Feeling a bit intimidated by color grading? You're not alone.
We know it can be overwhelming to navigate all those settings, scopes, and sliders to get the perfect look for your footage. But that doesn’t have to stop you from creating amazing work right now.
Whether you're a total beginner or looking to up your game, we’re here to guide you through the basics of color grading. So get ready to tell more powerful stories with your videos, starting today!
What is color grading and why does it matter?
Color grading is the process of adjusting the colors and contrast of your footage to evoke a specific emotion.
You’ve probably noticed how the coloring of a light and airy wedding video is different from a dark and gritty horror movie, or how a pharmaceutical commercial typically has a totally different look than an indie film does. That’s the power of color grading; it sets the mood and impacts how your audience perceives your video.
In the past, all video footage was recorded on real film stock, and filmmakers would choose a specific type or brand of film to give a motion picture the look they wanted. Now that more creatives are shooting digital, we use color grading to achieve that look and feel.
Color grading is different than color correction. Color correction is about fixing a problem in your footage, like adjusting exposure or balancing skin tones. Color grading might involve adjusting exposure and white balance, but it’s about enhancing your footage, not fixing something that’s gone wrong.
What makes color grading so challenging for beginners?
As a lot of new videographers find, there’s a steep learning curve with color grading — even for photographers who already have experience shooting and editing.
Any challenge we might experience with editing an image is going to be more complicated with video because we’re dealing with three-dimensional footage where lighting can change within a single shot, and we’re trying to unify all our clips for one cohesive look.
You could end up with unwanted banding, color casts, and broken footage from overdoing your color grading — or you might have to spend hours grading specific frames inside each clip.
It’s no wonder that so many creatives shy away from video work. But if you’re passionate about using video to tell stories that make people feel something, then learning to color grade is going to be well worth your time and effort in the long run.
Are LUTs the magic solution?
We’re big fans of editing with LUTs to streamline the color-grading process and give all your footage a unified starting point — we even created our own film-style video LUTs for beginners and pros alike!
LUTs (lookup tables) are a set of pre-defined color values that you can apply to your footage, giving it a specific look and feel. They function similarly to photo presets but for video.
Using a LUT can help you achieve the results you want, even when you’re just starting out, so you can meet a tight deadline, take on more work, or build your portfolio with a cohesive look.
There’s no easy way around the complexity of video editing, and color grading isn’t as simple as throwing on any old LUT. But by taking the time to learn the basics and understand how to use LUTs effectively, soon you’ll be creating powerful video work, without days of grading to make it happen.
Color Grading Video: How to Achieve the Look and Feel You Want
Start with the right settings
We know this might not be what most new videographers want to hear, but getting your footage right in-camera — properly exposing and nailing your white balance — will alleviate 90% of your color-grading headaches down the road.
Photographers might be used to fixing these kinds of problems in post, but with most video footage, there isn’t enough color information to make dramatic adjustments after a shoot. Dialing in these settings during the filming stage will allow you to focus on grading your footage for a specific mood, rather than making extreme color corrections that could lead to more editing problems.
Here are a few other important video settings to keep in mind while filming:
Bit depth: Bit depth, or color depth, is the amount of color information stored in each pixel of your video footage. For instance, 8-bit video displays 256 shades of each primary color (red, green, and blue), while 10-bit video displays 1024 shades. Shooting at a higher bit depth gives you more data to work with when editing, so you can make more detailed color and brightness adjustments without sacrificing quality.
Color space: Color space is the range of colors that can be displayed or captured in a video frame. One of the most popular color spaces is Rec 709 — it's the standard for HD video and is the default setting on many cameras. Shooting in larger color spaces like Rec 2020, with a wider color range, will allow you to capture more colors and create more vibrant footage.
Picture profile: A picture profile is a group of camera settings that affect how your video footage is captured and processed. These settings control things like color, contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, and dynamic range. Different picture profiles can be used to create different looks and styles or to improve the image quality for different shooting conditions. Choosing the right picture profile for your project will depend on your artistic vision, shooting conditions, and post-production workflow. Some of the most popular picture profiles are S-Log, CineStyle, and V-Log. We suggest starting with some form of Log.
Import, organize, and edit
Once you’ve captured your footage, it’s time to bring it into your editing software.
We recommend editing with DaVinci Resolve by Blackmagic Design because it’s free and gives you a more powerful color editing dashboard, but many videographers use Premiere Pro by Adobe and Final Cut Pro by Apple as well.
If you filmed with multiple cameras and picture profiles, you’ll also need to convert your footage so that it’s all in the same format. But if you’re planning to use Mastin video LUTs, you can skip this step! Our Mastin Standard camera-matching system is built directly into the LUTs, so it’s no longer a pain to combine footage.
Next, be sure to organize your footage before you start editing it into your timeline. Creating a system to label your shots and keep track of adjustments might take a little more time upfront, but it’ll make your life so much easier when you need to color grade a group of shots or reference your footage months or years in the future.
And even if you’re excited to see how amazing your footage will look with a LUT, it’s important to edit your entire project before color grading. This will help your entire project look cohesive, and save you from having to undo edits you made at the beginning of your project. If you’ve organized your footage and imported it correctly, color grading will feel so much more seamless at the end of your project.
