Three Strategies for Increasing Color Separation

May 1, 2020

Do your images need to look more colorful? In this Insight, learn 3 color separation tools for increasing perceptual colorfulness.

Publishers note: Team Mixing Light is thrilled to welcome our newest contributor – L.A. based, freelance colorist Cullen Kelly to the team! Cullen’s technical and creative expertise is deep and we’re excited to share his first (of many) tutorials here on Mixing Light. Be sure to welcome Cullen in the comments below. You can read Cullen’s bio and get the link for his website on our About Page.

A Different Way Of Achieving “Colorfulness”

At some point in any grade, you’re going to find you or client want a frame to look more colorful. We most commonly scratch this itch with some form of saturation, but is this always the right choice? Is there any other approach?

One alternative is to increase your color separation, meaning the extent to which the dominant colors in your frame contrast against one another.

The greater this contrast, the more separation, and the greater ‘colorfulness’ we perceive. Learning to assess and increase an image’s color separation is one of the most valuable tools you can add to your kit as a colorist, and it opens up a whole new realm of imaginative possibilities beyond making a simple saturation adjustment.

In this Insight I’ll show you three techniques for increasing color separation:

  • Refining your image’s baseline color temperature to find the “sweet spot” for maximum separation
  • Using custom curves to increase color separation across your image’s tonal regions
  • Using the Hue vs Lum tool to increase separation by adjusting the luminance of a particular hue

If you have any questions, comments or something to add to the discussion please use the comments below



Homepage Forums Three Strategies for Increasing Color Separation

  • This topic has 18 replies, 1 voice, and was last updated 7 months ago by Pat Inhofer.
Viewing 17 reply threads

    • Pat Inhofer

      Cullen! Welcome to the Mixing Light community. This is a great entry into the Insights Library. Thanks for sharing your skill and craft with us 🙂 .

    • Jacob R

      Super nice Cullen, looking forward seeing more of your tutorials! 🙂

    • Rich Roddman

      Cullen, that was an excellent and informative insight. I’m looking forward to practicing some of those techniques, Hope to see more of your insights sometime soon.

    • Peder Morgenthaler

      Great stuff, Cullen. Love the techniques! Welcome to the team.

    • karl

      Wow! Good insight, thanks. Was all of this only possible when working through ACES? or is this approach still applicable when working in standard Rec709?

      I’m pretty new to this CG malarky, so sorry if this is an ill informed question.


    • Jason Bowdach

      Fantastic insight, Cullen! Welcome to the ML Team. Lot of great tips in here!

    • Scott Stacy

      Great Insight, Cullen. Cool technique. Welcome to the ML team!

    • Victor N

      Amazing Amazing insight! Would love to hear a lot more from you !

    • Cullen Kelly

      Thanks Karl — that’s a great question. These same techniques can definitely be applied in Rec 709, though your controls will have a different response, so let your eyes be your guide. For your split-toning, make you’re using that input histogram overlay mentioned in the video to guide the placement of your control points for shadows and highlights. With hue vs lum, keep an eye out for noise and moderate your adjustment accordingly. Happy grading!

    • Scott Stacy

      Great Insight, Cullen. Thanks for the tips. Welcome to ML.

    • andi winter

      +1! tiptop

    • jøsh blackman

      Very well done, Cullen. Hats off. “Broader is better” and always being able to “back it off” are two invaluable takeaways. Already looking forward to your next insight.

    • Mahak G

      Thanks Cullen!

    • Nicole W

      Thank you, Cullen! Those were great tips for color separation. Key output is one of my favorite tools!

    • Ralph L

      Hi Cullen, thanks for the tutorial. I only have a request. There are also a number of foreign people who are members of Mixing Light. For me, you speak very quickly. We also have to translate in our brains from English and follow everything at the same time. I would be very happy if you can go one gear down. Breathing in a break is allowed :>). Everything else okay, …great tutorial.

    • Keith G

      On the bottom row is a drop down that allows you to slow the video.

    • chris

      Whats the option mouse click equivalent on a pc to pin the curve back to the original line? I couldn’t quite find it now the label for that action in the keyboard shortcut. I’ve tried ctrl and alt click. it’s 4min 34 seconds into the tutorial. Thanks for some great insight Cullen

    • Pat Inhofer

      Chris – typically Option-click on a Mac is directly equivalent to Alt-Click on the PC. You may find that you need to Alt+click+hold then drag to add the point and get it to ‘snap’ to the default line.

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