Color Grading Tools for Hogwartians

Color grading is relatively new to me, so I’m not an expert, but so far it has enabled me to not only make shots look better, but has allowed me to dramatically improve the look of interview shots.

Denver Riddle of Color Grading Central originally introduced me to the whole subject when he released Color Finale for FCPX. It’s an invaluable tool and I highly recommend getting it.

FCPX has some powerful grading tools itself in its Color pane. It’s more powerful than many people realise, but I’m not going to attempt a tutorial that others would be much better at.

Instead I want to show you a couple recent examples, starting with a little contest Denver Riddle posted on the FB Color Grading Central page.

I’m also going to tell you about the amazing vignette tool from Slice X and show you how and why I used it in grading a few shots. It is definitely way better than the built-in FCPX tool because you can infinitely manipulate it.

I’ll put the links to all these things at the bottom of the post.

First, here’s what Denver posted and asked people to grade:


And here’s what I did with it:

Boy Meets Girl

Hundreds of people posted their grades in response to Denver’s challenge. Mine seems to be one of the few he commented on directly saying it was a nice color balance. I was kind of chuffed, though he said there was too much separation from subject to background. On that I had to disagree. It is one of the primary things I try to achieve with lighting first, and grading afterwards because it creates more depth and 3 dimensionality. But in fairness, I didn’t spend that much time on it and there were still some things I wanted to do to improve it. He might have had a point. Too much separation? Anyway…

I did this grade using both the FCPX color pane and Color Finale. The FCPX color pane, amongst other things, gives you the ability to isolate shapes which you can then adjust independent of the surroundings. In this case I isolated their faces and graded them separate from the background. Most of the color work on the background was done using Color Finale which allows you to independently control the hue, saturation and brightness of the  main color components (along with many other things).

Finally I used Slice X vignette to direct attention to the subjects.

All of these things are key-framable. Since this is a still shot, key-framing was not necessary of course.

SLICE X Vignette Shape Mask

Here’s a screen grab of Slice X Vignette in use:

Slice X

Unlike most vignette tools, including the one in FCPX, this one is infinitely controllable in terms of shape and access. Like all the others, you can also control the density, size and softness of the vignette. But this is the only one where you can also shape it and change its axis. Here are the properties that you can vary from within the inspector in addition to the on-screen controls you see above:

Slice X Inspector

Ok, now for real life.

For those of you who read Run and Gun Videography–The Lone Shooters Survival Guide, you’ll know I covered the subjects of lighting both generally and specifically in regard to interviews. Lighting is the lifeblood of cinematography and is much more effective in creating that ‘cinematic look’ than shallow depth of field alone.

Here’s an interview shot I did recently as it came out of the camera:

Peter ungraded

It was not without some problems.

While I did manage through lighting to effectively separate him from the background in a white room (turned off all overheads, closed the window blinds, skimmed the back wall with a light to give the impression of of an off-scene window while controlling the spill from hitting the opposite wall as much as I could and gave him facial modelling and a backlight–both of which I had to severely control with black foil to avoid spill). The trouble with white rooms is that light bounces all over the place. So this was pretty good and I could have left it as it was, but there was another problem I hadn’t realised at the time. It was shot with relatively high gain (unnecessarily) and so is a bit grainy. You’ll see what I mean if you click on the picture to see it full-sized.

Here’s what I did with it:

Peter grade

Grading was done with FCPX and Color Finale. Then I added the Slice X vignetting tool subtly. I also used Neat Video to de-noise it. The result, I think, is that the shot has more depth and dimension.

And one final sample and a small test:

Duchess ungraded

Duchess grade

The first one was out of the camera, the second one graded. But what may be of more interest is the lighting. See that big window in the back? Well, there were three more to the left which effectively lit up the whole room. I closed the heavy curtains on the side windows. Then I placed a softbox in the floor in the background (left) to create a fake light from the (now dark) window being sure to keep it off the walls. Now I was able to light her with a relatively low intensity softlight and have her more dramatically separated from the background. I gave her a backlight and a little frontal fill which also gave her eye lights.