Finally, you can check your settings to make sure your monitor and editing software are set to the same color space you used while filming — most likely, that’s Rec 709.
Balance your footage
Usually, it’s important to balance and color-correct a clip before applying your LUT. This involves adjusting the white balance, exposure, and contrast to create a neutral starting point for color grading.
It’s easy to go too far with color correction, especially when you’re just getting started, which is why paying attention to your waveforms is key.
Waveforms are like maps that show you the brightness and color levels in a video frame. They help you see how bright or dark your video is, and make sure it's not too extreme in either direction. When you use a waveform monitor, you can see the brightness values of your video from black to white, and how they're spread out across the whole frame. This helps you adjust things like exposure and contrast to dial in your footage.
Learning to use waveforms can be intimidating at first, but with practice, you can use them to make more precise adjustments and take your color grading to the next level.
And for our Mastin LUT users, this is yet another step you get to skip — congratulations!
Our video LUTs automatically balance your footage so you can simply apply the LUT and then adjust from there.
You’ll still use waveforms to adjust your footage after you apply the LUT, but we’ve simplified the process so you don’t have to spend time manually color-correcting all your footage on the front end, too.
Create your look with the Mastin 3-Step WorkflowTM
Now comes the fun part: color-grading your footage to create that powerful look and feel we’ve been talking about.
And if you’ve followed all the steps so far, this part can be surprisingly simple — especially if you’re using one of our LUTs, which have been designed to follow our Mastin 3-Step WorkflowTM:
Step 1: Import & apply your LUT
- Open the software where you plan to use your LUTs.
- Navigate to the color grading or color correction panel.
- Look for an option to import LUTs. This may be labeled "Import LUT" or "Load LUT" depending on the software.
- Browse for the location where you have saved the LUT file on your computer.
- Select the LUT file and click "Open" or "Import" to import the LUT into the software.
- Once the LUT is imported, it should be available for use in your project.
Step 2: Adjust exposure & white balance
Next, you’ll likely want to correct any color imbalances by adjusting the exposure, white balance, and tint.
If you have several shots from the same lighting environment, you may be able to save time by making these adjustments in groups. Otherwise, you can go shot by shot until they all look cohesive.
During this step, it can be helpful to have reference footage handy — such as a frame from a film that matches the look you’re going for. This is a great way to dial in your colors without going overboard.
Step 3: Export & you’re done!
After you’ve dialed in your colors, you can apply any final touches you want, like a vignette, noise reduction, sharpening, and skin tone correction.
Then, it’s time to export and share your incredible work!
Take your look to the next level (optional)
Calibrate your monitor: We recommend regularly calibrating your monitor to make sure it’s displaying colors accurately, using a physical tool like a Datacolor Spyder Colorimeter.
Compare across devices: Try looking at your video on both iPhone and Android devices, as well as your computer, to make sure the colors show up correctly across different operating systems.
Consider your platform: Your footage might look different depending on where you upload your video. For example, Vimeo is known for high-quality video, while Youtube is powerful but known for compression. So to make sure your video looks the way you want it to, think ahead about where you plan to host it.
Create powerful videos with Mastin LUTs for DaVinci Resolve, Premiere Pro, and Final Cut Pro
Whether you’re looking for natural skin tones or a cinematic look, we’ve got you covered with LUTs based on real film stocks. Our video LUTs help you create a consistent look across all your footage in just a few clicks, for a faster and easier post-production process and timeless results.
Portra Original. The Portra Original Video LUTs pack is designed to bring out warm tones and highlight glowing skin. This look is ideal for natural light shoots, fashion videos, and fine art films.
Fuji Original. Fuji Original can help you achieve a light and airy look across genres, but we consider them the ultimate wedding LUTs. It’s also a stunning look for outdoor shoots, outdoor family films, and engagement videos.
Adventure Everyday. The name itself gives Adventure Everyday’s best use away. If it’s an event, experience, or escape you’ve caught on video, this is the LUT that will bring out the bright and vivid colors that make the viewer feel like they’re there. Think tropical landscapes, road trips, and authentic adventures with your friends.
Lifestyle Everyday. Lifestyle Everyday is a truly flexible LUT pack that helps you bring out the best lighting in your footage. It works across personal and professional projects and includes three LUTs perfect for indie films and everyday moments—including a richly dimensional black-and-white look. This pack is a must for videographers and filmmakers everywhere.
Portra Pushed. We’re big fans of bringing a little drama to your footage with a dark and moody aesthetic. Portra Pushed video LUTs bring out shadows and contrasts for truly stunning results. These dark and moody LUTs are ideal for boudoir, indoor lifestyle, and adventure elopements.
Ready to get started with color grading?
Like any skill, learning to color grade takes time and practice, and we’d never expect you to make your best work on day one. But you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.
We’re here to answer your questions, make it easier to tell your story, and help you create work you love along the way. Join our free community for beginners and pros alike, or reach out to us for support with any of our photo and video products at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re rooting for you!
Want a faster, easier way to start color grading and give your footage a timeless look and feel? Our video LUTs are based on real film stocks and are designed to shave hours off of your editing process. Find your look here.