Most people uploading video to the internet are uploading barely edited (read: clipped together) collections of raw video shot from their camera. While dramatic moments shared instantly differ entirely from produced productions — color grading is the biggest step every video creator overlooks before hitting publish.

Why Grade?

Color grading is as imperative a process as processing a RAW shot from a photo camera. There are hardly any photographers who shoot a photograph without editing the photo in some way to bring out colors and contrasts the RAW file is not meant to capture.

For the most part, video cameras are the same way. They don’t shoot video designed to be released as shot in the camera. Some consumer level cameras will shoot video with plenty of contrast and saturation — but they’re also the cameras which will struggle with many storm lighting scenes.

In short: video is shot in a manner which is meant to have color and contrast brought back in.

A Short Primer

Basic color grading is a relatively simple affair.

Let’s look at the scene we’ll work with today in Final Cut Pro X.

Our sample scene.

Our sample scene.

This is a sample scene of a storm shot while driving down the road. This is video straight off of the camera.

The thing you’ll notice (or should) is that this footage is rather flat, and bland color wise. Most cameras shoot this way with the intent you are to grade them later. In fact you can see this in the Luma scope (that’s Apple-7 in FCP X).

Screenshot 2016-06-30 14.49.13

In video, and in luma scopes, you don’t want all of your colors resting somewhere in the middle. Most of the colors in this scene are between 25-75. There’s nothing approaching white (100) and nothing at black (0). This means there’s not much contrast in the scene.

To fix that in Final Cut Pro X I simply open up the color grading effect (Apple-6) and start editing in the exposure tab.

Screenshot 2016-06-30 14.49.46

For this scene I brought up the highlights quite a bit, brought down the shadows, and also lowered the midtones.

For most graded footage you’ll bring shadows down and highlights up — and midtones will be where most of your work is to make contrasts perfect. This isn’t every scene, but I find that’s my default move more often than not — so much so that I have a preset in Final Cut Pro with a raised highlight/lowered shadow look.

Also the other default move you’ll always do is raise saturation.

Screenshot 2016-06-30 14.49.28

This camera I’m shooting with in this scene shoots a pretty colorless image, so I’m raising saturation up quite a bit globally.

The result of all of that tweaking is a scope which looks like this:

Screenshot 2016-06-30 14.49.51

Notice the differences? The profile isn’t nearly as flat and has much more dynamism to it.

Here’s what the image looks like now:

Screenshot 2016-06-30 14.50.18

Already that’s a far more interesting scene than the original:

Our sample scene.

Our sample scene.

If I wanted to, I could fine tune this scene and bring out some more of the tree detail which is too black in the image below and also fine tune the color balance a bit more. For bigger productions, you’ll definitely want to — but to make your footage stand out on social media a bit more: color grading is definitely the quickest way to make your videos ‘look’ better.

For the most part, the overall theoretical process is similar with most every video editor — but the process is different in terms of how to do some of these same functions. You’ll have to research your own editing software for the best methods.

As with photo editing, don’t go overboard. Balance is key.