So, what can't you do as a colourist?

So, what can’t you do as a colourist?


That might sound like a backhanded complement, but while a great many amazing things can be achieved in the grade suite, in the edit room or by a VFX team, there are limitations.

A brave, thoughtful cinematographer asked just recently, “Are there things we do that you’d prefer we didn’t do and are there things that happen in camera that just cannot be ‘fixed in post’?”

Here is the short list that I can share from my dark grading suite;

Focus – if it is soft, it will remain soft. There are some tricks to enhance edges and give a false sense of sharpness to some images, but out of focus is definitely OUT.

Underexposure – if the image hasn’t got sufficient exposure to register on the camera sensor all you get is noise as the sensor cannot create something out of nothing. Nor can a colourist.

Overexposure – that beautiful highlight detail and subtle range of bright exposure that you saw on the day may have been clipped out completely by the camera sensor if the exposure setting was incorrect. Sadly there is just no getting that back. Like under exposure, the highlight detail hasn’t made it to the sensor and all you get is a flat white where there should be detail.

Exposure adjustments mid shot sometimes cannot be avoided, but these shots (or part of the shot) might be left on the cutting room floor during the edit. If the shots do make it into the final timeline, a bit of extra time might be needed to disguise the in-camera adjustments once you get into the grade suite.

Rolling shutter distortion – warped images often caused by a rolling shutter or certain shots captured via a camera on a loose mount (for instance attached to a car or helmet cam) cannot be corrected enough to look stable. Certainly the tools at my disposal in the grade suite are not yet that advanced. But who knows, maybe out there somewhere there are clever people with software, hardware and skills to fix this issue? Happy to stand corrected and be informed, so please feel free to educate us with your wisdom!