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The Difference Between Color Correction and Color Grading

In the analog world, “color timing” was a lengthy photo-chemical process that took place in a photo laboratory. Now color processing is done digitally; the color profiles of images and footage can be utterly transformed with just a few clicks of a mouse.

There are two main types of color manipulation, and their names are often (mistakenly) used interchangeably. Color correction and color grading are similar in their process, but different in how and when they are used.

Color Correction

Color correction is a singular process that involves making adjustments to an image to “correct” any deviations from its standard appearance.

These corrections include:

  • Exposure
  • White Balance
  • ISO Noise
  • Contrast

Color correction can be used to cover mistakes made with camera settings as well as to pull more information from flat-profiles. You should color correct your footage whenever possible, as it creates cohesion between shots.

dark room photography
Image by Crystal Eye Studio

Color Grading

Color Grading is a multi-process that can change the visual tone of an entire film. Once your footage is corrected, you can work to change the thematics and aesthetics. Grading is used more as a brush to paint a picture with purpose. These include:

  • Shot Matching
  • Removing Objects
  • Shape Masks
  • Cinematic Looks (day-to-night, underwater, flashbacks, etc…)

Color grading is considered a more “high-end” process than color correction and it’s not used quite as often for most videos. If you are looking to create more detailed color profiles, be prepared for more labor intensive editing and longer render times.

Here’s a helpful video essay from Fenchel & Janisch that further breaks down the differences between these two color processes. If you’re interested in reading more, Alexis Van Hurkman’s Color Correction Handbook is also an abundant resource.

Top image by NorGal

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