Grading The White Cyc Stand Up – When White Is Not White

February 23, 2018

In this video, you learn techniques for color correcting log encoded white cyc footage. Plus get several solutions for fixing common problems with these types of shoots and why, many times, your corrections are a compromise.

When Getting A White Background Is Harder Than It Should Be

Blame PR agencies, blame simplicity, blame Apple ads over the past 20 years!

The fact is, white cyc style shooting for testimonials, advertisements, and many other types of projects is a popular way of shooting.

Traditionally, the ‘white’ part of the white syc has been achieved on-set and in the camera  – meaning that lighting in the scene, as well as camera settings, have been configured so that the background of the shots simply blows out to a nice diffused white.

When this is done well, there is hardly any work for the colorist to do outside of some minor skin tone work, and things like sharpening and noise reduction.

But what about when it’s not done that way?

Recently, I worked on a series of spots that were recorded S-Log2 on a Sony FS7 that were meant to have the white cyc look to them.

As you’ll see in the video below, these shoots presented a ton of challenges (and compromises) – compressed footage, S-log 2, soft focus and people with white clothing on against what was supposed to be a white cyc background!

While not a complete manual for grading white cyc footage, hopefully, my approach will help you on your next project with similar footage.

For you advanced Resolve users – when the approaches I show don’t work, one thing I didn’t show is I often jump to a parallel node setup but I find that the straightforward approach I show in the video below, works more often than not.

As always, if you have questions or something to add to the discussion, please use the comments below


P.S. Thanks to Quentin Kruger from Fluent Visual for the shot.

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Homepage Forums Grading The White Cyc Stand Up – When White Is Not White

  • Willian Aleman

    Robbie, thanks for the great insight. I like the fact that you didn’t use any extra treatment to bring the natural skin tone of the talent, specially coming from the Sony FS7.

  • Robbie Carman

    thanks Willian. Yeah it’s an interesting camera – sometimes it’s great! Sometimes…well….


    From my 40+ years as a stills portrait photographer … the beginning of this, just the description only, had me laughing. Oh my … high-key with the aim a clean subject with pure white background is technically more difficult than balancing 8 different spotlights trying to do a dramatic dark portrait. A LOT more so. And while we had our printing lab, cleaning up other shooter’s paltry attempts was a huge job, with as you note all sorts of compromises. You either shoot this right, or … you make a ton of work for the other guy. That normally never really looks right. Great job fixing this … and why anyone would should compressed log for this is beyond me.

    And yea, feel free to use your surface and just say what you’re doing. Cleaner to watch, actually.

  • Jan Klier

    Good episode. Always learn something new.

    This shot clearly suffered from some lighting short comings. In defense of the FS7, which I work with a lot, if you are used to working in slog2 or slog3 to get the full dynamic range, and then you’re faced with a white cyc shoot, it makes sense to stay in that same configuration. Because if you go back to standard mode and aren’t familiar with all the color profiles you may end up baking something into the footage that is even worse. That said, monitoring your footage with wave form or false color and the appropriate LUT and passing that LUT on to post, is imperative if you go down that road. I’ve been in that exact scenario a few months ago, except it was a lot more skin tone on bare arms, etc.

    Sometimes it’s very hard to find one key that gets it all right, and using a key mixer and a few sub keys can do the trick in terms of precision.

  • Robbie Carman

    all great points. Like I told Willian below, I find it to be a really interesting camera – in the right hands, and situations, it makes great images. But sometimes it doesn’t .

  • Marc Wielage

    Noted comic writer/actor John Hodgman (“PC” in the Apple 2006-2009 “Buy a Mac” commercials) revealed in an interview that the stage on which they shot those commercials was massive. One of the reasons why the white cyc looked so good in the finished spots is that it was about 50′ or 60′ wide, and they pulled the actors very far into that stage. He said that Steve Jobs was adamant that the white background look “perfect,” and by that I think he wanted even the dailies to look good (without tweaking in VFX). When you don’t have a stage this big (plus tons of lighting gear), it’s really hard to get the background totally even. Same with green screen.

  • I am getting tons of white cyc stuff right now and the DP admittedly does a great job, but I worked out a workflow that desaturates my whites to ensure there’s zero chance of color variance. Especially since in the conform we’re using mattes to help where repos get extreme. I see the value in blowing them out for this kind of shot. When it’s well shot, a good handle of the LOG footage (RED in my case) and then desaturating the white, looks as perfect as a Steve Jobs 50’ cyc. Ha!

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