Jump to content

Why Learning to Color is Important for DPs


Recommended Posts

I’ve been struggling this year to understand color.  I come from a strictly digital-upbringing.  I have shot some film, but I never understood color timing or even learned how to look critically at color – at skintones, at greens, blues, and red.

And I wondered why I would spend so much time trying to understand it, when I could be spending time practicing lighting and finding angles and watching inspiring films.

But now I kind of get it – since the 90’s – one shoots film, then one digitizes it in (Digital Intermediate) then you would color it in CINEON colorspace (which is flat like log, very similar to the flatness of Arri log-C) and then send it off to film print.  Right now it’s Kodak 5283 or 5293 which respond to blacks, dynamic range, all that differently.

So you would choose a stock to shoot on, digitize it, color it, then send off to a film print.

So colorists have been involved digitally since the 90’s on all major motion pictures shot on film.  They would have LUTs – or look up tables – to emulate the film prints, so they could see what it will look like before they print it.

And also, to keep it consistent when it would go off to DVD or VOD or Blu Ray – so the film looks the same everywhere, with tweaking.

So I started to use Filmconvert to grade my footage that I would shoot as flat as I can with my cameras.  First, it was the Sony F3 and now mostly the Sony F35 and Red One and sometimes the Alexa.  Filmconvert keeps it in REC 709 colorspace, which is the standard for TVs and online. Filmconvert was great, but the curves were aggresive and I found using Alexa dci-p3 worked best with slog1, not just slog2.  Anyway, I found out later to lessen the film curve, raise highlights, etc.

Then Visioncolor came along with their luts that got highly popular – especially the M.31 lut.  I liked it, but it was a little too stylized.  This is when I started to learn resolve.  Before I just used Final Cut Pro 7 and the three-way color corrector.

Resolve I didn’t get for a long time, but read a tutorial by Hunter Hampton and started to understand it.  I also started to mess with DSLRs more fully and learned how to play in RAW there.  All helping out with shooting on Red and understanding its own RAW and why to use Redlog over their Redgammas, to have the most info to play with, out the bat.

And I learned that Red Cine-X was just a simple program that existed before Resolve was made free, and it was good, but Resolve is a lot more customizable.

Then Visioncolor Impulz Luts came out.  And Hunter said it was as close to film as you could get.  I messed with it, didn’t understand it.  But now I do.  You take your footage, and if you are working quick, add a FC (film contrast lut) or a VS (visionspace) lut that has less contrast or can mess with a FPE (film print emulation) lut – that I think brings down the highlights too much.

I would learn to go slog to cineon, then start coloring with the filmstock I like (I like 250d and 200t and 500t a lot – 50d is a little too wild in the blues) – and then once that is good, go off to a Film Print – 2383, 2393, or their custom Film Contrast 1 or Visioncolor or even Fuji print.  And that gets you a good look.

Anyway why is this important?  Because now I can shoot on a log or raw camera, and build a lut, and make sure that the lut looks good and that the final image is going to look good.  No more guessing with shooting flat and finding out later there is too much noise in the shadows or the skintone, how it reacts to light and color looks odd and off.

In essence, it’s What you see, what you get, which is in some ways an improvement over film.  You know for sure, pretty much, if the image is good or not.  With film, the mystery and magic of course is there and it looks the best – how it handles skin and highlights and light, and those dancing frames and how unpredictable, but hey, I can’t afford to shoot film.  No matter what people say, shooting digital is cheaper and you have less chance of screwing it up. Especially if you own the gear already and shoot pro res 4444 vs some insanely uncompressed codec.

The world of digital doesn’t look as nice as film, usually.  But sometimes, if you have the right colorist, it can.  Watching the trailer for San Andreas, I thought it was shot on film.  Same with the Age of Adeline.  Adding power windows, using lenses that have pop and circular rendering of faces.  Using cameras that have nice motion.  It gets you there, kind of close.  It’s not always perfect, but I still think the DP and the Colorist can make a film shot digitally look better than a film shot and colored poorly on film.

I still wish for more and more advances in digital camera technology that can have the randomness of film – the highlight smooth-roll-off – the sharpness and how it renders faces – I don’t want companies to give up and call it a day.  But, hey I’m not an engineer.  I’m just a guy trying to figure things out.

Here’s a clip of how they digitally graded “Oh Brother Where are Thou” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pla_pd1uatg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

EOSHD Pro Color 5 for Sony cameras EOSHD Z LOG for Nikon CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

My biggest frustration with color is just the difficult of grading video vs. raw stills. I feel like I have complete control and understanding of my images when I open up a raw file in lightroom. When it comes to compressed video files its an entirely different story, theres just so much less I can accomplish with ease. 

It seems like the new lumetri interface in premiere is pretty similar, but still not nearly as flexible unless you're shooting raw. Looking forward to the day where its practical from a space/processing perspective. 



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think Nikon and Canon have nailed the raw color science in their stills.

I don't know why a video image is different, but it is.  
I looked at some stuff I shot on the sony ex1 with a lens adapter and a backed-in look and the skin colors were perfect.  

I still think it's the early days of log-shooting by everyone.  RAW has been going around since maybe 2003 or so and tons of people have used it.

Color correction for the masses in video is a relatively new thing I think - ushered by Resolve being made free.  Will take some time to figure out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The next level for me regarding coloring a shot is using 3D LUT Creator to make custom LUTs  to use in Resolve.

