Color grading is now a job that I’m paid for. Yes, you can be a freelance colorist, too! If you’re just starting out, here are tips that will get you from a newbie to an intermediate colorist.
Use the Right Software for Color Grading
No matter how good you are, the tools in Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro isn’t just enough to create any look you want. Only DaVinci Resolve and Baselight are the industry standards when it comes to color grading, but Baselight is way out of ordinary people’s budget.
Luckily, DaVinci Resolve is enough to color grade any film. Most of the Film Colorists in Company 3, the biggest color grading company in the market today, use DaVinci Resolve Studios. If you’re not aware, the colorist of Joker, Jill Bogdanowicz works there and she uses DaVinci Resolve Studios. The colorist of Dunkirk, Rampage, Red Notice, and Interstellar, Walter Volpatto also uses DaVinci.
Here at Beyond The Sight, we also use DaVinci Resolve Studios to serve our color grading clients for all types of films. I believe that Baselight has more advanced features but DaVinci Resolve is enough if you know how to use it. At the end of the day, it’s the swordsman, not the sword.
Maybe, this sounds obvious but it’s not.
Many people, including myself, thought that once you know how things work in the software, you’re already a colorist. I’m sorry, but it’s not.
Think of it like basketball. No matter how good Kobe Bryant gets, he still wakes up at 4:00 in the morning to practice. You can’t go on hiatus for months then come back and expect to still be good. It takes constant doing and learning to be a great colorist.
Take as much knowledge as you can and experiment
I’ve taken several courses and I didn’t go from A-Z after that. It needs a lot of execution and experimentation. I’ve improved after doing several projects. When you’re a colorist, don’t expect that you’ll have similar experiences with the projects you have.
Sometimes, you’ll have perfectly filmed footage that will give you a lot of freedom but there will be times when you’ll have not-so-great footage to work on. Sometimes you’ll be asked to get creative. Sometimes, you’ll just have to clean everything up. It’s always different and you should be ready for anything.
When you’re not working on a client, do a simulation of one. Pretend that your client sent you an XML file and you have to do conforming before you grade. Pretend that the client wants you to make a bleach-by-pass look, etc.
Take up courses. I recommend Lowepost.com’s courses. They have the basics and they have pro colorists, like Matt Osborne, that teach their workflow.
I also recommend Waqas Qazi’s course but it’s too expensive for beginners. The advantage of Waqas Qazi’s course is that it includes the business side of color grading for clients. You’ll learn how to land clients as soon as you finish the course, which makes the price worth it.
Be intentional when color grading
There are thousands of looks you can create in one clip. Most beginners will just do what looks good and “cinematic”. After learning the technical stuff, what you need to learn is actually Cinematography.
As a colorist, you are a cinematographer in post-production. You need to have your eyes develop emotions. You need to be sensitive enough to know how certain looks make your audience feel. A little change in exposure can give a very different meaning.
I believe that this craft can be learned by anyone. Walter Volpatto, the colorist of Dunkirk, Red Notice, and more famous films, was actually a farmer before. You will fail on your first few tries and it’s okay. Don’t rush. Love the process and practice.
I got inspired by one of the posts I’ve seen on Facebook. It’s a post about the latest series, House of the Dragon. The post said that the costume of Daemon Targaryen, one of the lead characters, took 16weeks to design and 12 people helped in the development of that costume.
And here I am complaining that my work isn’t good after grading for 5hours. Sometimes, you can get lucky and have a good output on your first try but more often, you need to spend hours.
The Joker colorist, Jill Bogdanowicz, didn’t make that look in 5minutes. It took several tests and adjustments to land that iconic look.
Try Recreating Looks
As much as I want to create original looks based on my taste and the director’s requests, I started out trying to recreate different looks from different sources.
It may be a Hollywood film, a music video, or a travel film. Try recreating these looks and you’ll have a grasp on how they were created. This will make you know the rules and be able to break them.
Until today, when I see a good photograph or video. I try to recreate them and see how it looks on the scopes and whenever I have a project that I feel will look great with that look, I can just pull that look out of my pocket and tweak it a bit and everybody is happy.
Show your work and be open to comments
There are Facebook groups that have a community of colorists. You can show them on your Instagram or other social media platforms.
People can be very harsh but you’ll learn from them. I saw someone who posted his grade and he was very proud of it only to get really harsh comments. Some people can really be mean but, trust me, these people will make you improve more than those “Yes Men”.
In the courses I recommended, the Lowepost and Waqas Qazi, both have communities that help each other to become good at color grading. If you happen to take one of them, you can also enjoy that benefit.
Sometimes, the grade is good for you or for your partner’s eyes. But, you might’ve missed some things that experienced colorists can see. So, it’s really a great thing to have these communities.
Color Grading takes time to master. It also takes quite a bit of investment, like a calibrated monitor and color grading panels, but it’s worth it in the end.
If you really love this craft, it can be a fun and rewarding job. Just be patient and love the process.