What You Really Need To Know About Color-Grading: The Nuts And Bolts Of DaVinci Resolve

Sure, Church Films is all about encouraging others and honoring the Almighty in all that we do. 

And what we do is really simple: teach others how to land a $1k video job.

Once you master that, then you can grow to the point of a $2k video job. 

And you'll grow as a leader. Your financing and marketing will improve too - both of which are essential to growing as a filmmaker.

You want to keep shooting wedding videos or do you want to tell amazing stories of hope, good parenting, clean water, grace, forgiveness or (insert cause here)?

Features require a lot of work, growth, and a boatload of discipline. How many of these guys make the stories they really want?

Exactly. Start with the basics. 

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Having said all that, Church Films will (on occasion) blog about something a little more tech-y. It is after all Church Films.

Which leads us to today's can o' worms: DVR.

It's a complicated program. 

It's fully loaded. Even its free version. And it's up to DVR 12 (DaVinci Resolve 12).

There are many different features you could use inside of DVR, but we only need to concern ourselves with color-correcting and then color-grading RAW footage.

Remember, color-correcting and color-grading are not the same.  

Let's get started with this tutorial:

Who: Newbies to color-correcting and color-grading

Time to complete: 1-2 hours with the walkthrough 

1. Booting Up

Launch the app on your desktop (get the free version if you don't already have it installed).

Power down all other apps. DVR is a juggernaut.

Ask for a new project.

Easy first step, right?

2. Import Your Raw Footage

Inside your media pool, find your files that need coloring and add them.

I always get this notification that my project's settings do not match my current settings. I simply tell the program to change, and I haven't had a problem yet. If it's possible to turn off this notification, let me know below. I've seen it since DVR 10.

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Head over to the EDIT tab in the bottom row.

Create a new timeline by right-clicking the empty area with the big plus sign. 

Just let DVR know you want to add your media clips into a timeline. Be sure to leave the empty timeline unchecked if you're coloring everything you imported in one fell swoop.

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That will pull all of your clips into a new timeline.

3. Recover Your Flat Images (DVR 11)

DVR 11 loved to keep my footage in a Rec 709 LUT. That was the case for two years, ever since I started shooting on a Blackmagic camera and using DVR 10. 

The Rec 709 LUT is ugly, and you should never use it. It blows out highlights and crushes darks. 

Head over to the camera icon just below the timeline of every thumbnail.

Hit the tab that says "decode using" and instead of using "project," click "clip" - do this if you see that your flat image has defaulted to that ole Rec 709 turkey.

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This allows you to retain the maximum flexibility of your RAW settings.  

So use "BMD FILM" as your color space and gamma.

Then you can select every other clip in your timeline and apply this interpretation (for DVR 11 and earlier).

For DVR 11 and earlier: you can find this check button near the bottom of your program. It's the film strip with a check mark icon. 

Then double-check your footage by clicking any one of the thumbnail previews. You should see that flat image typical of RAW footage. 

If your selected clip is still contrasty and Rec-709-y, try the last step again.

The good news?

With DVR 12, this should be automatic. WOOOOO!

But if you have to do it manually, once you tell your footage to follow the "BMD" Color Space and Gamma, the project *should* follow suit. 

Improvement? Yes. Go Blackmagic.

That's how you shot the footage anyhow - flat, right? Why would you ever destroy your footage with that Rec 709 gahhhrbahhge?

4. Four Nodes Are All You Need

On a Mac, choose your file you want to color and hit Alt+S.

Do it a total of three times for four nodes. 

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Nodes are like layers on a sandwich, or multiple layers of video files all stacked on top of one another in a timeline. 

Don't get scared by the word "node" - march on as usual.

a. Color-correct the first node.

Your white balance is probably okay. If you need to adjust it, go back to the "decode using" menu in step 3 and change the white balance.

If your footage is too blue or too orange, you need to change the white balance (unless its intentional).

If you haven't already, pull up your parade menu.

If the hills and the valleys are out of proportion across your red, green, and blue channels, you need to change the color temperature until they are in sync.

Start at the bottom and make sure those levels are all bottoming out at the same point. 

Then look at the hills and make sure they're roughly in sync as well.

Now it's time to set your whites and blacks.

Take the Lift wheel in the bottom left of your Lift, Gamma, and Gain controls, and pull that slider back until the valley floor is just touching the bottom of your parade graph.

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If you pull those valleys down too far with the Lift wheel, your image darkens and looks awful. Flee! Just like when a nonprofit asks for you to work for essentially $1.50 an hour. FLEE!

Likewise, make sure the highest peaks are just touching the top of your parade screen. These peaks represent your highlights. 

Grab your highlight or Gain wheel and start sliding it until your peaks just peak.

Make sure the valleys are just barely touching the floor on your parade screen. Pull back on the Lift wheel to make this adjustment.

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If you push them too far, you'll see that the image starts to overexpose. Don't blow out your highlights!

Once you're done setting the highlights and darks (and white balance adjustments, if needed), you have a color-corrected image.

b. Add saturation in the second node.

Because you're working with a flat image (hopefully), you need to add in some saturation. It's just underneath the Gain knob.

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On my second node, I max out the saturation because a flat image is truly flat and in need of help.

But why do I shoot with a flat profile? 

The shortest answer is to maximize your choices in post.

