What is Color Grading Exactly?
Color grading can be done in many post-processing applications like Lightroom or Photoshop, but as an avid advocate of using Capture One as your professional tool for image processing – we’ll be looking into how to do it in this Capture One color grading guide. By mastering those powerful tools you’ll be on your way to discover your personal style and through it, you will add mood, atmosphere, and most of all – emotions, to your photography.
Color grading is an essential part of creative photography. It’s a way of adding and changing the colors in your photo to achieve a certain desired “look” or style. Many of your favorite photographers have discovered their style and going through their work you will begin to see the pattern. The color grade.
First of all, we should know a bit about color
Before you dive into the creative process of color grading, you must have dialed in the basic adjustments for exposure, highlights and shadows, and so on. It’s not an unbreakable rule, but it will help you see the overall image better when you start poking the colors.
And talking about colors, you should have a basic idea of where the edit will be going. You can always base your edit using the color theory and I’d like to say a few words about that before we continue.
There is much to be said about color theory, but I’m going to outline just a few super useful things.
A bit about the color wheel
The first circular diagram was first developed by Isaac Newton in 1666 and since then improved over the decades. Today the most popular diagram represents a circular diagram that combines the primary (blue, red, and yellow), the secondary (green, orange, and purple), and the tertiary (yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green) colors.
A few color harmonies
There are many varieties of color harmony. It is not necessary to always follow them, however, it is proven that these harmonies always appeal to the human eye and make the combination of colors pleasing.
Starting from the simplest you can base your edit on a monochromatic theory. There you’ll have just one hue and a variety of shades will make the more darker tones, while a variety of tints will make the more brighter tones.
From there one step up is Dyad harmony. It consists of two colors, roughly based at 90 degrees from one another on the color wheel. It’s not like you can’t combine the two colors evenly, but general practice is to have one color more dominant and the other one more like an accent in your picture (75%-25%).
Then you have the Complimentary Harmony. This is arguably the most common one out there. It again combines two colors but this time opposite to one another on the color wheel. Following the Dyad harmony here again it’s a good idea to have a 75% to 25% balance.
The Analogous harmony combines neighboring colors which can be a much as 1/3 of the color wheel spectrum. Here you can choose the leading color to be 50% of your picture and the others to have 25% each.
Split Complementary Harmony
The Split Complementary harmony has the same 50-25-25 ratio and like the Complimentary combines opposite colors, but instead of two they are three this time. When choosing those just imaging the letter Y over the color wheel. This will help you determine which exact colors will fit this harmony.
Things get more complicated with the Triadic harmony which combines three different colors. Again a good rule to follow is to roughly try and have a 50% main color followed by 2×25%.
Following this, you have the Analogous Complementary scheme which has a 40% main color and three analogous colors roughly 20% each.
Double Complementary harmony
And the last of the more popular color schemes is the Double Complementary harmony. On the color wheel, it will look like an X and combines four different colors. Your goal again is to try and have one main color at 40% and the rest at 20% respectively.
Have in mind that the more colors you try and combine the more difficult your edit becomes, and if you like to try and follow any of those color theories it will be easier to start with the monochromatic and complimentary first and work your way up to the double complimentary.
The context in which the color is used in your color grade
Last but not least is the context of color. You should always think about what you want to show and what your photograph is trying to tell. Like for example red could mean love, passion, danger, and aggression. Blue can mean harmony, loyalty, trust. Yellow can be used to represent optimism or jealousy. These are the three primary colors.
Green is often used as a representation of nature, freshness, and health. Orange is associated with fun, youth, emotions, and warmth. Purple can be used to portray fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and has a calming effect. These are your secondary colors.
You also have black, which is elegant but can also mean despair or regret, and white which can be purity, delicacy, and innocence.
Using the psychology behind those colors and the combinations of those colors in a harmony can easily help you tell the story in just one picture. So you should always try and think about how you want your edit to look at the end.
If you wan’t to follow along but don’t have Capture One, you can get a free trial from Phase One here.
The Color Balance Tool
With all that said, our first stop will be the Color Balance tool in Capture One. There are many ways you can go about your color grading and this is totally your choice. There’s a lot we can do here. Most of it will depend on what you want to say and show with the image. Let’s say it’s a winter scene. You’ll most likely not going to add warm colors in the shadows, right? Right.
When color grading an image with, it is generally a good idea to start by creating a new layer. That way you can always go back later and check if you’ve overcooked something. And if so you can turn the opacity down and dial it to your liking.