As I told Denver, this is what I try to achieve with almost any shot–separation of subject from background which can be achieved with focus or lighting or both. (In this case lighting was going to carry the job as the focal length was wide and the depth of field too great)


I could have done it more telephoto (which can also be more flattering), but chose this because she is a Duchess in a castle and I felt the grandeur of the room was important to include.

Now for the test:

Did you notice the microphone in the shot ?

(I didn’t think so–which is why I left in in there rather than crop the shot)

Because of the depth and because of the directing of attention to her face, what is it that you look at when you  see this shot.? Her face, right?

Our little secret


Color Grading Central Facebook page

Color Grading Central Website  (where you can get Color Finale)

Slice X Vignette Shape Mask

Neat Video De-noiser

Run ‘n Gun Videography eBook

Color Correction Basics


Color Correction thumbnail

Like anything else, color correction has its own fundamental principles and rules.

And like anyone else, if you don’t know the rules you wind up with lots of questions:

Do you adjust the black levels first or the while levels?

How do you correct skin tone?

How do you completely change the color of something in the scene?

I found this 20 minute video from Larry Jordan particularly informative and useful. (For his written article on the same subject go here.)

More on Color Finale


Color Finale is definitely, definitely, definitely a must-have plug-in for FCPX (that is, if you don’t have or buy–or can’t afford– Black Magic Design’s ‘Divinci Resolve’ which is the cadillac color grading program for all the major NLEs. Color Finale is only $99 and has the key basic tools for color grading that not not available within FCPX. I have used the FCPX color tools with good success for the past couple of years, but there are some things you just can’t do, which if you knew about them, you’d definitely want to be able to do. Color grading is much more precise and controllable with Color Finale (and certainly with the industry standard Divinci Resolve). But this is about my foray into Color Finale, so let’s stick to that.

Today I did a corporate shoot. In it I used LED light panels for the first time ever (subject to an upcoming video review). Boy was that fun! The reason it was fun was that I set my key and fill lights for the modeling I wanted and was then able to simply adjust the dimmer to the brightness I wanted for the chosen f stop. Totally simple. And with those little panels I had more horsepower than I needed–and more than my flourescent soft boxes were capable of putting out. But I think a made a wee mistake. I let the camera auto-white balance the scene. I probably should have white balanced to a card under the LED lights. What I got was this:  (click for full screen)


I wasn’t overly concerned as I knew the color information was there, and besides, I was now the cocky new owner of Color Finale. So I loaded in the whole interview and tweaked it (somehow it looks a lot better live) until I got this, which is more like what I was expecting:

Color Finale Grade

Mind you, that took me 15 minutes. If I knew what I was doing it would have taken maybe 90 seconds, if that. I know by having watched a Divinci Resolve demonstration at the BVE (Broadcast Video Expo) in London recently that there are certain work flows to color grading whereby certain steps should be done in a certain order. I did it as best as I could remember but know that to be competent with the tool I will have to understand the theory and the tools better. To that end I had already written the creator of Color Finale with my own wish list–specifically a set of tutorials that walk one through the theory and use of each tool and the proper sequences or work flows. ‘Color Finale For Dummies’, if you will. Just got this from him today:

Joe, Great suggestions and it is precisely part of my roadmap to help people have a better understanding of color decisions so expect to see more tutorials in the coming weeks walking from A to Z. The tutorials I’ve created so far are just the 30,000 ft view of the tool I plan to get into the nitty and gritty soon 🙂

Cheers, Denver Riddle Color Grading Central LLC
So, while it’s early days, there’s another advantage–Denver is very open to communications and is even willing to help you with specific projects.
Hey, this is just my first baby step. Don’t rag on me. I know it can be better. I’ve seen what can be done. But now I’m excited about the prospect of soon adding the magic of color grading to my skill set.
Denver’s website contains a lot more than his program Color Finale. It’s a repository of color grading information, tips and programs, including Divinci Resolve.
Here’s the main website Color Grading Central.
And here’s the direct link to Color Finale.
Hey–if you order it from him, tell him the Video Whisperer sent you. I won’t get a kick back. I’d just like him to know.

