Setting the Proper Saturation in Final Cut Pro X

December 19, 2014

How do you know if your images are colorful enough? When's the best time to set your saturation in Final Cut Pro X? Find your answer here!

Day 19: 25 Insights in 25 Days Holiday Marathon

How (and When) To Set Saturation in Final Cut Pro X

Final Cut Pro X Desert Island Color Correction Challenge: Part 3

In Parts 1 & 2 of this series, you learned how Final Cut Pro X ‘re-maps’ the pixels in your image assigned to the Shadows, Midtones and Highlights tonal ranges. Using that information, we developed a game plan for the first ‘move’ you make when color correcting an image.

This first step in color correction is what is commonly called, a Primary Color Correction. I’ll often call it, ‘setting the Base Grade’.

During this ‘setting the Base Grade’ process we’ve been avoiding setting Saturation in Final Cut Pro X.

When is the best time to set your Saturation?

I suggest you (almost) never set saturation before you’re happy with where the highlights, shadows and mid-tones are sitting (usually in that order).


Because the perceived colorfulness of an image is hugely impacted by the brightness of image. This happens at two levels:

1. Perceptually: Brightness or darkness values change how colorful an image appears to our eyes. The actual Saturation may not alter one bit and yet the object will appear much more (or less) colorful depending on it’s brightness values. If you haven’t settled on the overall brightness of your image and start tweaking Saturation first, you’ll be re-visiting this setting in very short order.

2. Image Processing: Depending on the software, changes in Exposure will have a huge effect on the actual Saturation of image (as measured on a Vectorscope, not just perceptually). But changes in Saturation might not effect brightness values (meaning you can make Saturation changes without having to bounce back to the Exposure board to compensate).

With these two ‘truths’ in mind, the smart colorist will leave Saturation until after overall contrast and color balance are defined. THEN it makes sense to attack Saturation.

And yes, after Saturating the image you may need to rework brightness and color balance… but maybe not—so why not leave it until after fixing the bigger problems?

What’s the best way to set Saturation in Final Cut Pro X?

Short answer:  Set Saturation ‘downstream’ of your initial Primary Correction.

Why would you add a new color correction filter for Saturation while working your Primary Color Corrections? It’s all about how FCPx processes images…

Watch the video below for the details.

– pat

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