Dropping The Midtones

How to create a light, airy feel by dropping the midtones

May 2, 2014

Are you having trouble getting bright, happy images that aren't also feeling flat? Learn how I get around this by dropping the midtones.

Dropping The Midtones

Over the last few months of grading, I’ve noticed a trend in grades that I’d like to share with you all. I’ve moved into the world of commercials from mainly music videos and most of my grades now tend to be very bright and very poppy.

I used to always lift my gains and gamma up to get this very flat and ambient bright look. Nothing wrong with this look at all but when getting feedback from another colorist here at Smoke and Mirrors I noticed a pattern.

“What about if you drop the midtones?”

Let The Image Breath

By dropping the midtones down you’re letting the DOPs lighting and hard work show through. The areas of light and shade will become more apparent and you’ll see so much more depth and 3-dimensional feelings show in your shadows. Brighter isn’t always better and I’ve found when doing before and after comparisons, the images with lower midtones actually feel poppier and brighter than the ambiently bright ones!

Check out the video below to find out more, maybe it’s just me that was midtone challenged recently but hopefully this inspires you to try something new!

It would also be great to know which you prefer from a DOP. Flat soft ambient lighting where you have to shape the lighting yourself or more hard defined shadows that you finesse and add to?

– Dan

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Homepage Forums How to create a light, airy feel by dropping the midtones

  • Chris Climer

    That is freakin awesome!!!! I am starting to understand that it is simple things and use small amounts of changes to make a big impact on an image.

  • Dan Moran

    Glad you liked it Chris! I love when people point out new ways of looking at an image and it clicks in your brain! I’ve definitely been using my midtones a lot more recently.

  • Steve Sebban

    Playing with midtones has been my best friend in Symphony for years. I love how you can give more finesse by balancing between Gain, Brightness, Step & Contrast. IMHO, It was (is) the best way to give depth to this old DV footage. You need to be careful though and not overdoing it as it is very easy to over-darken your skintone and give your shot a very unnatural look.

    I have found Resolve much less powerful on this side. The midtones log feature is not satisfying enough for me (maybe I just don’t know how to use it correctly). To replicate the midtones features of Symphony, I’m keying the midtones, PowerWindows them and then use the full controls of Resolve on the node. Not ideal but it does the trick. Maybe some of you have a better (and faster) solution.

  • Santiago R


  • Robert K

    Love this tip!

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