Capturing digital video has never been more affordable. However, it’s not enough to just capture images, you need to be sure they convey the look and emotion your scene requires. Mostly, this is accomplished during the shoot with lighting, lenses, and angle choices, but modern digital editing systems give us another tool: color correction and grading. Adobe Premiere Pro is your best choice if your color grading needs are minimal. In this article, we cover the essentials of how to properly use Look Up Tables (LUTs) and how to optimize your presets to be sure your footage looks exactly the way you want.
Understanding your footage (input) color space
Color space refers to what method a digital system uses to encode color information. Digital video cameras use either Log, or Rec709 to encode colors captured by the sensor. So, the first question you need to ask is: did you shoot in Log (e.g., S-log, V-log, Canon-Log, Red-log film) or in Rec709? Each method is different, uniquely tailored for the color science of the hardware in the products. Log files are optimized to take full advantage of your camera’s image sensor but must be normalized before doing any color correction and grading. If you shot in Rec709, you can skip the normalization process and start doing color correction.
Understating Your working color space and your Final Destination (output)
When working with Log footage, it is essential to re-map your footage to match your final destination. Are you going to show your work on mobile devices (Rec709), TV (Rec709 or Rec2020 soon), or cinema screens (DCI-P3)? Since most displays are only able to reproduce the Rec709 color gamut, we will set our working color space to Rec709. Now you might be wondering: why shoot in Log when I will just output to Rec709 anyway? The answer is that Log files contain far more information which can be used to make precise adjustments to your footage during the color correction and grading process.
Normalizing Your Footage
As we already determined the color spaces of our footage and our final destination, we will now convert our footage from Log to Rec 709. To do that, you need to obtain the Log-to-Rec709 normalization input LUT from your camera’s manufacturer. The image below was shot on Sony A7SII, so it makes sense to download the Sony input LUT and apply it to our footage. Sometimes, it’s possible to use a different input LUT from a different camera manufacturer if your footage was exposed incorrectly or you just want a creative look. You can always play around with it to see which input LUT gives you the best result.
Step 1: Download the Log normalization LUT (Input LUT)
Remember, each camera manufacturer is an expert in the color science of their own products so be sure to download the Log input LUT from their official website. Here are links to the input LUTs for the most popular consumer camera brands.
It is best practice to avoid applying the input LUT directly to the footage in order to retain color and luminance information (which is why you shot in Log in the first place). By doing so, you can adjust any information that may be clipped by the input LUT.
The simplest approach is to apply the input LUT in the creative section instead of the basic correction section, as the Lumetri color panel applies effects from top to bottom. If you add the input LUT in the creative section, it will apply the basic correction first, then apply your input LUT.
To apply the input LUT, go to: Color > select your footage > Creative > select your input LUT
If you would like to apply the input LUT to more than just a single clip, you can create a new adjustment layer to convert all your footage at once. However, it will be harder for you to do Hue, Saturation, and Luminance (HSL) secondary adjustments later (e.g., skin tone adjustment) as the selector will detect the color based on your flat log footage.
To create a new adjustment layer, go to: New item > adjustment layer > drag & drop two times above your footage. Next, go to: Color > select the adjustment layer on top of your footage > Input LUT > Select your input LUT
Now that your footage is normalized, it’s time to do some basic color correction. Remember, if you see any clipped information, you should always adjust the footage itself first instead of the adjustment layer. If not, select the input LUT adjustment layer or create a new adjustment layer only for color correction, whatever best suits your needs.
Step 1: White Balance
It is always best to achieve proper white balance in-camera instead of in post. However, keeping a color checker or 18% gray reference reflector on set is good practice to provide a cue for white balance adjustments in post. If the white balance is off in your footage, you need to rely on Premiere’s tools to help fix the problem.
To adjust white balance automatically, select the WB balance tool and use the eyedropper to select an area of the image that should be white. Premiere will automatically adjust all the colors in the image to set your selection to white. If you are unhappy with the result, you can just keep clicking other white areas until Premiere produces the result you want.
You can also set the white balance manually. Set your Lumetri video scopes to display RGB parade as this allows you to see the image divided into component red, green, and blue signals. If one color is significantly higher than the others, you can use the chroma adjustments in the color panel to balance the signals until they roughly match. In the example below, the image is too cool (blue). Reduce the level of blue in the image to achieve proper white balance.
Incorrect White Balance - Blue dominant
Correct White Balance - Same level
Exposure adjustments depend on your taste and what you are trying to communicate. You may prefer darker images, others may prefer brighter. It’s important to understand that color correction will drastically change your output once you apply a creative LUT, so exercise good judgment before applying a LUT to be sure you are getting the results you want.
Before Tone Adjustment
After Tone Adjustment
After finishing the basic corrections process explained above, your footage is ready for color grading. Applying a creative LUT is where you can really achieve the look and feel you want for your footage.
Step1: Select your creative LUT
This is your first step in color grading, not the last. Choosing a creative LUT all depends on your taste; there is no right or wrong answer. The only question to ask is whether this look is correct for what the scene is trying to convey.
First, create a new adjustment layer on top of your footage:
New Item > Adjustment Layer > Drag the adjustment layer on top of your footage > go to color on your top bar > creative > look > select your LUT > adjust > adjust the intensity of your LUT
Now that you have chosen a creative LUT for your footage, it is time to do secondary corrections to fine tune the look for final output. The secondary corrections layer should be on the top layer of the timeline, above the creative LUT. Secondary corrections are used for creating masks to refine certain areas of the image, pulling keys based on Hue, Saturation or Luminance, adjusting skin tones, and for other subtle adjustments.
Color correction and grading is the crucial final step in achieving the look you want for your footage. Luckily, Adobe Premiere Pro has powerful tools to help you. The first step is determining how your footage was recorded (Log or Rec709), then normalizing if necessary. Next, do basic color correction to make sure white balance and tone are standardized throughout the scene. Finally, add a color grade to achieve the creative results your scene requires. Following these steps will give you the professional outcome you need without requiring additional software. Good luck with you color correction and grading, hope this article - Color Grading in Premiere Pro helps!