White Balance and Color Grading

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During the filming of Autumn Gem, we used Phoxle SpectraSnap White Balance Filter 1 to set a custom white balance for each scene. I’ve used many white balance products in the past, including ExpoDisc, WhiBal, and gray cards, and I’ve found the SpectraSnap to be one of the better products out there. Its ability to fit a wide variety of lenses, including the two Sony videocameras we used to film the documentary, was key. I also appreciated the fact that it is a shoot-through white balance filter; I’ve found the accuracy of those to be higher than reflected light WB filters.

In the film, however, we’re not always looking to have a neutral color tone throughout our scenes. Getting neutral-looking footage, however, makes it easier to color correct — or color grade, as it’s called in the film industry — afterwards. I’ve been using a combination of Final Cut’s Three-Way Color Corrector filter and Apple’s Color application to perform various color grading tasks.

Here are screenshots of a before and after scene from Autumn Gem. The photo on the below is what was recorded by the the camera. As you can see, there is still a slight cast to the photo, even when using the SpectraSnap. I suspect that’s because the lights we used to light the background versus the foreground were different.

The original look of the serving tea scene.

The original look of the serving tea scene.

The next photo is the same scene that was corrected using Color. I set up a number of Secondary Rooms to apply color corrections to only specific parts of the scene such as the walls or Qiu Jin’s outfit.

The serving tea scene that has been color corrected using Apple Color.

The serving tea scene that has been color corrected using Apple Color.

Once we have picture lock on the film, I’ll continue to color grade certain scenes from the film. Not all scenes require such work, and for those, the built-in Three-Way Color Corrector in Final Cut does as admirable job. For more complex scenes, however, Color is a powerful tool for getting the look that we want out of the film.


1 Phoxle is run by Chris Pedersen, a friend of mine whom I know from my Camera Owners of the Bay Area user group meetings.

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How Time Flies… and the Third Cut

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Brushes

How time flies! A year ago this time, we were planning our trailer shoot and preparing for our trip to China. The film has been built out in six month increments. Rae started pre-production work around July of last year. We started filming in January, wrapping things up around the middle of June. The past six months have been spent in our home office, slaving away at Final Cut day in, day out.

A little over a month after completing our first rough cut, Rae and I are putting the finishing touches on the third cut of the film. Though the running time difference between the first and third cuts comprise just a few minutes, there’s been some substantial changes in the pacing. It’s amazing how trimming a half a second here and there can improve a scene so much! We’ve also moved some scenes around to improve the narrative structure.

I’ve been spending the past several days color correcting the film, trimming edits, and adjusting the captions and subtitles. Every day, we’re getting closer to completing the film, but there always seems to be more things to be added to the task list! Fortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel is just ahead.

We’ll try to post more frequently to the blog from this point forward. Writing is kinda like brushing and flossing your teeth every night; you just have to get in the habit!