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Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

Grading: How Do You Choose Contrast Level?

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Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

I'm grading a talk show piece for local television and finding a bit of a problem choosing contrast.


With the passing of time and rise of LOG gammas I am finding myself strangely being much more pleased with low contrast images, I even now find high contrast images to be ugly, crushed shadows and blown out highlights. Lower contrast just looks more filmic to me, or cinematic. The problem here is that I am afraid the end viewer will like higher contrast images and only us who shoot log video like these flatter images. Do you think this is the case? 

How do you choose the "correct" contrast level? What determines that? What do viewers prefer? 

Which one of these would you go for if you were grading this?

7y42Lpj.jpg
qvR7G3B.jpg

Oh and another separate issue I am finding with grading, whenever I add a post sharpening filter to a letterboxed image (4k 1:85:1 aspect ratio or 2:35 in a 16:9 window, both I love and use heavily) a distinct white border appears on the letterbox boundaries, as seen in the two images above. And here's a closer look on the line:

ld083od.jpg

Is this normal and does it happen to any of you who use post-sharpening? It just seems weird why sharpening would add an extra purely white line. And is it as ugly as my head sees it for normal audience? what do you guys think

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

You shouldn't sharpen a letterboxed image- add the crop after you grade and sharpen. 

Low-contrast images can be very nice, but that doesn't mean high-contrast (or really, normal contrast) isn't filmic or cinematic. Sometimes when I'm watching a film, I'll realize halfway through that there are a ton of crushed blacks or just high contrast in general, especially often for movies shot on film. And it's still beautiful. I personally think ultra-low contrast imagery will start to look dated at some point, so I try to make sure not to go to far down that path. Striking a balance is (usually) always best.

 

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Agreed on the contrast discussion. Many film stocks are specifically optimized for a higher contrast look which can be very cinematic when exposed properly. Unless a low contrast look or a high contrast look specifically suits the subject, go for the middle ground and head towards the end that suits the end viewer the best. Back when I did broadcast editing, I'd take clips of comparable content (e.g. other stuff that plays on the same channel) and watch it and my grade intercut on a standard TV. I'd grade to where I felt my content should "feel" next to the other content, and then when it aired it looked psychologically as I'd intended. If you want it to be the same sort of feel, or if you want a deliberate shift in feel, it's going to be relative to the other typical content on that channel or program, so this is a good way to help you figure out, relatively speaking, how your grade is going to translate.

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Technical point: sharpness can be faked with higher contrast.

Unbiased opinion: contrast should, as mentioned above, be used to create a look and ultimately a feeling for the shot.

 

Nonsensical opinion: Burnt highlights and crushed blacks equal shitty cinematography.

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Regarding the contrast: I too do not fancy crushed blacks and prefer them to retain some details. Good footage (well exposed), good scopes, a well calibrated monitor and good eyes are the way to achieve that IMOP :-).

Regarding the letterbox: I always make the letterbox as a separate layer and only put sharpening to the primary storyline (I use FXPX). I never had the issue you show us here

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I love this thread - definitely we are transitioning into less contrast zones.  But I like the thick heavy contrast one got on lots of film stock - never before had we had such dynamic range.

but it depends on the project - there is no one taste or way to grade anything

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If it is going to be on TV dose it not have to be legal safe video? just popped both your images into my timeline looking at them with a scope and both of them are not broadcast safe for television. So if you turn it in like that the station will auto crush it before it is broadcast to make it safe so it will look nothing like you graded it like it will most likely be much darker with crushed blacks.

Many times grading can mess up the video making it not safe for broadcast unless you watch a scope as you grade. I see so many videos graded to look a special way on vimeo and youtube but none of them would pass that way to air on broadcast tv at least in the US. I think many film makers starting out never think about that when editing and grading is it safe for TV if my film ever makes it that far. Or that may stop it from making it that far.

 

 

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If it is going to be on TV dose it not have to be legal safe video? just popped both your images into my timeline looking at them with a scope and both of them are not broadcast safe for television. So if you turn it in like that the station will auto crush it before it is broadcast to make it safe so it will look nothing like you graded it like it will most likely be much darker with crushed blacks.

