter in Premiere Pro, click the Fx button next to the Fast Color Corrector effect to toggle the effect on and off. You can also do a splitscreen view in the monitor, which is most useful if you do it vertically, which allows you to control the location of the adjustment. In this example, if I set it at about 45 it’s positioned in the middle of my face, and I can see that in the White Balance color chip that it’s yellowish before the adjustment and corrected after.

(Go to page 4 of this article to continue.)

Adjusting Brightness Using Input Levels

When adjusting the Brightness in this image, our sole goal is to boost the clump of pixels called out in Figure 3 to above the 60 line. Still working in the Fast Color Corrector, the tool we’re going to use the Input Levels (Figure 7, below). Moving the marker at the left edge of the Input Levels slider adjusts the black values, the darkest pixels in the image; moving the marker at the right edge adjusts the whitest pixels; and moving the marker in the middle of the slider makes adjustments in the midtone region.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 7. The Input Levels slider in the Fast Color Corrector

As you drag the midtones slider to the right you’ll increase primarily the pixels in the brighter regions. In this example, we’ll see the clump of pixels associated with my face (as highlighted in Figure 3) rise to well over 60, into the 70 range, which is a good value. If we look at the splitscreen view again, we’ll see a clearer split between the corrected and uncorrected versions.

Now we’ve got the values where we want them. The blacks are still up around zero so there should be very little fading, and we’ve boosted the whites a bit closer to 100 IRE. The face still looks a little bit washed out and, as we talked about up front, sometimes you want to boost the Color Saturation to correct for that.

I’m wearing a blue shirt and where we started at 100, you really can’t tell what color it is. If we bring the Color Saturation up to 150 you get a nice balance of facial color and blueness in the shirt (Figure 8, below). I probably went a little bit too far to prove my point but compared to where we started, we’ve got much more contrast in the video, we’ve got a brighter face that will withstand compression a lot more effectively, and we’ve got correct colors. So at this point I would probably call this edit done and just move on to my next edit in this project.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 8. Moving the Color Saturation up to 150 brings out the blue in my shirt.

Making Color Adjustments in Final Cut Pro 7

Now if you’ve been working in Final Cut Pro, all of this should look pretty familiar. In FCP 7, your Waveform monitor is on the right. You adjust colors the same way using the familiar color wheel on the left (Figure 9, below). You boost brightness in the midtones the same way and you adjust saturation the same way.

Apple Final Cut Pro 7

Figure 9. Making color adjustments in Final Cut Pro 7

Correcting Color in Final Cut Pro X

On the other hand, if you’re transitioning from Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X, you’ll find the tools pretty foreign (Figure 10, below). You’ve got a cramped waveform here that’s kind of psychedelic and a color board instead of a color wheel. Saturation and brightness adjustments are pretty straightforward, though it’s hard to argue that placing all these controls on four separate screens is a huge step forward in interface design.

Apple Final Cut Pro X

Figure 10. Color adjustment controls in Final Cut Pro X

A Familiar Color Correction Paradigm

So that’s it. Premiere Pro makes it fast and simple to adjust the color and brightness of your clips so that they look great after compression and if you’re coming over from Final Cut Pro 7, Premiere Pro uses tools and an interface paradigm that should look instantly familiar.

Next time out we’ll explore how to produce multiple video files for adaptive streaming in the Adobe Media Encoder.

To see more tutorials in our Adobe Production Premium CS5.5 series, go to Page 5 of this article.

Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics. He is chief instructor at StreamingLearningCenter.com and the author of Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5.