Re: Color grading v. Color correction

Kent Sutorius

I agree with giatropolous.  LUTS are saved color grades basically RGB values taken from an image and their values changed into new RGB values. There are many types of LUTS but I am more familiar with viewing LUTS. The tint you see in a movie in the cinema. Sometimes they are used to try to period date a movie. Remember when digital movies first came out. People screamed that it didn't look like film. Today's digital cameras record logs - common ones are S-Log and Log-C. They capture great tonal information but are similar to negative film. Without application of color grading (LUT) the image will look washed out and flat. The LUT brings back all the tonal and color properties. LUTS are also transform a television look to a cinematic look.

On 1/13/2021 4:17 PM, jgiatrop2 wrote:
I've just started dabbling with video editing using a program called Davinci Resolve and after hours of youtube tutorials, my understanding is the same as yours was last week - color correction makes things look natural while color grading is the creative application of a certain look to the video clip,commonly achieved by applying LUTS to the video clips (like the teal / orange you discuss)

On Wed, Jan 13, 2021 at 4:03 PM Dan Margulis via <> wrote:
I am wondering if our group has a consensus on what is meant by color grading as opposed to color correction or retouching. The term has become more and more popular in the last decade and there seems to be enormous user interest in learning how to color grade. We are likely to be asked whether we ourselves are capable of doing color grading. It's hard to answer that question if we don't know what the term means.

My limited research suggests that the term is much more likely to be applied to movie or video production than to still photography but whether it can be applied to still photography at all is undecided, as is the question of whether color correction and color grading mean the same thing.

Until this week, my understanding was that color grading refers to the application of a constant visual effect that some might find bizarre to one or more scenes in a video, with the objective of setting mood. Right now, a lot of work involving movies of people is being done in a “teal and orange” style, usually with an approach that usually involves forcing coolness into the shadow and possibly orange into the highlight. This is a very Chevreulish approach, because the teal is more or less the complementary of human skin and may make it seem more attractive.

Teal and orange has become a cliché, yet it is an example of color grading, in my understanding. But that definition has a few holes. If we do the same thing to a single image, is that color grading, too? What if the effect is created by the photographer or videographer, by use of fancy lighting during the shoot? Or, what if the video is shot under uncontrolled lighting conditions and we just want to apply a curve to knock out a cast in the entire clip? Is that color grading, or color correction?

One way or another this topic has enormous interest on youtube. Instructional videos on “color grading” are getting incredible numbers of views, ten to a hundred times more than seemingly equivalent tutorials on “color correction”. In fact, if you look for color correction you’re likely to get something about women’s makeup.

Now, the competing definitions of color grading from some of these postings.

1) Color correction and color grading mean the same thing. So says Wikipedia:

Various attributes of an image such as contrast, color, saturation, detail, black level, and white point may be enhanced whether for motion pictures, videos, or still images. Color grading and color correction are often used synonymously as terms for this process and can include the generation of artistic color effects through creative blending and compositing of different images.

2) They’re the same, but it depends on whether they’re repeated. A tutorial called “Premiere: Color Grading vs. Color Correction” informs us, in a video context, that if we do anything to a single frame, that is a color correction, but if we create a LUT and apply it to multiple frames, then that is color grading. The speaker doesn’t discuss still photography but by logical extension, if you shoot one photo and apply curves to it, that is a color correction, but if you have an extended shoot and apply the same curve to each exposure, that is color grading. I can’t buy this.

3) If it’s Unnatural, it’s Grading. In “Color Correction vs. Color Grading explained,” we are told that grading consists of “manipulating colors in an unnatural way to create a certain look and feel.” The example is applying a cool cast to the entire image but masking out a person who is the subject. 

4) If it’s Natural, it’s a Correction. “Color Grading Basics for Beginners” opines that the function of color correction is to make all clips look “as natural as possible” and to “make sure that all clips match.” Color grading, on the other hand, is to set tone or mood and to create emotion.

5) Correct first, grade afterward. Half a dozen very popular videos show the likeliest way that a non-expert could create the popular look: a Gradient Map adjustment layer set to Overlay or similar mode. This way, we can impart an orange cast to the highlights and a teal one to the shadows. Someone who knows how to tweak the tools can alter the break points, the intensities, and the colors. In “Color Toning in Photoshop with Gradient Map” (yes, another term) the speaker stresses the need to color-correct first before plunging into the Gradient Map morass, which he refers to as color grading. Unlike most of the others, his focus is on photos, not video, as does the next one.

6) Correction tools are limited and non-creative. In “Secrets of Color-Grading in Photography” the photographer, born in Poland and working in Spain, shows exclusively fashion work, with professional female models and a big budget for each shoot. She therefore can spend a lot on unusual cross-lighting for weird, yet attractive effects, and it is clear that she considers this to be color grading, even though no digital file yet exists. Her definition:

Color correction refers to adjusting white and black levels, exposure, contrast, and white balance. To give you an image with accurate unprocessed seeming colors, and to create visual consistency for a series of photographs. Color grading on the other hand is a creative process. It allows you to add a mood, atmosphere and above all emotions to your photos. This effect can be super extreme or very subtle.

In the latter category, in her images of brunettes she tends to move the shadows, including the subject’s hair, toward purple. In the former, she often introduces strongly blue backgrounds against blond models, or puts in an overall cool cast to emphasize the subtleties of their coloring. She has studied painting and color theory a la Chevreul, and is getting good results from it, unlike the others, who parrot the theories without really understanding them.

She is not a Photoshop expert and does most of her work in Camera Raw. Having established some basic parameters she basically twiddles sliders back and forth until she accidentally hits something. Watching her gave me two new ideas about what, perhaps, distinguishes what is known as grading from correcting.

*Color correction can be creative, but it’s rare to do experimentation without knowing the likely result, as when you try to see what happens when all reds are lightened vs. when they are all darkened.

*Color grading, as she uses the term, always produces something that certain people might violently dislike. Color correction, if done properly, doesn’t do that. The viewer may prefer one version over another but is unlikely to be repulsed.

If this is so, then the problem of where color correction ends and color grading begins may be insoluble. Referring back to our last case studies:
1) In Monument Valley, which featured very dull reds, many of us pepped them up, understanding that the colors are no longer “natural.” I would still call it a color correction, but it is clear that if applied to a video, many would consider it color grading.

2) And this one is the clincher: the case study Seated in Grass featured a woman with somewhat red hair. The green background, though clearly grass in context, was totally out of focus. Several of us, including me, took advantage of this and made it a brilliant chartreuse, or in some cases a brilliant emerald color. It set off the hair very well, which was the idea, but it couldn’t possibly be accepted as “natural”. So, unless you subscribe to the view that color grading is only for video, it would seem you have to call these versions of Seated in Grass color grading, yet more conservative renditions would be color correction.

Color grading may well be taking over as the general term for what we do. Does anyone else have an understanding of what the term means?


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