Assessing Tonal Range

Thinking Like A Colorist – Assessing Tonal Range

July 19, 2017

Dan shares his new approach to Assessing Tonal Range and the initial grading moves by asking. Are you trying to make it look better or different?


How I Decide How To Make My First Move When Setting Contrast

In recent months I’ve been trying to question each step of my grading process to ensure it was the best it could be.

An interesting point I have discovered is how quickly I used to dive into making my first primary contrast adjustment.

I almost didn’t think about it and just had a dive in and hope for the best approach.

In recent times I’ve tried to refine this thought process and ask what am I trying to achieve.

It now comes down to one question to get the ball rolling.

Am I trying to make it look better or look different?

Better Or Different?

It’s a simple question but has quite a lot of weight.

If I am trying to enhance the look that is in the footage I now try to only reduce values such as midtones, lift etc..

If I am trying to change the look that is in the footage I normally end up adding new values into the footage like color wheel adjustments and lifting gain and contrast.

It’s a lot easier to show you so let’s jump into my video insight below to find out more.

If you’ve got any questions, be sure to leave a comment!


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Homepage Forums Thinking Like A Colorist – Assessing Tonal Range

  • John Rogers

    I use scope boxes colour waveform, to do the same thing your doing with the luminance key, Great stuff, Thanks Dan!

  • I live using the printer lights keys and use luma matts all the time to control them. It really does help me break apart the image.

  • Andy DV

    I think this is a great educational tool for clients in the room. Whipping out a luminance key and walking clients thru my thought process for something as wildly subjective as contrast seems like a great way to put them at ease that they’re working with a professional and that the choices I make aren’t just pulled out of thin air. There are no wrong answers, but an answer is only “right” if it can be justified!

  • Jan Klier

    Good reminder. I used to do retouch fashion stills for many years before starting in grading. And skin retouching does train you in the art of removing blemishes while retaining the underlying image and not turning it into plastic.

    A good way of approaching the first part of grading is to look at the image for a few seconds and ask yourself – what is distracting me in this image? And is my eye going to where it should be going? Sometimes closing the eyes and then taking a look and trying to observe where your eye is drawn to, often reveals what needs to be changed. And you keep iterating over that until you no longer find distractions and your eye goes right where you want it to.

  • Jan Klier

    On more thought – your method of using the luminance key to assess the image is very similar to false color. There is a decent OFX plugin for false color if your main monitor doesn’t already support it (like FSI). But more importantly this article talking about key/fill and key/background ratios and how to spot them in false color (read all the way to the bottom) may be a good technique to evaluate the tonality of an image and also get into the mind of what the DP may have been thinking about:

  • Jose Santos

    Great insight! Answering your question: I really try to know beforehand what the DP is looking for, and depending on how happy he is with his material I’ll just improve what’s there. I’m not a big fan of pushing footage into a place it wasn’t meant to be and going for really heavy looks. In my experience the results are always worse compared to when I just enhance what’s there. Maybe it’s just my own attempt to fight against this “fix it in post” or “you can achieve any look you want in resolve” mentality that I see a lot of specially with people who are starting out. But yeah I like to keep what’s in the image and tweak it to it’s full potential.

  • Julian S

    It seems the download link is broken… Please fix

  • Robbie Carman

    Hi Julian –

    It’s fixed. Just had an extra space in the file name to the linked file on our backend. Sorry about that!

  • Julian S

    Great! Thanks a lot Robbie!

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