This article isn’t about color theory, neither is a color correction tutorial. This is basically my own workflow based on my personal experiences.
First order of business, make sure your monitor and scopes are properly calibrated.
Observe the image you are looking at, both on the screen and on the scopes, to see where the black levels and the video levels are.
I like to start with the HSL tab, and the first thing I do is to bring the image at the correct spot per brightness. Because once your image is on the correct spot you have a better idea of what the actual colors of the image are. For example if your image is a lot darker than what it should be, the colors will look more saturated than they really are. I see this process as “putting the image on its feet”.
If the black levels are too high, bring them down (using Setup or Brightness) ideally to 7.5 on analogue scopes or to 0 on digital scopes. While you aren’t supposed to go below those values, based on the specific image you are manipulating, for instance in a particularly dark shot, you may chose to keep the black levels slightly higher. But you have to be very careful with that, since you don’t want your image to look “milky”.
Sometimes, your client will ask for “crushed blacks”, or maybe that will be your personal taste. In that case, make sure you activate clipping (by clicking Clip Low/Clip High). This way your Symphony will maintain the legal broadcast specs while you bring down the Setup as much as you want. Always keep in mind that crushing the blacks will get rid of some of the data in the darker areas of your image.
And of course if the black levels are too low, bring the blacks up to the legal clipping values I mentioned above.
The advantage of starting with the Setup command is that the image’s integrity stays intact – or proportionately manipulated, before you make any further adjustments.
Once your image stands on its feet, observe the highlights and what they look like on your scopes. If the Clip Low / Clip High command is activated, the highlights may have been automatically clipped as well. This is definitely “okay” per specs, but make sure you are not losing any necessary visual data. Adjust the “Gain” values to get the brightness level you want to achieve.
The “Contrast” command, although it sounds very appealing, isn’t a command that I use a lot. This is because the “contrast” command will move the shadows and the highlights of your image in opposite directions in a proportionate manner. This may not be what you need. I personally find the Gain – Gamma – Setup combination more efficient than Contrast. This combination will allow you to finesse the amount of contrast you want to apply to your image. Obviously Gain applies to the highlights, Setup applies to the shadows, and Gamma applies to the mid-tones. This latter one is quite useful and can help you finesse brightness or contrast by shifting the mid-tone values up or down.
So this “Master” panel in the “HSL” tab handles your image in 3 main brightness areas, and if you chose to manipulate your image even further, you might chose to visit the other panels (Highlights, Midtones and Shadows) and notice that each of these areas are broken down to 3 more areas, again Gain, Gamma and Setup.
Now that your image looks as dark or as bright as you want it to be, let’s talk about Hue and Saturation. Obviously these speak for themselves, and you can easily change the hue and the saturation of the image by sliding the controls. Again, the controls in the Master panel will apply those effects on the overall image, while those in the sub-panels will apply the effects on the chosen brightness areas.
I don’t use this Hue command a lot. The only times I would use it would be when, let’s say, somebody’s skin tone would look slightly off, such as a little pink or a little green. Otherwise, I simply prefer to go to “Curves” tab.
The “Curves” tab offers you individual graphs for Red, Green and Blue, as well as one that says “Master” which controls the brightness of the image. These graphs must be interpreted in 3 main areas of brightness as well. You will notice that there are 2 pre-set points on each graph. The point on top correlates to the amount of, let’s say, “red” in the highlights and the one at the bottom reflects the amount of “red” in the shadows. The Symphony, unlike some other systems, allows you to ad as many points to these graphs as you think are necessary. If you put a control point right in the middle, that one will of course control the midtones. Put it a little higher, or a little lower, and you can control that specific area that you chose. Generally speaking, I prefer controlling the colors in the midtones more than any other area, because I believe that is the “core”. So all the points you manipulate connect to each other with nice and smooth curves. Unless these points are too close to each other vertically and too far apart horizontally, you will end up with an organic color shift. Otherwise you are more likely to get a “stylized” look if that’s something you want to achieve.
Basically what happens here is that the triangle that forms on the upper portion of the control box is the color represented in that box, while the triangle on the lower portion represents the opposite color – like Red & Cyan, Green & Magenta, and Blue & Yellow. So when you move the chosen points you will either add or subtract some hues. (i.e., if you want to make it more red, then add some red, if you want to make it more yellow then subtract some blue, etc.) You can also incorporate the “Master” box and make further adjustments to your image, but I wouldn’t use this tool to set the main black and video levels.
Color is most definitely a matter of taste, but there are certain things you should keep in mind. The first thing is the accuracy of skin tones and the second thing is whether your image is “color-safe” or not. This means that all the colors must be within the safety margins defined by your scopes, or your show will be rejected by the network. Red is probably the color you should be the most concerned about. Imported graphics bearing bright colors and neon lights might be a threat as well, so watch for those.
When I get an image containing one excessive hue, but I otherwise like the overall saturation level, I chose this next tab called “Sec”, which stands for “Secondary Color Correction”.
This tool is actually designed to isolate a specific hue and change it. In other words, if you are asked to change somebody’s green shirt to blue, this it the tab that you would go to. You simply drag the “syringe” tool over the image to select as many nuances of a specific hue you as you want. This way the Symphony will isolate that color for you, leaving the rest of the image B&W (which could be used as a cool effect as well!). This isolation mode enables you to see if all the areas you wanted to manipulate are selected or not. Sometimes the areas that you wanted to leave intact get selected as well. If this is the case you can use the drop tools to add or subtract those hue ranges. Then you can change the hue and saturation of the selected areas. When you’re happy with it, don’t forget to uncheck “isolate” to get out of the B&W mode.
So if there is any hue that isn’t color-safe per my scopes, I simply select that hue range and bring down the saturation, and voila!
Keep the skin tones accurate, keep you client and the scopes happy, and you are a good colorist!