Make the Grade
As I mentioned in the previous lesson, I think of the coloring process in two stages: correction and grading. Correction involves fixing obvious problems with the footage, generally related to white balance and exposure. In Premiere Pro, most of this work can be done in the first section of the Lumetri Color panel, appropriately called Basic Correction.
This first stage of the coloring process is also where you can make adjustments to try to match the footage between two cameras. Every camera manufacturer interprets color in a slightly different way, which means that even if the white balance is set to the same value, footage from a Canon and footage from a Sony will look a bit different. You can use the scopes to help determine these differences and they can generally be resolved using the White Balance adjustment sliders. Again, pay particular attention to skin tones, the sky, and white areas of the image – they will be the obvious indicators of problems.
With your footage corrected, you can move on to the aesthetic aspect of the color process: grading. Let’s work our way through the rest of the Lumetri panel to see what we can do.
The Creative section of Lumetri Color gives you a handful of tools that can very quickly transform the overall style of your footage. At the top of the section, you’ll find the Look options, composed of a dropdown menu, preview window, and Intensity slider. The options in Look are presets, several of which are designed to emulate different film stocks. If you click through the arrows on the preview window, you’ll see the effect they have on the image. If you click on the preview image, it will be applied to the highlighted clip in the timeline.
Many of the preset looks are a little on the extreme side when you first apply them, so you can dial them back (or up) using the Intensity slider. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time color grading, the looks are a great option. You can also further refine them by adjusting the rest of the parameters in Lumetri. However, if you really want to control the look of your footage precisely, you should probably skip the Look section and make your adjustments manually.
Incidentally, to remove a look from your clip, go to the dropdown menu and select None. For all other adjustments in Lumetri, you can reset by double clicking on them.
Below Look is the Adjustments section. Faded Film raises the black levels to create a vintage film look. Sharpen adds digital sharpening, which can help if your focus is a little soft. However, over-sharpened footage starts to look weird very quickly, so use a light touch. Vibrance and Saturation affect the intensity of colors. Saturation affects all of the colors in the shot while vibrance increases the value of more muted colors. Vibrance can be useful if you want to increase the amount of color without making things like skin tones look unnatural.
The last options in the Adjustments are related to shadow and highlight tint. We’ve talked before about the popular “orange and teal” look and this is one place where you can push things in that direction. After you apply an adjustment to the shadows and highlights using the color wheels, you can push the image towards one or the other using the Tint Balance slider.
The Curves section of Lumetri is dedicated to making adjustments to color levels and is composed of two tools: a traditional diagonal RGB curves graph and a hue saturation color wheel. In the RGB Curves section, you can choose the red, green, or blue channels, as well as the overall exposure by clicking on the colored dots. You can then click on the diagonal line to create points and make adjustments. The top right corner is pure white and the bottom left corner is pure black, so you can adjust the highlights, shadows, and mid areas fairly precisely. Use an “S” curve to create contrast (brighter highlights and darker shadows) or a reverse “S” to lower contrast. Little curves adjustments go a long way.
The Hue Saturation Curves section lets you target the saturation levels of very specific colors. You can click on the white line to add points or click on the colored dots below the wheel to have the program add them around certain values. Dragging points towards the center of the wheel will desaturate those areas and dragging towards the outside edge will add saturation. You can use this wheel to add or remove color areas fairly precisely.
The Color Wheels section is the most like a traditional color grading interface, where there are separate wheel controls for the shadows, midtones, and highlights. These are fun color wheels to play with; try pulling your highlights and shadows in the opposite direction for a complementary color grade or pull everything towards the same value for something more analogous (remember your color theory?). The sliders next to each wheel adjust the luminance, so if you want to raise or crush the blacks or accentuate the highlights, you can further tweak those values in this section. I’ve said this before, but a little goes a long way with these adjustments – just a slight push can really transform your footage, so don’t feel like you need to go nuts.
Here’s the same shot, first with the oh-so-trendy orange/blue complementary split (with milky raised blacks for a filmic look), then with a green/teal analogous and contrasty Matrix-esque grade:
The HSL Secondary section contains a lot of options and it can look overwhelming at first; it could probably stand alone as its own separate effect. Once you understand what it does, however, there are some very cool possibilities. HSL Secondary targets very specific parts of your image, based on hue, saturation, and luminance (HSL).
With this section, you need to start at the top and work your way down. In the Key area, you can use preset color dots, the eyedropper tools, or the individual HSL bars to choose which area of your image you would like to affect. I’d suggest either the dots or the eyedropper. To see which area you have selected, click on the box next to the Color/Grey dropdown menu – it will grey out everything not selected and show the selected area in color. You can refine your selection a bit with he Denoise and Blur sliders, but these can also give you a weird “mushy” selection if you use them too much. Clicking on the icon next to the Color/Grey menu will invert your selection, which can be handy.
Once you have a specific area selected, you can adjust the color using either a single or triple color wheel (there are two small icons directly below Correction to choose between them), and refine the temperature, tint, contrast, sharpening, and saturation. These options all work the same way they did in the Basic Correction section, only on a targeted area of the image.
In the example below, I was able to bring more saturation into only the green areas of the image, making the grass and bushes in the shot more prominent, without affecting the rest of the image. That’s a pretty simple example of what HSL Secondary can do, but you could use it in all sorts of creative ways to highlight different aspects of a shot.
Vignettes draw the eye to the center of the frame and are generally aesthetically pleasing. Feel free to use them, but (again) don’t overuse them or your footage will look like it has a cheesy filter on it. The options in the Vignette section are pretty straightforward: dragging Amount into a negative value will add a dark vignette, while a positive number will add a light vignette; the midpoint changes the overall size; roundness changes the effect from an oval to a circular shape; and feather controls the fall off. If you are having a hard time seeing what effect the vignette is making, try turning the Feather slider down to zero.
Light vignettes are sort of unusual; I usually use a value between -.2 and -.8 in the Amount slider.
If you want to only use Lumetri Color on a certain section of the image, you can do so using a mask. The masking tools in Premiere aren’t as advanced as those you might find in something like After Effects, but they will do the job for simple tasks. You won’t find mask options in the Lumetri Color panel itself; instead, look in the Effect Controls panel. Under the name of the effect, you should find options for a circular mask, a rectangular mask, and a custom mask using the pen tool. clicking on one of these options will add the mask and create additional control parameters in the effect.
The mask can be resized in the Program monitor by clicking and dragging on its key points and you can adjust its feather either in the Program monitor or in the Effect Controls panel. You can even animate the shape of the mask by turning on the Mask Path keyframes – although, again, these controls are fairly limited.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can use Lumetri on multiple clips at once by applying it to an adjustment layer. Adjustment layers can be resized over any length of the timeline and will affect any clips beneath them. To create one, click on the New Item icon in the Project panel (it looks like a box with one turned-up corner) and choose Adjustment Layer. It will be dropped into the Project panel (not the timeline), so you’ll need to drag it into your sequence and resize it as necessary. To add Lumetri to it, highlight the adjustment layer and either choose Lumetri Color from the list of effects or make an adjustment in the Lumetri Color panel. Adjustment layers are a great way to add things like vignettes to an entire project or section of a film.
Between the various options in the Lumetri Color panel, you have a very capable and adaptable toolset for altering the color of your film. Take some time to play around with the various options – like a lot of these techniques, the best way to get a handle on it is to just start experimenting. Occasionally, you may find it helpful to switch the visibility of the effect off in the Effect Controls, just to see how far your footage has come.