Color Correcting as a Modern Day Cinematographer

June 15, 2017
Tips and Techniques
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Every cinematographer needs an edge nowadays. Some are good with green screen, others are good with natural light, and many know how to operate a DJI Ronin. However, one thing is becoming more and more evident, cinematographers are almost expected to know how to color correct.

I don't think becoming a colorist is a requirement for cinematographers nowadays. In fact, I think focusing too much attention on it could be detrimental to your development as an artist whose craft mainly exists on set. But learning basic color correction manipulation is an amazing tool to add to your modern day arsenal. With digital cinematography upon us and abundant, the conversation about whether a DP should learn color correcting or not should be had.

Jeff Dolen and Brent Barbano

So I sat down with cinematographer and ShareGrid member, Jeff Dolen. Jeff, is an Emmy award-winning and talented DP who has worked on documentaries and commercials for National Geographic, Google Play, Adidas, Hallmark and Omaze. Before we get into using the Blackmagic Mini Panel, here are some of the top reasons why a cinematographer should consider learning how to color.

 

PROTECT THE LOOK

Every DP needs their stamp on their work. Much like how celluloid used to be a DP's trademark or fingerprint, lenses and what you do in the DI (color correction) is how a modern DP can lock in the look he/she is trying to achieve. Often times projects have a fast turn around and I have handed over a project to an editor or pseudo colorist to never see the footage until it's been published. That can be really tough. And sometimes, you may not agree with or like the choices that person or company made with the project's final coloring.

SAVE TIME ON SET

In production, time is money. The more time you can save on set, the more time you can focus on tasks that matter most. If you truly understand your camera's ability, your lighting, your environment, your subject, and what you can do with it in post, than you can now make informed decisions on set. For example, you're on set shooting a commercial and production is behind schedule (surprise surprise). Your key light is spilling on to the white wall behind your subject and you want to slow down the spill (cutting the intensity of the light on the wall). However, the time it may take to have your grip team flag it off from the wall is costly. You read your waveforms and your highlights on the wall are not clipping, therefore information is being recorded and can be manipulated in post. If you know how to "slow down" highlights in post rather than on set, you can then confidently move on and not be too concerned at the time of filming.

VERSATILITY/MARKETABILITY

Marketing yourself is a huge part of the "game" nowadays. Some DP's are good with underwater cinematography, others are good at aerial. Point is this, being versatile and a jack-of-all-trades is not a bad strategy to play. If you can tell your clients that you will also color correct the footage, you've just potentially saved the money, time and energy best-served elsewhere. Plus, you're now streamlining the visual strategy you may have had with the director. 

Producers and such sometimes look for the path of least resistance. If you can prove to them that you are a good colorist and you are willing to offer these serviced in with the rest, you have now set yourself apart from the rest.

IT SHOULD BE FUN

Though it is not always the case, coloring should be fun. As a cinematographer, you should own the entire process. That means not just the pre-production and production but post as well. It can sometimes be time-sucking but seeing your "look" through to the end should be rewarding and will give you a better sense of ownership once the project ships.

This now brings me to talking about the Blackmagic Mini Panel. Jeff bought it after NAB this year for $3,000. The panel doesn't turn you into a full-blown colorist over night. However, it does set you up for a much easier, more precise and versatile coloring experience. Here are the reasons why Jeff loves his Mini Panel and you will too.

TIME EFFICIENCY

Like I said earlier, time is money. Saying that color-correcting is time-consuming is an under-statement. I've spent hours on one shot and still to this day, I'm not happy with it. Color correcting is a beast. However, the more you can automate, the faster you can move. The Mini Panel has done an amazing job at taking the controls you'd find in DaVinci Resolve and putting them literally at your finger tips. Instead of using one mouse to a lot of the work, let your 10 fingers and two hands take over. You'll be amazed at what you can get done.

ERGONOMICS

The Mini Panel has done an amazing job at giving you exactly what you need so you can memorize tools by touch. Much like typing with a keyboard without looking down, this panel has been designed so that you can keep your eyes where it matters, on your image. The track balls make it easy for you to feather in looks and adjustments rather than the click of the mouse. You can also adjust your RGB levels independently of each other by numerical values with just the click of a button. These are just a fraction of the many tools the Mini Panel offers you.

MULTI-TASKING

Because the ergonomics are so intuitive, you can now multi-task while coloring. When color correcting your footage in a traditional computer setup, you are limited to only a few moves at a time, if not just one. All you have is a mouse and a keyboard that you use to control your image. In short, there is a lot of back and forth. With the Mini Panel, you can adjust multiple elements of your image at the same time. This not only saves time and energy but it provides a unique way of experiencing your footage's transformation by streamlining the process of obtaining your desired look when using multiple tools.

EASE-OF-NAVIGATING

Lastly, with the panel, you can scrub through footage in an easy way. There are navigation buttons on the panel that are relatively easy to memorize. When editing and color correcting, I find that navigating through footage takes up half the time. However, a mouse and a few hot keys on my keyboard never seems to be enough to make the process easier. Now you can scrub through your footage without looking down thanks to dedicated buttons on the panel.

As a modern cinematographer and filmmaker, color correcting is, in some ways, becoming a popular talent. I'm not suggesting it is necessary however. It is simply just another tool to add to your arsenal if you so choose. If you're like Jeff and you want control over your look, learning how to manipulate your footage in post is a smart reason to market your talents. 

A shot from Jeff's project.

And the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel is an easy way to put you in the right direction. Just remember, the most important aspect of your job comes before and during the shoot. The more you plan and execute well, the more you'll thank yourself when you sit down to color.

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Brent Barbano

I have been a freelance Cinematographer in Los Angeles for over 8 years. Hailing for Syracuse, NY, I also studied at Syracuse University’s film program. I am a proud member of IATSE Local 600 International Cinematographers Guild.

I co-founded ShareGrid in 2013 and I happily contribute my findings, ideas and news on ShareGrid with all of you.

Creative Director and Co-Founder of ShareGrid

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