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Everything You Need to Know about Color Grading in Photography

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Have you recognized how flat your images look when you take them with your camera? While the scenery may be beautiful and your photography skills may be amazing, there's always something missing. That "thing" is color grading, and that may be why your favorite superstar's pictures appear better than yours. You can color grade your videos to produce the same effect too.

Color grading photography refers to a post-production process that improves your images by altering their color. The result of an excellent color grading process is an image that looks more appealing and refined. It's what gives a picture some professional touch.

If you want to learn more about color grading photography, this article will let you in on all you need to know. From essential color grading steps to terms, tools, etc., you can begin your journey to cool and exciting images after reading.

Don't Confuse Color Grading With Color Correction

The first way to fully appreciate color grading is by differentiating it from its closest term—color correction. Many people use both of them interchangeably, and that's wrong. Although color grading and color correction are post-production processes that enhance image colors, they perform different roles.

Here's how to differentiate color grading from color correction:

Differentiating Factor Color Grading ; Color Correction
Definition Color grading is a process that enhances an image's color by stylizing or giving it a cinematic appearance. Color correction is a process that adjusts color mistakes in an image by giving it a consistent appearance. This process balances colors by adjusting whites and blacks.
Purpose The primary aim of color grading an image is to evoke specific emotions in the viewers. Color grading leverages the emotional and psychological effects of colors to manipulate the viewers' moods. You can use color grading to give your images different tones or themes like fear, femininity, youthfulness, passion, anger, sadness, etc. Unlike color grading, the color correction does very little in setting the tone or mood that an image carries. Instead, it corrects specific mistakes in the image to make it look as natural to the human eyes as possible. Generally, camera lenses and the human eyes view pictures differently. Color correction changes a photo's look to make it more appealing to humans than the camera. It makes black colors appear darker and adds more white to whites to create the desired effect.
Stage in the production process Color grading typically comes after color correction in the post-production process. That's because the effects of color grading are more appealing on a color-corrected picture. Color correction comes before color grading. This process does the major work of balancing colors and correcting errors. Color grading only fine-tunes what color correction has done, giving it a professional finish.
Example One of the most obvious examples of color grading is in motion pictures. For example, Sci-Fi movies typically have a very saturated blue color. However, you will notice a little redder in romantic movies. Note that filmmakers can use different color grades in movies to draw attention to specific details or represent changes in the storyline. Color grading produces the same effects in pictures. Color correction is most prominent in documentaries to make pictures and videos look more real to the human eye. Other times, color corrections just adjust one color to merge the rest of the image or video.
color grading photography

Terms and Tools Used In Color Grading

These are the most common terminologies photo editors use when color grading an image:

● Hue

Hue is the general name for describing pure color. That means it defines color without alluding to its brightness, vividness, etc. It describes a color's position in the color wheel.

● Saturation

When a photo editor talks about saturation, they refer to the hue concentration that defines a specific color. Saturation describes color shades and focuses on how colorful they are. Examples of colors with zero saturation are white, black, and grey.

color grading photography - saturation

● Luminance

Luminous describes how bright, well-lighted or dark a color is. Highlights, mids, and shadows can influence luminance.

color grading photography - luminance

● Additive Color

Additive colors are non-primary colors. However, they typically result from mixing primary colors (blue, red, green).

● Color Cast

Color cast means that the image's coloring doesn't look as natural as it should be. This usually happens when different light sources get mixed.

● Temperature

Temperature defines how cool or warm a color is. Cool temperatures typically describe blues and purples, while orange and red represent the warmth.

The essential tools for color grading include

● White Balance

White balance helps to make your photos look more natural by correcting color cast issues. After using white balance, the result is that the whites in your pictures would look exactly like the human eye will perceive it. White balance adjusts your image's color cast to make them look warmer or cooler.

● Brightness and Contrast

Brightness and contrast are essential in color grading and are among the most used photo editing tools. Different sliders control brightness and contrast during editing. It's important to note that your image's brightness will affect the contrast and vice-versa. That's why they usually appear together, even if they refer to different tools.

● The Three-Way Color Corrector

Many photographers refer to the three-way corrector as the color correction's workhorse. That's because this tool adjusts hue, saturation, brightness, and contrast in a single interface. The three-way corrector performs the job of three tools in one interface. Using the three-way corrector ensures that you work faster than usual.

● The Fast Color Corrector

The fast color corrector is like the three-way corrector. However, there are many limitations with the number of potential looks you can achieve with this tool. The fast color corrector primarily focuses on adjusting tint and saturation. Its major advantage over the three-way corrector is its user-friendliness and simplicity.

● Curves

While using curves is pretty complicated, the tool offers impressive functionality that you can't refuse. Curves are very powerful and precise. Their main function is to overhaul or remove your image's brightness altogether to give it a distinctive look.

● The Unsharp Mask and Sharpening Tools

With the unsharp mask and sharpening tools, you can give your picture's edges a sharp illusion by modifying the contrast. This is typically useful for images that you shoot in dark conditions.

Sharp pictures are always a lovely sight. However, these tools can't correct pictures taken out of focus. To get the best results from these tools. Then you can start moving them back till you get your desired sharpness.

● Color Match

As the make implies, color match tools modify a target picture's colors to fit the reference image. This is an automatic process and helps to save time.

Common Steps To Color Grade a Photo

These are the essential stages for color grading your images:

● Step 1:
The first step in color grading is deciding how warm or cool you want your image to look. Then, modify the white balance to suit your desired warmth or coolness.

● Step 2:
After adjusting the white balance, the next step is to adjust saturation or hue.

● Step 3:
The next step is to focus on the histogram. A histogram is a common feature in many photo editing software that informs you of your image's tonal values. The goal in this stage is to ensure equal color distribution. Keep adjusting your image till the colors are even.

● Step 4:
Work on your highlights and shadows by modifying the green, red, and blue curves. Also, adjust your vibrancy setting for a good effect.

● Step 5:
Explore split toning. Split toning is a process that involves adding colors to highlight and shadows independently. Learning how to split tone can make a difference in your photo editing.

Tips For Color Grading Photography

The following best practices will enhance your color grading:

  • About oversaturation or under-saturation. Your saturation should be just right to produce the perfect result. So, always be sure to pay maximum attention to this process. This tip is particularly useful when working with portraits.
  • Remember that color grading doesn't fix a bad shot. So, be sure to improve your photography skills and take the best shots for excellent color grading results.
  • Shoot your images in RAW. Doing this guarantees more control over your pictures' colors.
  • Always experiment with different looks until you get your precise effect. Lightroom is one of the best color grading apps to use.
  • Exercise maximum caution when manipulating backgrounds. Don't do too much, especially when you're taking an indoor shot. That's because manipulating indoor backgrounds too much can mismatch the foreground and background, making your portrait look weird.

Conclusion:

● While your photography skills are essential in influencing your image's outcome; your color grading skills will take it to another level. It's one of the fastest ways to make a budding photo editor look like a pro.

● After reading this article, you can be sure that you have the basic information you need to achieve your editing goals. However, you mustn't stop here. Continuous learning, especially through constant practice, is the way to go. You can visit Filmora today for the best color grading packages and tools.

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