A Few Examples

I've taken an image we are all familiar with and basically graded to demonstrate many different looks which can be asked for in a grading session, I have exaggerated the look in most instances, so it will look good on most home monitors without too much problem. Professional broadcast monitors and projectors, are in fact something I just do not possess in the luxury of my own home.

Most grades initially start by balancing the blacks and whites. Although admittedly the image chosen is lacking any real highlight detail, the thing to remember is that it may have been shot with this particular look in mind - and your enthusiastic correction may just be compromising the shot.

The image was picked because I have personally always been in awe of the sculpture; in fact I have been there for several visits. Sometimes creating a different shot from a very basic image is half the challenge, and fun - I like to call it 'beautifying.' The other thing to mention is that acquiring permissions from a film production to use images as examples can be quite difficult to do.


An image of the sphinx from the plateaux of Giza with one of the pyramids in the background.


Usually the client will be looking for a basic scene-to-scene grade, balancing the colour and stretching the dynamics to make the blacks black (sometimes they look milky) and the whites white. However the job may want to differentiate itself by employing a particular look, or creating one and changing the 'normal' look - obviously for soap operas and day to day viewing, this would be unacceptable and probably not within the tight budgetary constraints. However drama or smaller projects may use the grading session to really give it punch.

Recently there has been a trend to make things very low contrast, especially within advertising. I personally have to say I am not a fan of this look because it reminds me too much of uncorrected Cineon images, or ones that have not had a LUT applied. Again it is a very personal preference.

Which is correct? The sphinx has been given three distinct corrections, low contrast, 'normal' and a high contrast - what do you prefer?

There has been a realisation that colour makes a huge difference to a project - check out the correction style on the test drives for Top Gear. They are extremely creative, a bit of fun and are employed in conjunction with an expressive editing and camera style to great effect - I think this helps with the appeal of such a fun program.


The Look

Black & White: a basic desaturation of the image; again can vary between a low contrast, 'normal' and high contrast image. To leave some of the detail in the facial features in the high contrast version I included an isolation window over the face to stop too much of the detail from disappearing.

Sepia: is an old school look that is reminiscent of old photos that have an aged feeling. A slightly muddied look, which can again be quite subjective - I personally prefer the second example that employs a vignette and washes out the contrast to the edges of the frame.

Black & White Alternatives: when an images is desaturated we can introduce a colour to adjust it, sepia is accepted but other looks can be achieved. A monochrome tint is desaturated while pushing the mid tones slightly red, a duo tone pushes two colour's into the image - blue in the lows, reds in the high, which gives the purple tinge.

The final look is taken from a film called Seachd - The Inaccessible Pinnacle, which incidentally in the final was rejected. A series of short stories within the narrative, this short's look was about finding gold and became what was nicknamed the Nicotine look - unfortunately because of the very saturated nature of the film it did not work within the context of the narrative. The DOP fought for it but in the end it was toned down, which was a shame - it should also be noted that it was shot in camera with the highlights blown to help accentuate the intended look. Sometimes the idea looks great but does not always suit the project.

Filter Techniques: colour can be used in many ways to change the image or it can be used to simulate filters that are attached to the lens during principal photography, from changing the density or adding warm up filters it can change the look and feel of the shot. However it is sometimes better to do this in post during the colour correction because often it may be very difficult to reverse the look of a filter or 'in camera' effect if it does not work out. I am very much in favour of doing shots 'in camera' if it is the intended look and will not compromise the project later in production.

Effects Techniques: there are many effects that can be made to the image, it is just a matter of deciding whether the effect is appropriate or within context of what the project entails, some can be used for flashbacks. Some like softening the highlights can literally give a more surreal effect, or used to give a Vaseline type effect for the leading lady, or as in our case, the Sphinx.

Day for Night: one of the most difficult grading techniques is a 'day for night' shot - basically the shot is taken during the day and then graded to look like it was shot at night. The reasons for doing this are because it can be difficult to light a massive area at night to give all of the detail that is required (and expensive). Plus lighting tends to give extreme highlights and give areas too much emphasis, where as shooting during the day will allow the detail to be kept in the foreground, mid and background. Remembering how these react to the different areas and how dark to make an image is a skill in itself, plus how much detail is kept is dependant on the way in which the shots fit together - once again it is a very subjective grade and what needs to be the centre of attention. The trick is capturing the images; I would personally recommend an overcast day. Otherwise you are fighting heavy shadows that can be difficult to hide without a bright light source, such as a moon!!


Day for Night

Seachd - The Inaccessible Pinnacle

Many thanks to Chris Young of 'Young Films' from the Isle of Sky for letting me display some of the images from Seachd, a beautifully shot film with a great cast, scenery and haunting music. A mix of HD and 35mm edited seamlessly throughout the narrative made it a very challenging project. I thoroughly enjoyed working alongside Chris to grade the project - Ian Dodds (DOP) and Simon Miller (Director & Writer) were a couple of gems. They were very enthusiastic and experimental with their colour decisions. Four tall stories from within the narrative told by the Grandfather gave each there own individual look and grade, it was a challenging and very visual project and ultimately an extremely beautiful film.

Làn fhìrinn na sgeòil. The truth is in the story. When a young man, Angus, visits his dying Grandfather in hospital he cannot hold back his boyhood quest for the truth - the truth behind the death of his parents and the truth behind his Grandfather's ancient, incredible, fearful stories. Stories from the whole swathe of Gaelic history of poisoned lovers, bloody revenge, water-horses and Spanish gold. His Grandfather hijacks Angus' life for one last time leading him to one of Scotland's most treacherous mountains, The Inaccessible Pinnacle, and an ancient truth he never expected to find.