Colour Grading – The Technical Stuff

Understanding The Technical Side of Colour Grading

One of the fun things about being in a creative field is the technical side of things, that is if you’re a geek like me. A lot of great content on this topic comes from Tom Parish’s website, so be sure to have a further rummage there, as well as Hugh Waters and Phil Crawley, who discuss the details of colorimetry in the video above.

If you want engineer’s bench level stuff then these two chaps are for you! They’ve got some great content (if you can handle the details) which I’ve sprinkled liberally throughout this post.

Color Grading Glossary

If you want a comprehensive glossary for all the terms bandied about in these resources then look no further than FinalColor.com’s interactive glossary, or grab it as a pdf here. Or you can download Company 3’s DI Dictionary for free from the Apple App Store.

How to calibrate your grading monitor

Essentially, get an expert to do it. If you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about – wrap your noodle around this lot. If you want a ‘for dummies’ version then this home theatre calibration guide will walk you through the essential basics.

Calman Ultimate Tom Parish has a great interview with David Abrams from Avical, the ”the go-to guy for high-end video post production work” in LA (according to Tom), who details how he goes about his day-job as a monitor calibration engineer. In this interview David talks about why he uses SpectraCal CalMAN calibration software.

Tom Parish also has another detailed interview with Derek Smith of SpectraCal all about the software. If you’re after a quicker read all about SpectraCal and why you might want it, then this previous email letter from Patrick Inhofer (sign up for free) will give you a good primer. Needless to say the offer is no longer available.

Calman Color Checker - Free monitor calibration software

What is now available is a free download of SpectraCal’s CalMAN Color Checker. You will need a probe (can you borrow one from a mate?) but within 5 minutes you’ll be able to discern whether your display is in need of calibration. The software will work with a ton of different probes, what it won’t do is calibrate the display, but at least you’ll know here you stand. Download the free Color Checker here or grab the free quick start guide here.

Lastly on this SpectraCAL love-in, you can download a free white paper on ‘achieving colour critical performance with affordable monitors’ direct from SpectraCal although you will have to hand over your email address.

In this follow up video (to the one at the top of this post) Hugh and Phil discuss how to calibrate a monitor in some fantastic detail. “Do you want something that’s accurate, or something that’s nice.”

LightSpace Color calibration software

Another calibration system (which calls itself the “de-facto standard for advanced colour management within the global film, TV, and post-production industries“) to check out is LightSpace CMS from Light Illusion. It too has it’s own free version for ‘display verification’, called LightSpace DPS, which you can download here. Just so you’ve got another option.

Buying a grading monitor

Color Grading Monitor - Alexis Van Hurkman Set Up

If you’re thinking about becoming a professional colorist, then you’ll know that the grading monitor sits at the heart of all you do. In which case you won’t mind investing some wedge in a decent one. Colorist and author Alexis Van Hurkman recently tweeted this picture of his new FSI CM500TD ($7, 495).

Dell 4K display for $699

But the talk of CES2014 is all these new (computer) monitors that are coming out and their low-low prices. Dell announced their new 28″ ‘4K’ display at $699. In response to which Colorist Juan Salvo tweeted this (below). Click on the date stamp for the full conversation. Juan also tweeted that if the 4K display doesn’t have a 4 in it (as in 4096), its not real 4k, it’s Ultra HD.


I think this is one of the Dell 24″ Ultrasharp’s that Juan is referring to. For a basic primer on some of the technical differences related to display technology check out this post from WolfCrow.

Dell UltraSharp 24

Tom Parish has yet another interview that’s worth a listen in this chat with Bram Desmet, CEO of Flanders Scientific (FSI) on the topic of trends in display technology and when to buy a reference monitor. Click through to Tom’s site for some extra post-show notes.

“It sometimes surprises me how much the display device has become an after thought in an industry that’s all about seeing things… you don’t have to spend $30,000 but get yourself into something high quality that’s reference grade just so you have the peace of mind.” – Bram Desmet, CEO, FSI

This tweet from Scott Simmons got some healthy discussion going on twitter which is worth a read. (It was sparked by this Wolfcrow post on cheap colour grading monitors) Alexis’ summary tweet is above.

As with so many things in life, you get what you pay for and if you’re charging clients money on the basis of an accurate display you need to take the plunge and invest in a decent monitor.

What about 4K and 8K?

In this last instalment from Hugh and Phil they discuss the differences between 4K, 8K, UHD1 and UHD2 as well as the new range of colour spaces. They also reference Charles Poynton’s thoughts on gamma as well as many other topics.

Charles Poynton is also interviewed by Tom Parish on mastering for 4K, 8K and a few thoughts on monitor calibration too. This interview is available to download as an mp3 and a transcript from Tom’s site.

Controlling Colour Accuracy in Your Workflow

Just to round out this post with a few more details on the Pandora’s box of technical intricacies involved in colour grading. This video above explains what’s really happening in colour mixing and why don’t forget that your eyes can lie to you in so many ways.

This is why it’s also important to keep the light in your colour grading suite controlled so that all your expensive hardware, monitor calibration and careful artistry isn’t all for naught. The chaps on the Lift Gamma Gain colour grading forum have a good discussion about it and Scott Simmons has a good review of the Ideal Lume grading suite lights over on PVC. You can also find out plenty more information on this topic on the Cinema Quest website, which Scott references.

Understanding Grey in Colour Grading

If you’ve ever wondered what the point of shooting a grey-scale card is (check out the tutorial from Jae Solina in this post), or why the grading suite should be painted 18% grey (see here) or why it is even called ‘mid-grey’ rather than 50% grey (Charles Poynton has the answer to that one here) then read those links and wonder no more.

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