Color Grading, or Color Correcting, is something that I find to be both amazingly simple, and amazingly complex. As a species, humans can delineate more colors than most of the other animals out there, and among both predator and pray from our pre-civilization times, we are absolutely unmatched. A Human can be up in a tree, reach out, and see (based on color diferences alone) that the vine draped on the branch is actually a snake, and not a vine, and it probably shouldn’t be touched. A sloth, or a cougar, or a chimpanzee, cannot.
In modern times, this amazing ability of ours tends to mean that we love pretty images and robust, interesting sets of colors. Color Grading is a powerful thing, and can truly change how your audience will react to a visual piece, in much the same way as musical cues. If you are just starting out, here are some useful links to get you started.
First, a primer on all things color created and maintained by expert Kate Smith.
Next, my personal favorite way to learn anything these days: find a forum online that lets you interact with people of the same interest, where you can both teach those that are newer than yourself, and learn from those more experienced than yourself. Discussing all things Color Grading, here is Lift Gamma Gain. Register and login (It’s free! No excuses.) to see full size images that other users post.
Finally, here is a Primer on getting Red Raw footage into and out of Da Vinci Resolve. Even if you aren’t using Red footage, this will help you understand how Raw workflows work, how to get the files into a free and professional color grading environment, and how to deal with Raw images.
There are many programs out there that will allow you to professionally color grade a piece. The best place to start is Da Vinci Resolve Lite. 5 years ago, you could get Resolve by paying over $100,000 for a software and hardware combination. Following a buyout and subsequent overhaul of market strategy, there is now a Lite version that is free, and lacks only a few features of the Full version (which only costs $1,000; amazing how the TV/Film world evolves). The best part? I find that, more than most other things, learning how to use one piece of color grading software really does teach you how to use all pieces of color grading software. You’ll see interface similarities between Resolve, Speed Grade, Lustre, Pablo, etc., etc. Once you understand Raw workflow, conforming, offlines and onlines, LUTs, curves, Lows Mids and Highs, Qualifying, etc., you’ll quickly know what your next step is in any given piece of grading software, and have some good instincts on where to find it and how to use it.
Of course, Color Grading is one of the things I make my living from. If you’re looking for a quote on a project that you need graded, you can always email firstname.lastname@example.org.