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Basics of Video Color Correction in Premiere Pro

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January 16, 2020

Basics of Video Color Correction in Premiere Pro


Color correction is an essential part of the video post-production workflow. It’s used in 99% of productions and projects to ensure a professional, consistent, and accurate final video.

In this tutorial, I’ll teach you the basics of video color correction by using the various settings in the Lumetri Color panel window inside Premiere Pro CC.

Color correction, or color grading, is the process of fixing or ‘correcting’ the colors and brightness in footage so that they appear natural, and consistent across a scene in a final video edit. This can mean adjusting the brightness of a clip, changing the overall color temperature, or adjusting several color parameters between clips for a better match.

Premiere makes it very easy to color correct footage — so let’s get started!

If you’re looking for footage to practice with, Storyblocks has plenty of ungraded clips to work with.  

In my example, the footage was captured with an incorrect color temperature — it appears bluer than it naturally should be. Second, to this, the footage is slightly underexposed:

Video color correction final image in Premiere Pro

Throughout this tutorial, we will address these issues until we successfully correct the color footage.

1. With the footage imported into Premiere Pro and a sequence created, open the Lumetri Color panel window by going to Window at the top of the Premiere screen, then click on Lumetri Color.

Click Window -> Lumetri Color

2. Open the Basic Correction tab inside the Lumetri Color panel window to reveal all of the main color correction options.

Basic correction -> Lumetri color

3. To color correct this clip, we will start off with the overall color. Since we’ve established the footage we are working with has a bluer tone than it naturally should, we will correct it by using the Temperature slider under the White Balance section within the Lumetri Color Basic Correction tab.

Adjust the Temperature slider to a warmer tone (orange side) until the areas in your footage that are supposed to be white change to pure white. This will balance the white in your footage, so the overall color temperature or white balance looks natural.

Adjust temperature to turn areas in footage from white to pure white

4. Now that the white balance (color temperature) is correct, playback the footage and scan over the lighter and darker areas to see if changes should be made. In our example, the image is a little dark overall, so we can adjust the Exposure setting to increase the overall brightness.

Adjust exposure to increase brightness

5. Now that the exposure has been improved, the highlights in the footage have blown out a bit. To compensate, let’s take the Highlights slider down. 

With exposure improved, take highlighter down

6. By using the Shadows setting, we can increase or decrease the darker areas of the footage without affecting the lighter areas. In my example, I will increase the darker areas by adjusting the Shadows slider to around 21.

Using shadows, increase darker areas of footage

It is generally recommended to not push any slider parameters above 30 or 40. The higher you go, the more video noise/grain you will introduce into the footage. If your videos are only for the web, or YouTube for example, and do not need to follow any broadcast standards, feel free to increase the sliders however much you prefer.

That being said, pumping the settings too high will go against the whole point of color correction, which is to correct the footage, not to make it unnatural. With video editing, less is often more.

7. Now that we’ve adjusted the footage using some of the main settings let’s use the Contrast slider to further make some adjustments. Adjusting the contrast low will wash out the footage making the darker areas much lighter. Increasing the Contrast slider to a high setting will darken the overall image, making it appear more dramatic looking, as seen in the two examples below.

Low Contrast:

 

Color Correction - Image on lower contrast

High Contrast:

Color Correction - Image on higher contrast

 

Many video editors prefer to slightly increase the contrast of their footage. However, since this footage was already a little underexposed, and the theme of the footage is outdoor adventure, I think it’s best to lower the contrast slightly. Keep in mind this is a creative choice, though.

Color correction - preference to lower of raise contrast of picture according to setting

8. Next, to help maintain the detail in the sky, I will decrease the Whites slider to -16.

Color correction - decrease whites to maintain cloud details

9. With the Blacks slider, I will decrease it to around -5 so that the darkest parts of the footage do not have as rich of a black level. This is to address the underexposed clip, similar to the steps performed earlier in the tutorial.

Color correction - Blacks slider can  highlight darker parts of footage

10. At this stage, I will review the footage and determine if I can make any final adjustments before moving on to the saturation. After reviewing, I would like to increase the Exposure setting to 0.4 as well as decrease the Highlights setting to -27.2.

Color correction - increase exposure, decrease highlights to adjust saturation

11. Adjusting the Saturation is common in color correcting footage. Depending on the footage you’re working with (and the final result you’d like to achieve) saturation can drastically change the look of your footage as shown in the two examples below:

Saturation set to 0 will remove all of the color and provide you with a black and white look:

Color correction - black setting at lowest level of saturation, black and white

Saturation set high will enrich all of the colors, making them very vibrant:

Color correction - highest level of saturation, results in vibrant colors

When it comes to increasing saturation, it’s best to not push it too high — similar to the general rule for the other settings I mentioned earlier. It may look great as a still frame, but as video playing, high saturation will introduce a lot of video noise.

For the footage I’m working with, I will set the saturation to 122.

 

Color correction - saturation set to 122

 

12. At this stage, we’ve completed working in the Basic Correction tab inside Lumetri Color. Now let’s click on the Curves tab and open RGB Curves.

Color correction - curves window

The RGB Curves setting can isolate colors like the example below by clicking on the red circle and adjusting the curves line graph to increase the amount of red in the footage. This can be done for green or blue as well.

Color correction - use RGB Curves to isolate colors within image

In my example, I will only be making subtle adjustments on the red, green, and blue channels at the same time, so I will make sure I have the white circle selected.

Color correction - adjust white circle to edit all color channels simultaneously

Then, I will create 3 adjustment points on the Curves graph that will represent the shadows, mids, and highlights of the footage.

Color correction - make 3 points for shadows, mids, highlights

On the bottom point, click and pull it diagonally up/left. On the top point, click and drag it diagonally down/right. This will further increase the dynamic range of the footage between the brighter and darker areas.

Color correction - adjust line diagonally between areas

13. If you’re happy with the color correction you’ve done, you are now complete. As an additional step, under the Color Wheels & Match tab, there are 3 color wheels where you can continue to adjust the various tones in your footage to fine-tune the color you’re going for.

In the example below, I have brought the Midtones color wheel slightly toward the purple/magenta side (opposite of green), which adds a slight magenta color tone to the overall footage.

Color correction - adjust midtowns to add magenta hue

That brings us to the end of this tutorial on the basics of color correction in Premiere Pro!

To recap, color correction is done to ‘correct’ the color and brightness of footage so that the result looks natural. And you will do so by changing the various settings such as Color Temperature, Saturation, Shadows, Highlights, Contrast, Whites, and Blacks. Now that your footage looks its best, you can add more finishing touches to your video project. 

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Want to see more from Will Bartlett? Look for more tutorials to come on the Storyblocks blog or subscribe to his YouTube Channel, Alli and Will.

Will Bartlett

Will is an Entrepreneur running several businesses including a Toronto based video production company and an online business that’s trained 150,000+ students in a wide range of courses. He has 10+ years of cinematography and editing experience producing corporate, web and commercial videos. Second to that, Will has a YouTube channel with his wife and business partner Alli that’s focused on filmmaking, traveling, and a behind the scenes of their lifestyles.


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