How do I approach a Colour Grade?


This is a question I sometimes I get asked by students or film makers just starting out. The industry is ever evolving, so things that you were taught may have changed by the time you complete your course.

As an experienced colourist, I am always happy to help de-mystify the process and the lingo.

This is a brief overview of the process leading up to and following the grade. All of which have an impact on the grade session, so I felt it was important to lay out all the steps in the simplest way possible.

You might be the director, producer or cinematographer who needs to know how to make the most out of your grade experience. As with most endeavours, being prepared is key.

Where is my film going to be viewed? What are the delivery requirements?

Understand first, what is required as your final deliverable. This will dictate how you shoot and the resolution of your original captured media. It may determine your camera speed 24fps vs 25fps. Knowing whether you need to deliver an HDR version as well as an SDR version, or a theatrical version as well a broadcast version, can change how you allocate your budget and book your facilities.


Prior to the shoot, cameras and lenses will have been selected. Actors will be cast, and locations decided on. You and your team will have discussed and decided on the look of the film, possibly even carefully art-directed the props, set, wardrobe and lighting. There may be ‘mood boards’ created, or reference images/footage discussed.

Mood boards from ‘Red Dog – True Blue’

Director Kriv Stenders:









For more information on setting the look for your project here are a couple of helpful links:

A great book that can help with colour palettes and their meaning is

If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling- Patti-Bellantoni

Step 1 : Camera department would need to shoot tests:

– Camera and lens tests – this is now an insurance requirement for most projects. These tests will ensure the equipment is working as it should and if it suits the requirements for you.

(Camera hire facilities will help you get tests shot with charts etc – here is a link to a local equipment hire place in Melbourne;

– Makeup/hair tests and wardrobe tests – to ensure that the colours are looking as anticipated, that the makeup looks correct under the lighting on set etc

– LUT creation tests – if you would like to craft a bespoke look for your project, a colourist can generate a LUT (look up table), which is a single ‘colour grade’ that will be used while generating proxy media for your editorial department and production department. This sets the look right from shoot and illustrates to those viewing the rushes, where the final grade might be heading. Before shooting tests for LUT creation, speak with your colourist about what needs to be shot prior to the tests.

If you are happy to use the camera manufacturers generic LUT’s, they bring your Log C (camera original raw) signal into the correct colour space (contrast, saturation etc) for editorial purposes.


Step 2 – The Shoot:

It is imperative to check all footage that is shot (for dropouts, corruption, focus etc).

Back up camera-original media to two separate drives. This too is an insurance pre-requisite.

Copy camera original* to a lower-resolution proxy file and apply LUT (when creating the proxy) or supply the LUT to editorial for the editor to apply when cutting the footage.

A DIT ‘digital ingest technician’ usually does this on set or back in post-house during the shoot. Reports about the footage may be sent to the production team if there are any issues worth noting.

*Keep camera original footage ungraded and in its original state. The timecode and meta data that is copied across to your proxy media will link back to this original unaltered media.

Production & Post-Production simultaneously

Step 3 – Offline editorial

The director works with the editor to cut the footage and create your final timeline. This may take days/weeks and it is the place that decisions are made, unmade and re-tweaked until everyone is happy.


Step 4 – The ‘Offline’ edit is now locked and sent to all departments for preparation

A copy can be sent to the audio department so that they can commence their mix and additional music etc.

Shots that require VFX will be ‘pulled’ and sent to the VFX house for them to commence their work. These would be high resolution copies of the original media.

A copy of the offline also gets sent to the post house along with the original camera media and EDL. The post house creates a timeline using the offline timecode information to bring in the camera-original files (which are much larger files). A timeline is created and checked before handing it over to the colourist.

Step 5 – Colour grade. Mood boards, reference footage and images may have already been sent to the colourist prior to the session. Sometimes the offline is sent to the colourist prior to the grade too, so that the colourist has a good idea about the story and the sections of the timeline that might need more time spent to balance shots etc. If this is not possible, the colourist is briefed by the director and/or the cinematographer regarding the look for the project at the commencement of the grade.

How I approach a grade is to go through the timeline and balance the exposures, look out for things that shouldn’t be in shot (boom, crew, 2nd cameras etc) and get a good sense of what might need extra attention. This process can be done in advance of the director and cinematographer arriving as it is more of a technical process.

Then, once the timeline is evened out, shots reframed to hide things that shouldn’t be in shot, we; (the director, cinematographer and colourist) commence the ‘look’ pass. With a well-balanced timeline, it is more straightforward to apply a colour cast or mood across the film.

This is where we can experiment a little with the look, taking careful note of the original concept as planned at the pre-production stage, then embellish, enhance and make the most out of the images.

Having clarity about the look prior to coming in to do the grade, will save a lot of time and possibly a chunk of your budget. While the terminology may be baffling at times, it can be as simple as bringing in some sample images and pictures to show the colourist. No tricky terms are required when we can glance at an image and see immediately what you are trying to achieve.

Step 6 – Mastering and Deliverables

An online editor will now bring together all the parts; graded master, audio master, titles and credits and do any other little last minute *fixups required before creating the final master. From this master your deliverables can be made (broadcast/web/feature film).

Step 7 – Quality Control Checks

All projects that are delivered to streaming platforms, broadcast companies and theatres will go through a technical QC. There are strict criteria and standards that must be met according to which supplier you are delivering to. A range of 1 – 3 is usually  marked against any items that are deemed ‘faults’ and it is up to the production team to correct and resupply masters and pay for a follow up QC before deliveries can be made.