I guarantee every filmmaker and aspiring filmmaker doodled, drew their own comics, wrote short stories that were ten pages long in the 2nd grade when your teacher only wanted a single paragraph, etc. 

You're no stranger to coloring, so have at it!

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c. Add in a LUT and...

Add a LUT or some contrast - I suggest the former.

The Osiris LUTS are amazing. M31 is a popular one, but it's really contrast-y (too many -y words in this post). Just right-click your THIRD node and pull up your LUTs.

Lately I've been using the Vision 4/X LUTs.

Choose a "log" profile if you shot in a log (flat) profile. That will give you a suitable image. 

NOTE: it can change your color-correction by crushing your darks, etc. Heads up.

The next thing you'll do before you finish up with your fourth node is to lower the gain on your LUT. 

Use the key tool and look for KEY OUTPUT Gain:

This way you can treat the node as a layer and apply a "percent" of the node. I typically only use 20-40% of a LUT since they're pretty contrasty, and I don't want to crush my darks (the Osiris LUTs love crushing the darks).

This "ghosts" the node to let you know about the change in the node's opacity.

Add a little more saturation at this point as needed. 

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It doesn't have to be excessive - you probably don't want the "What Dreams May Come" look (a pretty fantastical movie with the late Robin Williams).

At this point, you have a serviceable image, and if it's not a dramatic video, I've often stopped here.

d. Use a curves adjustment.

Treat this fourth and final node like the catch-all adjustment (if you don't believe me, watch any of the older tutorials from Andrew Kramer at videocopilot.net) - the curves tool is amazing.

Just be sure to un-gang the custom curves. DVR has this habit of stringing them together by default... every time you boot up.

  • Ganged - all curves adjustments happen simultaneously: what you do to the blue channel affects the red channel, etc.
  • Unganged - you can change one channel at a time without messing up the others.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Use whatever color-grade that you like at this point - complementary colors work wonders here.

I like the orange-teal look, and you can make a very elementary one with just the curves adjustment.
  1. Take down the highlights in the blues:
    1. Grab the top right of the line in the blue channel.
    2. Don't get hasty; make small adjustments (with everything when coloring).



  2. Lower the lows in the green and red channels.
    1. Go to the green channel.
    2. Drop three points towards the bottom left corner on the green line.
    3. Pull the one in the middle down and to the right, ever so slightly.
    4. Rinse and repeat in the red channel.

Note: DVR 11 and earlier versions had separate windows for the curves channels. DVR 12 is a pain with the channels all overlapping one another.

Two workarounds:
  1. Use the slider in the top left corner to "compress" a curve to get it out of the way temporarily.
  2. Use the "copy" function located in the top right corner with in the three horizontal dots to cut down on time.

Here's the final image with a basic orange-teal look and a little more saturation:

It's subtle from node to node, but all four of these nodes together put some life into your picture.

5. Double-Check Your Output Settings

Don't spend hours exporting massive amounts of footage, only to find out you exported one gigantic mega file, or you'll end up like me.

I still make this mistake.

Don't be like me. Export your clips as INDIVIDUAL SOURCE CLIPS. Be wary of the "Single clip."

See that sucker below? That's what DVR loves to default to.

5. Back Up Your Color-Graded Files

The last thing you want to do is back up your color-graded files.

It can take hours if you're backing up the files in the cloud, but I think it's worth it. It's going to be at least a GB if not several gigabytes.  

Especially if you're using the Amazon Cloud Drive - it has unlimited storage (a must for every videographer/film producer).

Don't bother trying to back up the RAW files into the cloud. Your ISP throttles your data too, not just your cell phone service provider.

RAW files are just huge. 18 minutes of RAW footage on the Blackmagic Pocket Camera, for example, is 64 GB. That would take well over a day to back up in the cloud.

That's a lifetime of uploading to the cloud. Don't do it. Just back up the project files, sound clips, and color-graded files.

Get a hardcopy 1TB SSD (solid-state drive - no moving parts - I use SanDisk) to back up your RAW footage for at least 4 months. 

You can chuck the RAW files later.

*GASP*

DVR is a very rich program. Because it is so rich, they are able to offer a fully-functional (no watermarking) version for free because the true pros buy the full suite at a whopping $1,000 or so. It's a feature-intensive program that could take a lifetime to master. 

But the free version has everything you need to get working with RAW footage.

I understand you can natively edit RAW footage inside of the cloud version of Adobe Premiere. Can the same be said of the AVID or Final Cut products? Tell me below; I'm all ears.

I started learning how to color-grade RAW footage in DVR; it's fine by me. I like the workflow; it doesn't bother me. It's a dedicated space to color-grade.

With DVR 12 (version 12 that is), you can now do everything in DVR, including your editing. No more round-tripping to Adobe (or other editor) if you want to learn yet another NLE. 

I don't think DaVinci will ever topple Adobe. I just don't see it happening.

Wrap.

To help you get started on your coloring, I've got a bonus item for you to download:

  • This whole blog post as an audio transcription. 

You'll also have an opportunity to download some RAW files to color for personal use and training when you share this blog post with a friend. 

Sound good? 

To get in on all of the action, sign up here:

If you haven't already, go download the free version of DVR.

It is a memory-intensive program, so make sure you aren't running a whole heap of programs at the same time; close them turkeys down!

Jake

Las Vegas

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.