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Please don't call it color grading

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  • Please don't call it color grading

    My most common unfulfilled topic request for potential RetouchPRO LIVE shows is for "color grading". I reply to those requests by asking for a definition. And rarely hear back. When I did hear back it was with a link to an example rather than an actual definition.

    "Color Grading" is a motion picture term. It is time-based. In fact the pre-digital equivalent was called "color timing". It refers to matching scene exposures, stocks, etc., from cut to cut.

    For anything to be graded, it must be compared to some external standard.

    Just because a photo has gradations of color does not mean it has been color graded. Ditto for extreme balance changes, or anything else.
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  • #2
    Re: Please don't call it color grading

    I know it's a misnomer, but it's growing on me and I've started using the term, as have a lot of people. The thing is, people seem to know what it means. Other terms like cross processing are not only misnomers, but also misleading, and vague terms like 'look', 'treatment', 'style' etc can mean so many things. So I think grading as a term applied to still images may be here to stay.


    • #3
      Re: Please don't call it color grading

      Well, Doug, most visitors are in the "learning" phase and they heard of a term and want to now more about it.
      I guess there should really be a show with live questions, so that misinformation stops spreading.


      • #4
        Re: Please don't call it color grading

        As many photographers start working both in still and motion, it's inevitable that we get some cross pollination in techniques and terminology.

        Having done color grading for motion, and having retouched stills, I like to use the term color grading for those global adjustments of color that are often done with color channel curves or hue/sat layers. Sometimes also local adjustments where the adjustment is masked by a luminosity based or color based selection/mask.

        The big difference in working in motion color is that all changes are not pixel based but global adjustments, or secondary adjustments controlled by a color or luminosity selection. So as long as retouch techniques fall into that same vein it seems an appropriate term. Doesn't it?
        Last edited by jklier; 04-15-2015, 08:23 AM.


        • #5
          Re: Please don't call it color grading

          I don't know, seems to me like everyone is just trying to find fancier and fancier terms, but in all these years in forums, I've noticed only few actually becoming professionals. If you know what you're doing you can call it whatever you want, trouble being I sure have never heard a client say "color grade" the image. If they start, I'll accept the term, but "match the feel" "match color" that is among the usual set of instructions.


          • #6
            Re: Please don't call it color grading

            " I don't know, seems to me like everyone is just trying to find fancier and fancier terms"

            Kind of like renaming directions for types of photography as in Portrait for Vertical and Landscape for Horizontal.

            Just not used to have someone pose for a Vertical and then when on vacation I shoot Horizontals of the mountains even when I have the camera on its edge.

            Most likely it has something to do with age......


            • #7
              Re: Please don't call it color grading

              Whether 'Grading' will be fully adopted into still vocabulary remains to be seen.

              The majority of terms in the English language have their own history and have evolved from previous usages. The word 'texture' for example, originally referred to the quality of cloth. We all know that the term Dodge & Burn comes from the darkroom (and presumably when the term 'burn' was first used it had technicians reaching for the fire-extinguisher). I won't extend the list of examples any further because it's virtually limitless.
              That the term 'grading' is borrowed from movie technology is neither good or bad in itself. That's the way language evolves. If it leads to confusion, that's bad. If it improves communication, that's good.
              Personally, I think it has been adopted lately because it improves communication. Yes (Skoobey) I have recently had a photographer say to me "...then we can work on the grading", and we both knew exactly what was meant.

              People get really possessive about words - it's human nature and it's not always rational. For example - many British people see the American spelling of color as an inferior derivative of the more correct spelling 'colour', when in fact the word comes from the Latin - Color, coloris, and the American spelling is more 'correct'.
              I still use the British spelling, but that's because I'm British, not because I'm correct

              Personally I think the word 'Grading' is a useful addition to our vocabulary, and as such, will find it's way into common usage.
              Last edited by AKMac; 04-16-2015, 02:01 AM.


