Color correcting, or color grading, video footage can be a difficult skill to master and a time consuming-process, even once one is familiar with the tools. As a result, color grading is frequently skipped in favor of strictly focusing on the content gathering and editing process. With the speed benefits from working in Premiere Pro CS5, I hope independent videographers and photographers shooting video will make color grading a regular part of their workflow. After all, you wouldn’t consider delivering a still photo to a client without first performing at least basic color, tone and contrast corrections. Why wouldn’t you take the same care with your video footage?
Even though Premiere Pro contains several useful tools for performing color correction to your video files, I prefer using After Effects for correcting individual clips, then using Premiere’s tools for making minor adjustments to the entire sequence (e.g. warming, etc.). This decision is based in the idea that the tools found in After Effects behave similarly to those in Photoshop, making color correction in AE a familiar experience to anyone coming more from a photographic than filmmaking background. For example, within After Effects, the Levels command allows you to control red, green and blue channels independently, just like in Photoshop, and provides a Histogram—a rare, but welcome sight for photographers working in video color correction.
Another familar tool found in a photographer’s Photoshop workflow that is now available in After Effects CS5 is Vibrance—a key ally for making your video clips snap.
You can add Vibrance directly to your clip using the Effect command (Effect>Color Correction>Vibrance), but I prefer to first add an Adjustment Layer (Layer>New>Adjustment Layer). This provides a similar workflow to working in Photoshop and allows me to mask the correction, change the correction’s intensity by reducing the layer opacity, or change the adjustment layer’s blending mode to target only the color or tonal information.
Vibrance in AE works identically to Photoshop, increasing the saturation of desaturated colors more than saturated ones. This makes colors richer without making them garish or artificial looking. I find that a ratio of three parts Vibrance to one part Saturation works well for most images. Check it out and see what works for you.
Here’s an example of a still from a video clip as it appears directly from the camera and one with basic levels correction, a minor hue-saturation adjustment on the greens and a Vibrance correction. What a difference these quick corrections make to the finished product!