Many times grading can mess up the video making it not safe for broadcast unless you watch a scope as you grade. I see so many videos graded to look a special way on vimeo and youtube but none of them would pass that way to air on broadcast tv at least in the US. I think many film makers starting out never think about that when editing and grading is it safe for TV if my film ever makes it that far. Or that may stop it from making it that far.

 

 

​Modern Televisions have such poor contrast ratios and such heightened highlights and milky blacks and weird motion cadence that I rather have my stuff seen on an ipad or iphone or the web than ever on TV.  I watched Better Call Saul on my macbook pro - first 3 episodes then ep 4 on a samsung 30' hdtv and man the little 15' display looks so much better.  I have lost my faith in most HDTV displays.  It's sad.  The contrast and motion  on tube tvs used to be quite wonderful and organic.  Thank goodness for Apple making good looking computer and phone displays the norm.    Kind of sad of all companies Sony that help pioneer digital cinema cameras makes such poor HDTV displays with soap opera frame doubling the norm setting.  How many TVs have I fixed?

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As DigitalEd suggests - watch your broadcast safe.

Personally, I hate this trend towards milky images coming from log-originating footage. Too many editors edit simply in log and get used to the look of it. Contrast is not bad. 

Personally, I prefer your first picture but the reality is it depends on the look you're going for. I think the big problem is that people spend a lot money either buying or renting cameras to shoot in log, and then once they get into the online and colour grade process, they can't understand why they would spend so much money on a camera with a huge logarthimic gamma curve to preserve colour, and then mush it back to somewhere perhaps closer to a REC709 look.

The point is, you can get it back to something resembling REC709, and that's not bad. But you also have the option to lift other areas, and draw attention to areas. 

It's all dependent on the look. I don't like going as far as crushing things as if it were the old days of video, but I hate the milky look (especially milky blacks) that's so 'trendy' (read: cheap, easy) at the moment.

​Modern Televisions have such poor contrast ratios and such heightened highlights and milky blacks and weird motion cadence that I rather have my stuff seen on an ipad or iphone or the web than ever on TV.  I watched Better Call Saul on my macbook pro - first 3 episodes then ep 4 on a samsung 30' hdtv and man the little 15' display looks so much better.  I have lost my faith in most HDTV displays.  It's sad.  The contrast and motion  on tube tvs used to be quite wonderful and organic.  Thank goodness for Apple making good looking computer and phone displays the norm.    Kind of sad of all companies Sony that help pioneer digital cinema cameras makes such poor HDTV displays with soap opera frame doubling the norm setting.  How many TVs have I fixed?

​I personally think the smooth motion thing was yet another marketing gimmick from television makers. Sony do make some nice TV sets, but the industry as a whole aren't making TVs for production use, they're making TVs to a price point that needs to simply satisfy the average home viewer. 

A good colourist will be able to ensure that your work looks great even on the crappiest of home TVs. To my point though, we had Standard Def, then HD, then Smooth Motion HD, then 3D, now 4k in television sets. Unless you can come up with a gimmick like smooth motion, or 3D etc. then how else are you going to convince an average punter that they need to spend more money a newer or better TV?

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I'm grading a talk show piece for local television and finding a bit of a problem choosing contrast.

Hey Ebrahim, the simplest answer is to grade for your final target format, which sometimes will add contrast, but to really know you need a test monitor since even a newer flatscreen TV's can add contrast. I'm not sure how people got the idea that low contrast is filmic, film can be very high contrast depending on the look someone is going for, i.e. skipping bleach or pushing a couple stops. Just make it look the way you want for your target media, which ideally you can test. Buy a vanilla TV flatscreen with HDMI inputs for example and use it as a second monitor. You can test title safe that way too. 