At first I was wondering it would be as simple as capturing a still of the frame in Resolve ( right click on the frame in the color tab In Resolve and then export as a tiff file), open in 3D LUT creator, tweak it, then save a cube LUT in Resolve's LUT folders (then update and save the list in the color management preference.)  It was that easy and it worked great!

I'm using the NX1 and this has allowed me make adjustments to shots that needed to be "saved" as the were not short right in the first place.  I needed to create my own LUTs when I did not shoot a color chart to have Resolve do a color match.  The second reason I like creating my own LUTs is creative control and creating my on look on the shot.

I was skeptical that it would really do more the Resolve can with adjusting hue vs hue and hue vs saturation and it really does give you more control and potentially better results.  That said,  if you lit, exposed and shot for scene well in the first place and had a color chart for Resolve to match you probably don't need to make your own 3D LUTs.

Similar to the phrase "don't try this at home". Don't try this without getting a monitor that has faithful color rendition in the first place. I am using a Dell P2715Q monitor (with the multimedia preset) and I can finally see what I and doing when coloring.

Step 1 buy an x-rite color checker and use it on every shot (if you can).

Step 2 buy a monitor with 99% RGB

Step 3 learn how to use Resolve to its fullest,

Step 4 consider 3D LUT creator if you want even more creative coloring control or need to fix shot that were no shot right in the first place.

Step 5 have fun color correcting because you can finally see what you are doing and have the tools to make the most of coloring any shot.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

yes but you can also use a cineon film print, modify on your own, then go to a film print, and export that lut as your own.

You use their luts as a starting point then start grading like a madman.  There step just gives you a quick filmic s-curve, saturation curve, and remapping of colors.  It saves a bunch of time and makes it go towards a standard, then you can tweak tweak and clip the thumbnail and export as a LUT.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Ed, have you tried the Aces workflow in Resolve for the F35 or other cameras with an available IDT (sgamut to aces and slog to linear) and if so, what was your opinion? 




Thanks for this, just gave it a quick try and it seems to work out really well. Probably the first time I feel like I have been able to go from slog/sgamut to rec709 and get a nice neutral image without adding a look. Feel like noise is handled better on underexposed shots too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for this, just gave it a quick try and it seems to work out really well. Probably the first time I feel like I have been able to go from slog/sgamut to rec709 and get a nice neutral image without adding a look. Feel like noise is handled better on underexposed shots too.

The whole workflow is like a second language to me, a nonprofessional. 

However, it's seems incredible, the portion that I could follow.

Question, what are the benefits of this effort? I noticed the workflow was recognized as helpful in case you need to alter your future export (assuming new technology in time requires so). I just don't completely understand what is being offered, how difficult the process would be, and it sounds like the workflow is only needed on a camera that I can't remotely afford :)



Link to comment
Share on other sites

There 3 main benifits as far as I can see. 

1. Future proofing as you already mentioned. For example the F35 has an s-gamut colorspace which is much larger than Rec709. Aces is even larger so by going from s-gamut to aces you can retain that extended gamut for future devices that could utilize them. 

2. Ease of export/switching between output colorspaces. you can open a project graded on a Rec709 monitor on a computer with a P3 or Rec2020 monitor and all you have to do is switch the display transform you the proper format and everything will display correctly, same thing is true when exporting for different colorspaces. 

3. All footage starts with a nuetral base. One of the nice things about aces is that it has standard input transforms that are designed to convert footage from a specific camera into the aces color space so you end up with footage that is neutral. There no unexpected results or looks that are transfered from luts. This is mainly usefull for log shooting cameras and you end up with footage that is more closely matched if using different cameras.


So far I have found that this aces techique in the linked blog post produces the most neutral/correct footage from the F35 of any other technique so far. In order from best to worst in Resolve I ranking them like this.

1. Aces 

2. auto color matching via color chart.

3. Slog to Cineon, Arri LogC to Rec709.


For me my main interest is having a way of de-logging s-log/s-gamut footage from the F35 and getting a neutral image without adding a look which ACES shows promise. The biggest downside so far is that it appears using ACES doesn't work well with film emulation luts. They are designed for Rec709 and don't transfer properly in ACES as far as I can tell.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I would learn to go slog to cineon, then start coloring with the filmstock I like (I like 250d and 200t and 500t a lot – 50d is a little too wild in the blues) – and then once that is good, go off to a Film Print – 2383, 2393, or their custom Film Contrast 1 or Visioncolor or even Fuji print.  And that gets you a good look.


Ed, question for you as a visioncolor power user: do you find much use for the _FC or _VIS versions of the stocks, or do you primarily use _CIN, grade then pass that to the output stock? So far I haven't found a workflow where I use the _FC or _VIS luts and was just curious.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cineon then film contrast goves more control


But .fc is good too and .vs is less contrast version of .fc

I guess it means not using a print lut on the end with these other two, just curves and grade. I notice if the stack doesn't start with a cineon conversion it gets too crunchy with a print lut on the end.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

yes, you have to find an end for the cineon that takes you to rec 709 color space.  Film print color spaces are more compressed - the absolute white is not as white. I don't know if .FC or .VS keeps in rec 709.  

But I am back to filmconvert, I have said goodbye to impulz luts for now.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • EOSHD Pro Color 5 for All Sony cameras
    EOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs
    EOSHD Dynamic Range Enhancer for H.264/H.265
  • Create New...