Why all DPs Need to understand color correction
This week in Zeferino Professional Lighting we want to take a closer look at the value of color. The best cinematographers are the ones who seem to have the best understanding of color, regardless of what level they were working at. This is not necessarily stating that the best DPs all know how to operate a DaVinci system. But rather that they understand the value of color correction and the technical principles behind it, far greater than the average budding DP.
It may sound cliche, but the notion that the cinematographer makes the image, not the camera couldn’t be more true. A great cinematographer will be able to pick up an iPhone and still capture a beautiful shot with the right mix of lighting, framing, camera movement, and color. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the shot wouldn’t look even better if it were shot on an Alexa, but it does mean that cameras like the Alexa shouldn’t be used as a crutch. One of the things that frustrates the most when working with certain inexperienced DPs is their inability to understand the potential of their own skill set, and their over-reliance on camera choice. There is no question that every camera has it’s own look, and therefore it’s own strengths and weaknesses. An Alexa will always look different than a RED or a 5D or a Blackmagic, but that doesn’t mean they all can’t look amazing in their own ways, or that they can’t be color graded to match very closely. Amateur cinematographers state that they only want to shoot on such-and-such camera, because they don’t like the “look” of the other cameras they have available to them. That’s all well and good, and you should absolutely be picky about your camera choice… But when you are just starting out you need to learn to work with what you have. It’s this issue that holds back a lot of talented filmmakers that want to break into the business as DPs. They haven’t yet learned to appreciate the color process and rely far too heavily on their camera choice as a means to capture the best image possible.
In an ideal world you want to have the best of both – the best camera to shoot on and the best working knowledge of cinematography and color correction. In reality though, you can’t always have everything, especially when you’re just starting out. Digital cinema cameras today are incredibly powerful and capable of producing gorgeous images – even the lower cost prosumer models. So if you’re struggling to get the right look with your 5D, Blackmagic, GH3, or whatever camera you might be using… Don’t go looking for another camera. Look to yourself and try to see where the gap in your own skill set may be, and you might just find that your knowledge of color is lacking. If that’s the case, do yourself a favor and start to learn at least the basics of the craft. You don’t need to learn enough to be a professional colorist, but you do need to learn enough to be condifent in your decisions on set, and to understand what any camera is capable of under the right conditions. There are countless resources online that will help you learn at least the basics of color correction, so if you want to step up your game there’s really no excuse.
Remember that it’s common for even the largest Hollywood feature films to shoot on a mix of formats. Some major features are shot in part on 35mm film, Alexa, RED, and so on. The DPs behind these films aren’t afraid to mix and match formats because they understand the color process. They understand that they can get them to match in post, and that any camera can look great when treated properly.