Written by Connor Campbell.
It never ceases to amaze me how much professionals can manipulate an image in nearly any way they like. I think it’s fascinating to see the differences between a raw image and the final coloured image.
Dealing with colour specifically, the process can be difficult and tedious. I’ve spent a lot of time on my own playing around with colour and trying to improve my shots.
If you are wishing to do the same, I recommend practicing and trying out different things. But in case you have no idea where to even start or are looking for something to build off of, I’m going to give a basic platform to jump-start you into the world of colour.
If you are wanting to follow along and later attempt your own recreation, you will need Adobe Premiere Pro.
Here is the shot I am going to use as my example. I loosely recreated the shot above this introduction and will be using it as a guide for the final product.
Step 1: Masking & Layering
Before I get into the process, I will show you how I went about manipulating my image.
In order to change this image to better match my guiding image, I’m going to have to use masking. What this means is, I need to create multiple layers in order to manipulate separate sections of the image.
So first, you’ll need to find the Lumetri Color effect, which is located in Premiere Pro’s video effects. Once you’ve found that, you can then add a new one for each layer you end up needing to create.
For this project, I needed to create multiple layers. For each layer you need, select the Lumetri Color and drag it onto your designated clip (or image). See here that I ended up creating seven layers for this process. This is vital, as this will allow you to manipulate your image more specifically and with more control.
Step 2: The Face
After studying both the guiding image and my own shot, the first thing I notice is how difference there is between the faces of the actors. So this will be my starting place.
To begin, I added my first layer by using the pen tool (which is the pen tip symbol surrounded by red in the above image). This will allow you to select the area you want to manipulate.
The first thing I did was turn down the exposure ever so slightly, as it was quite bright. Next, I played with the shadows and the blacks. I added more light to the shadows but also made the blacks a bit blacker. This flattens the image, which will give me more room to play with colour.
I also brought the contrast down, to make the image closer to being one colour, rather than tons of clashing colours.
One thing to note (and this will go for all the steps, but I’m only going to mention it here) is mask feathering. Just below the pen tip icon is an option for mask feather. Essentially this blends your changes into the surrounding areas. You will do this in order to make it look like your changes are a part of the rest of the image. The amount of feathering is a personal preference, so I would recommend playing with it to see what you like best.
Next for the face, I adjusted the colour. In order to get more yellow, I upped the reds and greens. I also dropped the blues slightly.
And lastly for this area, I again adjusted the contrast (I did this using the white curve) in order to blend the colouring into the rest of the image. Using the white curves is another way to adjust the contrast and brightness of an image. It provides a bit more control instead of a slider. I usually use this after adjusting the colour to fine tune my image.
And remember this, blending your changes is a key factor to making the image look natural.
Step 3: The Background
Next I took a look at the entire background behind my actor.
The background definitely looked like a different colour than my actor’s face. So in order to match it better with my guiding image, the colours needed to be brought closer to that of the face.
I didn’t make any changes for basic correction, but after I worked on the colour, I came back and feathered my changes.
The big changes I made to the background were making it more yellow in order to match my guiding image.. To do this I lowered the blues first to see what I would end up with. It looked better, but still had too much red in it (as you can see from the previous step). So I dropped the reds a bit and moved on to the white curve.
After adjusting the colours, I boosted the brightness and contrast slightly to once again bring the image closer to being of one colour.
Step 4: That Wall
After completing the previous step, I noticed part of the wall in the background was still a bit too green.
Again, I did not make any basic corrections. Instead, I masked the area on the wall I wanted and started matching to the rest of the image.
This step was actually probably the easiest, as all it in included was lowering the greens a bit to better match the rest of the wall. I wish all the steps were that easy.
Step 5: Those Christmas Lights
I knew from the beginning those blue Christmas lights would cause of bit of a problem with my image. But fortunately for me, masking and layering exist!
In order to change these blues to better match the rest of my images, I would not only need to make them less blue, but remove their bluish glow.
So unlike the last step, these lights were not the easiest to change. First, I had to intensively adjust the blues in order to manipulate it enough so there wouldn’t be any dominating blue light in my image. I went to make them closer to white, which worked out quite well.
After working on the blues, I once again adjusted the contrast to blend those now whiter lights into the yellow background.
Step 6: Wall Reflection
Unfortunately, I was not done with the section. As you can see by my new mask, there was still a small portion of the lights shining blue on the wall. This was that bluish glow I mentioned in the step above.
This proved to be a bit more challenging, as I was not able to simply adjust only the blues. After taking the blues down, I ended up having to bump up both the greens and reds into order to make it more yellow.
I actually kind of surprised myself here; because after making the light on the wall look more yellow, I felt like the colouring I did with the Christmas lights worked ever better.
Goes to show you how sometimes you can accidentally make something better.
Step 7: Back To The Face
After completing the previous steps, I studied my image as a whole and decided the face was still a bit too bright. At first, I tried adjust the contrast and brightness of the entire image, but it still didn’t look right.
This time I selected a smaller portion of my actor’s face and went to work. The first adjustment I made was bringing down the exposure (or brightness) to better match and blend with the rest of the shot.
Then I moved down to the colour. What I ended up doing was upping the reds, which also helped the face better match everything else. I also made a very small adjustment to greens, bringing them down by a mere fraction, as I felt that there was a touch too much green still in the image.
Although I said above I wouldn’t mention feathering again, I feel it is important to mention it here. Feathering for this layer was extremely vital and took quite a while. It was important for this part of my actor’s face to blend seamlessly with the rest of his head. The reason for this being the audience’s eyes will naturally be drawn to an actor’s face, so the correction or grading needs to be flawless.
Step 8: That Black Shirt
One last thing I noticed with this image was that my actor’s black shirt was blending him into the background. It almost seemed like the actor was bigger than he actually is.
This involved me adding another mask so I could highlight and work only on the shirt.
So what I needed to do was pull that black out of the shadows. The black still needed to be black but be almost completely separate from the rest of the image.
I accomplished this by merely upping the exposure.
Bringing up the exposure (or brightness) a bit proved all I needed to do. This pulled the black out from the background, but still kept it looking like black.
Step 9: Final Touches
Final touches are something I highly recommend. Going back through all of your adjustments and doing some tweaking can improve your image just that much more. In this case, I decided the overall image still needed to be closer to unified colour. In order to do this, I simply brought down the contrast.
And finally, I also dropped the reds a little bit. This gave the image a better overall yellow colouring, which felt a lot nicer.
So here is the final product plus the guiding image.
I hope this can give you that jumpstart you are looking for when it comes to colouring your shots. As you can see, the process is can be quite complicated upon first glance, but once you get into rhythm everything begins to make sense.
The process can be tedious, however, but I would encourage you to stick with it and put in the work to get the look you want. Anything is achievable; you just need to put in the effort.