              • #8
                Re: Please don't call it color grading

                Wikipedia defines "color grading" as: "Color grading is the process of altering and enhancing the color of a motion picture, video image, or still image either electronically, photo-chemically or digitally."
                I have given a lot of thought to this term. This is why this string caught my attention.
                From the tutorials I have seen, color grading seems to mean in image enhancement (beauty retouching, for example) that one adjusts the colors in the highlights, midtones and shadows to give a certain "feel" or "mood" to an image.
                Color grading seems to happen at the end of retouching an image.
                The one question I have though is should color grading be done after the final global contrast adjustments or before? I have a feeling it should be done after the contrast moves because darkening a shadow can change the color.


                • #9
                  Re: Please don't call it color grading

                  Originally posted by philipwarner2000 View Post
                  The one question I have though is should color grading be done after the final global contrast adjustments or before?
                  In my experience, it would be one of the last steps. As color grading usually involves some creative interpretation and back-and-forth, it is more likely to be changed a few times and thus is easiest to manage in a group of layers at the top of the stack.

                  That said, color grading could be broken into two steps - one where an initial adjustment is made on the raw image to create the image to work on, and then a final grade with the more creative interpretation of the image.

                  In motion workflow footage is often adjusted during ingest to match. Then edited into the sequence. And then at the end exported through the color workflow for grading. In the Adobe CC suite color grading is actually a separate application from the video editing tools. Premiere edits sequence. Speedgrade edits color (even though you can bring the Speedgrade adjustments in as a filter).

                  In stills, if you edit an entire editorial or multi-image campaign, each image needs it's own detail work, but generally there is a color feel that is discussed and agreed upon that then will be matched among all the images so it is harmonious. Often the basics of this color work can be copied across the images, similar to a final color grade of an edited sequence. Doing some initial matching of the images to even out minor exposure or color differences makes it easier to copy the final grade.


                  • #10
                    Re: Please don't call it color grading

                    It really doesnt matter. We make up new words along the way and find new use cases for the existing ones. It's irrelevant whether we name it grading or any other word. Like it or not, heavy color manipulation (i.e the 'vintage' look) is used globally and likely here to stay.

                    In fact, some people do the grading by exporting frames to Photoshop / Lightroom / whatever and batch applying filters rather than fiddle with 3-way correction in Premiere / AE / Final Cut / Resolve. So I think we can safely call 'grading' an extensive alteration to either clip or a still image where you create a specific mood or a distinct pallette.


                    • #11
                      Re: Please don't call it color grading

                      I agree, it's a valid term, I just don't find that my clients use it, but things can change.

                      You just know you've opened pandoras box with these answers, be ready for topics like "how was this color graded", "how to achieve this grading", "was this color graded"...
                      It'll get more and more popular, just like it happened with frequency "separation" and people asking was this done with FS?


                      • #12
                        Re: Please don't call it color grading

                        It's all about your end result. Do you like what you see? You can call it what you want.


                        • #13
                          Re: Please don't call it color grading

                          Originally posted by rudym View Post
                          It's all about your end result. Do you like what you see? You can call it what you want.
                          It's nothing to do with the end result. It's to do with what you call it. For example, you might say "I think I messed up the grading."

                          Some words come in and out of fashion because they're seen as 'cool' or give the impression of knowledge, or reinforce the speaker's identity etc. etc.

                          But other words come into fashion because they're useful and improve communication. When they fill a gap in our specialist vocabulary, then they're likely to be adopted permanently.


                          • #14
                            Re: Please don't call it color grading

                            Afraid I'm with AKMac on this one Doug. I lean towards 'treatment' but if someone talks to me about grading I used to think privately 'that's film, but I get your meaning...' and now it doesn't really trouble me. Digital retouching has co-opted most of its terminology already!


                            • #15
                              Re: Please don't call it color grading

                              I'm cool with software you can't touch having palettes and panels. I can dig windows and mice in a computer context. Unsharp mask is named after the physical process it mimics. But color grading is not only a misnomer, but is used to describe a process in a program that already has tools named after variants of those terms.

                              Terminology should clarify, not obfuscate. Jargon is one thing, argot is something worse. And "color grading" is close to going one step further, becoming a cant.
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