What took me 2 years to learn about color grading

We're gonna be gearing up for a kickstarter launch in September: mini messages. Church media and church videos are a messy business right now. We're starting small and using the visual tools God's gifted to us to empower and equip 100+ care ministries with quality stories of life change. Short messages like this one from Tim. The Gospel must be shared in a way that reaches people, and since most people are visual learners, we're going to be using film and video to do that. If you're new here, check out our mission and sign up for news.


It's been almost 2 years since I've learned about a "flat" profile. It's this muddy-looking (desaturated) print:

I first loaded the Technicolor Cinestyle profile onto my Canon Rebel T3i (now discontinued... thanks technology!) because that's what you're supposed to do. Or so I was told in reading and reading and reading more about what you're supposed to do with your in-camera settings. Let's debunk something:

Flat profiles are not necessary. They do allow for more wiggle room when you pull out your jumbo pack of crayons in post, but they are not necessary. Art is subjective.

For any of you that have read a post where I solicit feedback on a color grade, like yesterday's, then you know I'm a huge proponent of plans fail for lack of counsel. I don't always quote that proverb, but it's my lifeline. If we're meant to create to serve others, then it stands that we should cultivate the opinions of others in rounding out our projects. </endsoapbox>

For that budding filmmaking, these are some of the hard lessons I've learned about coloring your footage, and I hope to release you from all of the hoopla that surrounds your coloring journey.

1. RAW is your friend. 

I used to shy away from RAW. I didn't know what it was. Let me clear up any confusion right now: RAW allows for a lot of wiggle room when you sit down with your paint brushes. It allows those really flat images to take on a whole new look, if you so choose. Note: I consistently get folks who like the flat look. Why? Art is subjective.

Now, what (sometimes) is our default reaction to approving an event from "outsiders" in using our space? No. What (sometimes) is our default response to learning a new tool? Fear. I grapple with this every day. When we allow anything other than God's validation to fill our lives, we leave room for the enemy to sow his favorite tool: fear. I have to battle fear when calling strangers and asking for honest feedback. I have to battle fear when asking my friends and loved ones for more help with another shoot. I have to battle the fear that I'm not the man for this ministry, but you know what? My God is bigger than my limitations, self-imposed or otherwise. Same of yours - don't let fear hold you back. RAW seems like a scary concept. It's not. It just involves more work. I highly recommend Denver Riddle for learning what to do with RAW footage. Take what you learn from him and apply it to your video and your still photo editing. It's beautifully cross-functional, and you will be better for it.

2. Color temperature is subjective.

If art is subjective, then so is color temperature. Shoot in RAW and you can adjust the color temperature later with ease if you don't like your original settings. Obviously there are some conventions such as shooting with a daylight-balance if you're outdoors. With rare excepction, that's a bankable idea. But that's the thing. It's your story, so blaze new trails Meriwether Lewis. As long as you're getting that 135 degree sliver, you know your skin tones are right where they should be. 

3. It's okay to mix color temperatures.

Film school was super dogmatic about mixing color temperatures. Ack, hogwash. I learned from my super-cinematography-passionate friend Dale that it's okay. Loosen up your tie and let your hair down. It's okay to have that tungsten light in your background as your practical fill light. Really. You won't send your audience in search of a double whopper with fries. 

Below, you'll see a couple of pairs of shots. The first shot has the key (or main) light on the actor as a bluer light source and the fill (secondary) light as a tungsten light source. The color temperature of the overall picture is matching the key light, which is about 5400K, or roughly the color of daylight. The second image is a duplicate, and the color temperature is set to match the fill light, making it whiter and the key light bluer. Notice the actor's skin turning blue in both instances. Speaking of, I need to plug these guys. They are both fantastic, amiable actors - the first is our main guy, Jason Rosen, and the latter is Mark Justice. I highly endorse.