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  • Patrick Inhofer

Colour Grading vs Colour Correction

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

As I sometimes find myself explaining such processes to clients and colleagues, I would like to share this article on the subject by 'Tao of Color Grading' writer, Patrick Inhofer. Perfectly explained!

Understanding the current processes of ‘colour grading’

Wikipedia describes colour grading as “the process of altering and enhancing the colour of a film, photochemically or digitally.” It uses colour grading to describe the overall process, referring to digital colour grading as “colour correcting”and photochemical colour grading as “colour timing.”

That said Photochemical colour timing is hardly used anymore. Except for the rare film auteur who chooses to shoot on film and colour time old-school, modern film-outs always start with a digital colour grade. The job of the few remaining photochemical colour timers is usually to compensate for variability in chemical baths.

Shot-by-shot and scene-by-scene, colour decisions happen digitally before the timer sees the film.

Digital Colourists know this and our language has changed over the past decade.

Today, the term “colour correction” doesn’t differentiate the digital and photochemical pipelines.

More often, colourists use “colour correction” to define the task they are performing.

They use the term to literally mean, “Correcting problems of the underlying image.”

Some examples:

  • Fixing exposure problems

  • Fixing white balance problems

  • Repairing excessive noise from aggressive ISO settings

  • Expanding contrast from LOG- or Flat- recorded images

  • “Developing” the image from RAW recordings

  • Setting the initial black-, white- and gamma points

Almost every shot needs one of these corrective actions applied to it.

Colour correction is often the “first pass” in a colour grading workflow.

These are the first things a colourist needs to look at before doing anything else while colour grading.

Another term often used for this stage of a colour grade is “Primary color correction.”

What else is colour grading?

After correcting the initial image problems, colourists move into the realm of the colour grade.

Some examples include:

  • Shot matching: Ensuring the editor”s “invisible edit” isn’t revealed by shots that look different as the timeline plays down

  • Removing distractions: Isolating and manipulating annoying elements that prevent shots from matching each other

  • Controlling the viewer’s eye: Using shape masks (or other techniques), attracting the eye to the focal point of interest

  • Creating looks: Stylizing an image to indicate a flashback, dream sequence, or re-creation—or simply to give the entire project a unique feel

Not all jobs require full colour grade

Usually, quick turnarounds or extremely tight budgets prevent us from doing a full colour grade.

Or what if it’s a live shoot with a professional shader on-site matching the cameras together?

Then there’s little for the colourist to do than some basic colour correction tweaks.

But every colour grade requires the colourist to begin with the intent of doing a colour correction pass on each shot.

Basically? Terms are interchangeable

In everyday usage, the term colour correction is interchangeable with colour grading.

Colour correction is the term our clients and peers use when talking about the larger craft of colour grading.

Just as racing is much more than steering, accelerating, and braking, colour grading is much more than correcting problems.

No matter which words we use, as long as we know the proper order of things (correct problems first, then shot match, then stylize and control the eye), we can make it to the finish line!

Clip one is corrected, the other three clips are loosely graded to illustrated this article.

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