5 Books on Colour Grading And Colour Science
These days if you’re an editor you are expected to have a decent handle on colour grading and colour science. Being able to steward your project from the shoot to the screen whilst maintaining the highest possible quality and artistic opportunities.
Or if you’re an apprentice colourist looking to deepen your understanding of the art, craft and science of colour grading then these four books will provide you with an excellent place to start.
One of them is even totally free!
Last Updated – September 2021
Alexis Van Hurkman – Colour Correction Handbook, 2nd Edition
Having purchased Alexis Van Hurkman’s comprehensive first edition of his Color Correction Handbook, this updated edition is well worth the update. Originally published in 2010, a lot can happen in four years in this industry. The latest edition is revised and expanded with an extra 120 pages to a beefy 672 pages.
Not only that, but the book now also comes with a download code for a ton of Pro Res 422 HQ media so you can follow along in your preferred grading system. In the first edition this was available on an in-sleeve DVD, although there are plenty of new clips too. Publisher Peachpit Press also allows you to download a sample chapter on Primary Color Adjustments, if you like to ‘try before you buy’.
Author and colorist Alexis Van Hurkman details on his website just how much as gone into the second edition:
Adds about 200 pages of brand new content alongside many updates to existing topics; this includes a new chapter on grading workflow, a completely updated and expanded chapter on displays, calibration, and room setup, new sections on log-encoded grading, a new section examining the intersection of fine art portraiture and color grading, additional skin-grading techniques, and many, many new and updated techniques spread throughout nearly every chapter.Alexis Van Hurkman, Color Correction Handbook, 2nd Ed.
Another excellent aspect to the book is that it was reviewed by technical expert Charles Poynton and Company 3 senior colorist Dave Hussey (500 Days of Summer, Constantine) keeping Alexis ‘honest’ as he puts it.
If you’re looking for a one-stop comprehensive education on all things involved in color grading from setting up your suite to understanding your color management workflow as well as the technically creative aspects of bringing a film to life, you really can’t do better than Alexis Van Hurkman’s Color Correction Handbook. The main challenge you’ll face is simply taking it all in!
Alexis Van Hurkman – Look Book Creative Grading Techniques
Published at the same time, this brand new book from colorist Alexis Van Hurkman focuses entirely on the creative aspects of color grading by walking through numerous Looks and Creative Grading Techniques such as undertones, bleach by pass, day-for-night, monochrome, duo and tritones and many many more.
The genesis for this book was a 69 page chapter in the first edition of the Color Correction Handbook but has been expanded to it’s own 216 page book. The content does look quite similar to some of what is covered in Alexis’ excellent 90 minute Ripple Training video series DaVinci Resolve: Creative Looks. But saying that, Look Book does feature many more breakdowns. The Look Book is also system independent so if you’re not grading on Resolve you can pick up plenty of tips too.
Personally I’ll probably trade in my first edition of the Color Correction Handbook for some cash towards buying the Look Book. You can check out the contents of the book via the Amazon look inside feature or Peach Pit also have a sample chapter on blurred and coloured vignettes.
If you’re getting more and more confident in what buttons to press but want to learn more about how to structure and create different looks and styles the the Color Correction Look Book or the Ripple Training series are just the thing you need.
Steve Hullfish – The Art & Technique of Digital Color Correction
If you have previously enjoyed Steve Hullfish’s teaching style (check out this half hour lesson on videoscopes) then an alternative read is his The Art & Technique of Digital Color Correction. In a second edition from June 2012, the book’s main selling point is:
“The only guide to the art and technique of color correction based on the invaluable knowledge of more than a dozen of the top colorists in the world. This book allows you unprecedented access to the way the masters of the craft approach their work.”
Colorists like Bob Festa (loads of top-end commericals), Stefan Sonnenfeld (Co-founder of Company 3, Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, Bourne Legacy) and Pankaj Baipai (Justified, Sex and The City, Carinvale) were consulted on the book and therefore their wisdom must be permeating the book to some degree.
To that end Chapter 11: Miscellaneous Wisdom looks to be a real gem; covering topics like:
- communicating with clients
- keeping butts in seats
- looking to real life for inspiration.
Also Chapter 10: Creating Looks, has a section entitled ‘Festa’s Powergrade Library Revealed’ which looks very intriguing.
The Amazon Look Inside version of the book does show images from Apple’s Color and DaVinci Resolve 8, which won’t impede you applying the same learning to any other system, but it might take you a bit longer to orientate yourself.
UPDATE 2017 – A note from the Author
Steve commented on this article and did a great job of communicating what’s special about this book, so I thought I’d update the post with the full comment.
“The Art and Technique of Color Correction book is intentionally an ever-green book that does not count on teaching button-pushing and specific software that soon becomes dated.
To create this book, I sat down and actually graded in a suite with each of these colorists, asking questions the entire time. All of the colorists graded the same material, so you can see different approaches to the same images. The book is the result of conducting and transcribing about 50 hours of actual color grading sessions, with me noticing where the colorists’ eyes were going – to the scope? to the monitor? What were they seeing that caused them to do something in the software?
Books by single authors give you a single vantage point to the craft. This book gives you dozens. Plus several chapters of basic evergreen knowledge on how to look at and analyze an image, because if you can’t figure out what’s wrong – or you guess incorrectly – you’re NEVER going to make it look good.
Analyzing the image is the most critical part of the color grading process and this book shows how to do it with multiple tools.” – Steve Hullfish
Color & Mastering For Digital Cinema
Glenn Kennel’s far more technically focused Color & Mastering For Digital Cinema, is now showing its age.
First published in 2006, quite a fair few technical advances have been made in the industry but I include it in this list as it is one of the few books available on colour theory and science as related to digital cinema. That said, it is a very detailed look at the maths and science involved, and is not a casual read.
Glenn is currently the CEO of ARRI, having served on many of the industry’s premiere technical boards including the SMPTE, so his technical credits are extensive.
But at $69 it might not be worth the cash, unless you have a very specific reason to digest the material, and don’t mind a slightly vintage read.
Another equally ‘engineer’ level book is the $90 Digital Color Management:Encoding Solutions, which is now in it’s second edition as of 2009.
Checking out the suggested reading section of the book, on Amazon’s Look Inside feature, will give you plenty of further avenues for investigation, if you’re extremely serious about deepening your digital colour science knowledge.
DaVinci Resolve 17 Manual – Free!
If you are after a simple guide to getting started with colour correction and grading and don’t want to spend a single penny, then downloading DaVinci Resolve from Blackmagic Design, along with the accompanying 3,605 page user manual is certainly your best option.
It is slightly unbelievable that such an incredible piece of software is available for free and is constantly updated with new features and fixes.
If you’re an aspiring colorist you should definitely get to know DaVinci Resolve, given it’s prominence in the industry (along side systems like Baselight and Pablo) and Alexis Van Hurkman’s manual is a genuinely brilliant read.
Chapter 123 of the manual, entitled Introduction to Color Grading provides you with a 9 page primer on what the goals of a colorist are including managing audience expectations and focus, creating coherent looks across whole scenes and much more.
A must read for any colorist, not only will you learn what button’s to push in Resolve 10, but you’ll also pick up plenty of sage advice along the way. And all for free!