FCPX Grading Tools


FCPX and grading

The other take-away from BVE London was an eye-opener for me. The world of color grading.

There’s a London-based outfit called SOHO Editors which is the largest pool of freelance editors throughout the UK and Europe. They also teach classes in London and Manchester in all the disciplines (editing in the major NLEs, Motion, After Effects, Divinci Resolve, etc.).

They had live presentations all day and I watched a few of them relating to FCPX and Divinci Resolve.

It was clear that these guys were top-notch. Teaching is a part-time job. These were industry professionals.

The first thing I noticed was that FCPX was their weapon of choice. Without getting into all of the reasons why, a point was made that was rather telling. FCPX is faster. Period. The speaker said that alone is the major reason why major networks and production companies are moving over. It’s economics. And that is the reason to no longer ignore FCPX. But what I didn’t know (and this was a bunch of geek stuff), FCPX is set up for the future to such a degree that many of the other major NLEs will be forced to majorly upgrade anyway. Changes are coming. FCPX is already there. And this, from a guy who ran the team of editors for the World Cup on FCPX: it is hands-down the best multi-cam editing software out there, bar none.

But I digress.

The hands-down best grading tool out there is Divinci Resolve by Black Magic. That was also made clear.

And the same guys who use FCPX for editing, use Divinci Resolve for Color grading (which works pretty seamlessly with FCPX).

I had NO IDEA all the things that can be done in grading. I was stunned. I mean I was gobsmacked, a quivering mass of jelly on the floor.

Talk about ‘pure frickin’ magic’.

Color and looks aside, you can practically re-light a damn set with Divinci Resolve.

Plus they pointed out that the FREE version of Divinci Resolve has everything the paid version has bar one thing: The De-noise tools. Everything else is there in the free version. And it’s really free. Not a trial. You can download it today right here.

What they were demonstrating was light years beyond anything I’d need to do in corporate videos–or weddings or anything else of that nature. But it was clear to me that I could make anything I produce look way better, no matter how well it was shot to begin with.

I was intrigued.

There’s one problem.  You’re not just going to download it and ‘figure it out’. It will take some basic training. And that, with the SOHO group–who I would implicitly trust to get me up and running in either their one or two day course–is a few hundred dollars for a day or about $1500 for the more intensive two day course. They’ve got a 3 day course in the works.

I spent time time discussing my exact needs and trying to determine if I needed the one or two day course. I was pretty determined to work out a schedule whereby I could go down to London and do it at the earliest opportunity.

Then serendipity struck on Linkedin.

There’s a colorist in the U.S. who has just released a product called ‘Color Finale’. (It runs on FCPX Yosemite only)

There’s no mention, but I’d bet anything he’s a Divinci Resolve user and I think what he’s done is produced a program that has the most crucial tools found in Divinci Resolve. If so, I should be clear: Divinci Resolve is the bees knees and has everything you would ever want as a colorist. But clearly, not all of us need all those tools. Just as clearly, we could all use some of the basic magic available that goes beyond the scope of what we can do in our NLE of choice. And I think that’s what he’s done.

The really good news is that if you buy it by 3 March, you can get it for $79. After that it will be $99.

Furthermore, one of the things that Divinci Resolve has that is mind-blowing is ‘masking and tracking’. In Resolve it’s absolutely magical how easy it works. (say you change the color of a shirt in the background and someone passes in front of it–well, masking and tracking is how you deal with that and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it easily in Resolve). Anyway, that feature will be coming to Color Finale in a ‘pro version’. However, if you buy it now, you are grandfathered in and you will get the future upgrades with no further charges.

So far he’s got a couple of good tutorials on his site with, undoubtedly more to come.

So…a few hundred dollars plus travel and expenses to London for a day…or $79 for a program that does everything I need to make anything I produce look better?

I’m sold.

Here’s the link: Color Finale


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