So, the first way you can go about is to enhance the idea you’re trying to portray. Using the Color Balance tool you’ll be able to add colors in the Shadows, the Mid-tones, and the Highlights. You’ll also be able to see them as 3-way wheels. Those wheels are a pretty handy way of doing things compared to just using sliders. If you’ve done any video color grading or seen someone else doing it – you’ll be familiar with the color wheels by now.
The good thing about Capture One is that it’s totally customizable. You can pop the Color Balance tool out and enlarge it to your liking. That way you’ll really be able to fine-tune your settings. Another tab in the Color Balance tool is the Master tab. There you’ll be adding a color cast over all of your image. It’s actually really handy for color correction, as well.
You don’t have to use all of the wheels unless you want to. If you’re just looking to quickly grade the shadows you can. You can also save whatever edit you have here as a Capture One preset. Capture One has some of those already there by default and they can be useful to play within the beginning or to serve as a base for the rest of your edit.
A good rule of thumb when color grading is to keep your blacks black and your whites – white. In reality, you can paint them at your will, but as in many good films, for example, you will see that they have preserved them. A lot of those films have a strong visual style which you can distinguish, so that’s also a good idea from where to draw your inspiration from.
To achieve this effect easily you can use the Luma Range tool. By sliding the left handle you’ll return some of the blacks, and by sliding the right handle you’ll return some of the whites.
Color Editor tool
The same goes for the skin-tones. It is a personal preference, but in a lot of cases, you’d want to preserve the original color of the skin. In editorial fashion, however, skin tones can be all over the place.
For skin Capture One is offering one of the best tools out there. You can find it in the Color Editor tool, under the Skin Tone tab. There you can select the perfect skin tone with the color picker and then play around with the uniformity sliders to unify the hue, saturation, and brightness of the skin.
Additionally, on top you can further push the skin tone left or right in the hue slider, adjust the saturation, and make it darker or lighter, respectively. The skin tone tool is a quick and easy way to get the most out of the natural color of the skin and therefore is one of my favorites.
Another clever use of the skin tone tool is to actually uniform any other color. It doesn’t have to be necessarily skin. In this picture for example I’ve used uniformity for the grass in the background. I was aiming for a nice complementary scheme of green and red. The yellow in the grass was far too distracting for my taste, so I used the skin tone tool to make it all green. Of course, this has to be in another layer, you can’t use the skin tone tool multiple times in the same one, but that is generally for the best.
The basic tab is much like the HSL tab in Lightroom. You have a pre-selected range of colors consisting of the primary and secondary colors + pink. You have the sliders to adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness of each of those. Something I really like here is the Direct Color editor tool (or D on your keyboard). With it, you can directly edit the colors by clicking on them on your picture and moving the mouse.
You can set what each movement will edit at the bottom of the basic tab. This way you can quickly make general adjustments to the colors and push them in the right direction.
Keying in Capture One
In the movie business, the editors call this part “keying”. There’s a lot of parallels between color grading in photography and cinema. This is when you’re trying to isolate certain colors and manipulate only them. Whether that be to enhance them, tone them down, or completely change the color of the object – Capture One has you covered. This is one of the main reasons I am counting on C1 for most of my post-processing.
With the help of the advanced tab in the Color Editor tool, you can select up to 30 individual colors per layer. You can push those in hue, saturation, and lightness. What you can also do, to help you see better your selection is to toggle the “view selected color range”. This way everything, but your selected color will become black and white.
You can click directly on the color wheel to select a color or you can use the eyedropper tool. Then you can modify your selection by expanding it or narrowing it down directly in the color wheel. By using the smoothness slider you can further adjust the feathering of the selection.
At the bottom of the Color Editor, you’ll see the pie icons which help you expand or invert your selection with just one click.
Here as in most other tools in C1, you can save anything as a preset and use it later.
Learn more about Capture One:
Check out our popular Capture One Tutorials
Capture One Feels Like a Complete Tool for Color Grading
Whether or not you have a plan to follow a certain look or a color theory, C1 has everything you need to get your desired color grading. It is a really powerful application designed by photographers for photographers and it is extremely streamlined when it comes to color grading. By using the tools I’ve described above you should have no problems what-so-ever to bring the best out of your photography.
Hey, my name is Krassy Dimitrov. I’m a commercial photographer based in Bulgaria. Among the things I like shooting you’ll see a lot of travel, product, wedding and portrait photographs. I’m also an author and contributor to the ever-growing Photography-RAW website here.