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​Modern Televisions have such poor contrast ratios and such heightened highlights and milky blacks and weird motion cadence that I rather have my stuff seen on an ipad or iphone or the web than ever on TV.  I watched Better Call Saul on my macbook pro - first 3 episodes then ep 4 on a samsung 30' hdtv and man the little 15' display looks so much better.  I have lost my faith in most HDTV displays.  It's sad.  The contrast and motion  on tube tvs used to be quite wonderful and organic.  Thank goodness for Apple making good looking computer and phone displays the norm.    Kind of sad of all companies Sony that help pioneer digital cinema cameras makes such poor HDTV displays with soap opera frame doubling the norm setting.  How many TVs have I fixed?

My smartphone absolutely CRUSHES blacks and comically oversaturates the display.

 

I second sunyata's advice. Grade for your, hopefully calibrated and therefore neutral, reference monitor (or unfortunately your client's.) When you've delivered don't worry about it any longer because you cannot control how all that time you spent color correcting and grading will seem utterly wasted.

 

Overscan makes me loathe all the work I do trying to make my work seem symmetrical. But noticing how badly the WB is off on a display still elicits a response from me: sadness. I hope I get older soon, I've noticed the more wisdom you have the less you give a shit about stuff outside your control. ;)

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what looks really great in a single frame could easily become disturbing for the eye in longer shots.

we've have all seen much too often how nice footage get ruined by too ambitious grading...

 

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With the passing of time and rise of LOG gammas I am finding myself strangely being much more pleased with low contrast images, I even now find high contrast images to be ugly, crushed shadows and blown out highlights. Lower contrast just looks more filmic to me, or cinematic. The problem here is that I am afraid the end viewer will like higher contrast images and only us who shoot log video like these flatter images. Do you think this is the case? 

I personally think ultra-low contrast imagery will start to look dated at some point, so I try to make sure not to go to far down that path. Striking a balance is (usually) always best.

I love this thread - definitely we are transitioning into less contrast zones.  But I like the thick heavy contrast one got on lots of film stock - never before had we had such dynamic range.

but it depends on the project - there is no one taste or way to grade anything

​I am also getting used to low contrast images because I see them in the log files. But even for an 8-bit image as the target I can have definite blacks and whites without destroying too much of the dynamic range. Of the two photos above the first is better.

The future is HDR-TV like with Dolby Vision. 

In this simulation you see how this affects the reception of images:

hdrvr9kludoei.jpg

A HDR image tone-mapped to 8-bit out of seven differently exposed shots, for example, has preserved more than 20 stops. But compressed into 5 stops (you usually can't distinguish shades of grey below 16). So that everything has defintion (outlines), but similar luma values. 

We now grade with higher contrasts to avoid images looking too flat on terrible LDR displays. We bend curves.

So the wise thing to do if you think your films should be 'future-proof' is shooting in 10, 12 or 14-bit, grade for 8-bit now and keep the original ungraded material for the future.

 

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I love this bit with Larry Jordan on reading waveforms and vectorscopes (ok, and histogram) to color correct:

Basicly without even having seen the image (last few minutes where he crops a part of the image and uses that small portion to correct the whole thing is pretty cool), you can roughly tell where things are balanced out evenly. Now, that's just color correction, I mean, you can grade it what you want. Depends on what you're going for. But if it's meant to go on television as a part of a talk show... I'd say stick close to something balanced and lifelike and not so much something with a baked-in stylized look to set a certain mood. I can't recall talk shows that looked shot by Michael Bay or J.J. Abrams. It kind of depends on the context... yes, less contrast perhaps is more cinematic and that would work if you're making a (short) film. On a regular tv broadcast... it might look a little out of place. And adding contrast doesn't mean you have to crush the blacks and blow out the highlights... you can just keep them below their breaking point and spread out the rest of the levels a bit evenly. Not that everything is compressed in the mids. As Larry pointed out: 'you need to read scopes. Never ever make decisions with your eye, because your eye can make a mistake and many monitors are not calibrated'. Fair point.

To answer the question of 'which'... I'd go with something close to the first. The first might be a tad bit too poppy, but the second is way milky. Lifelike is probably somewhere in between, but closer to the first one.

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