Learn Color Grading & Create Cinematic Look in Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro 14/11/2019 6 min read

Color grading is a subtle but effective technique for stylizing your film. Whether it’s chilling blue monotone for a graveyard horror scene or a bright and colorful children’s TV show—color sets the mood. If you’re color grading in Final Cut Pro X, you have access to a suite of tools that includes everything you need. 

This tutorial will go over all of the great tools included with Final Cut Pro X to beautifully color your projects, and walk you through a few common techniques used in color grading. All of the video used in this tutorial comes from Motion Array’s stock footage library; you can download it here if you’d like to follow along.

Of course, before you can add style to your project, you should first correct any balancing issues—which is why color grading always comes after color correction. If you’d like to learn more about color correction, head over to this tutorial, which will cover the entire workflow in FCPX.

Part 1: Color Tools Overview

With the update of version 10.4, Final Cut Pro’s color toolbox grew significantly. You can now mix and match these tools together to achieve great color grading results without any third-party software. Any of these tools can be found in the Color section of the Effects Browser.

Color Boards

Color Boards

Color boards are divided into three sections: Color, Saturation, and Exposure. Each of these sections allows you to make adjustments to Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights as well as a Master level adjusts all of these at once.

Color Wheels

Color Wheels

Color Wheels are a new addition to Final Cut Pro’s color tools. It’s divided into Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights. There’s also a Master slider controls all 3 at once. 

Each Color Wheel contains several controls. Within the wheel itself is a control to adjust the hue of your footage. On the sides of the wheel are adjustable two sliders. The left slider controls saturation, and the right slider controls brightness.

Below the Color Wheels are sliders for Temperature, Tint, and Hue

Temperature can make your image warmer (more red) or cooler (more blue) and is especially good for offsetting colored lighting. 

Tint adjusts green and magenta, and used with the Temperature control, can be used to fine-tune the overall color balance of your image. 

Hue adjusts the color value of your entire image along the color wheel. As you rotate it, yellows will become orange, orange will become red, and so on.

Color Curves

Color Curves

Color Curves is perhaps the most powerful of the three color effects. Using these tools, you can create multiple control points to affect the overall intensity of each color from dark to light. Unlike Color Wheels and Color Boards, you can make adjustments anywhere along the range, not just Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights. As with the other color tools, the Master slider controls all 3 at once. 

Another great feature of Color Curves is the Eyedropper. Using the Eyedropper, you can extract any color from your footage in the Viewer and adjust the curve for that color specifically—so you’re not just limited to red, green, and blue. 

You can also adjust the Mix slider to reduce the effect of your Color Curves on the original footage.

Hue/Saturation Curves

Hue-Saturation Curves

This control gives you precise control for color grading your projects. It contains six controls allowing you to adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness of any color in your video project. You can also adjust saturation at different brightness levels or vice versa.

Custom LUT Effect

Custom LUTs

Color lookup tables tell Final Cut Pro how to interpret and display the color data from your footage. Thanks to thousands of custom LUTs available online, this opens up a whole world of creative color grading effects you can add to your projects. 

Like the other color controls, you can find this in the Effects Browser in the Color category. Once you add this to your clip, just load the custom LUT and adjust the Mix slider to control its strength.

If you’d like to explore what you can do with LUTs, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite LUT bundles.

Part 2: How to Color Grade in Final Cut Pro

Now that you’ve gone over all the new color grading tools in Final Cut Pro, you’re probably wondering how to use them on your project! Since color grading is about style and creativity, your imagination is the limit with what you can do. Here are a few examples of color grading effects to get you started.

1. Use Color Curves to Build Style

Color Curves give you total creative control over the saturation and contrast of your project. It’s a great tool for stylistically adjusting your color grades, all from one panel. 

  1. Add your clip to the Timeline.
  2. Open the Color Inspector and use the drop-down menu to add Color Curves.
  3. To increase contrast, bring the lowest point of the Luma curve to the right, and add a control point just below the highest point of the Luma curve and drag it down slightly to bring some more detail into the picture.
  4. Now scroll down in the Color Inspector and select the Eyedropper next to the red curve.
  5. Use the Eyedropper to capture a custom color from the viewer. In our example, we’re pulling the color from the man’s jacket.
  6. Create a control point in the center. Pull up to increase saturation for all the midtones with your sampled color.
  7. Create control points at the lower and upper ends of the curve and pull them down. This will lower saturation for that color in the high and low ranges. 

2. Color Grading Skin Tones

Sometimes white balancing an image isn’t enough if your subject’s skin tone still appears off. This trick uses the Vectorscope and the Hue/Saturation Curve to correct skin tone in your footage. Here’s one method you could use: 

  1. Add your clip to the timeline. 
  2. Move the Playhead to a position where your subject’s skin is clearly visible.
  3. Press the Transform icon and choose Crop. Crop everything out of your image except a visible patch of skin. 
  4. On the top menu bar, go to Window > Workspaces > Color & Effects to open up color scopes. 
  5. Select your clip and use the drop-down in the Color Inspector to add a Hue / Saturation Curve.
  6. Click the eyedropper next to the Hue slider and click the skin patch in the Viewer to sample its color. A control point should appear on your Hue slider.
  7. Pull that control point up or down until the color in your Vectorscope lines up with the Skin Tone Indicator.
  8. Click the Transform icon, select Crop, and then press the Reset button above the viewer. Your image should reappear with the skin tone color adjusted.

3. Copying & Pasting Color Effects

Once you’ve created a color effect you like, Final Cut Pro makes it easy to copy that effect to other clips. Make sure you only do this with clips shot under similar conditions, or you may find that your color grade looks totally different!

  1. Select your clip in the Timeline.
  2. In the top menu bar find Edit > Copy.
  3. Select the clip or clips you’d like to add the effects to.
  4. In the top menu bar find Edit > Paste Effects
  5. Your color grading effects should copy to all the clips you’ve selected. 

With all the great color grading tools Final Cut Pro has added, the sky’s the limit for what you can do with your footage. Now that you’ve learned all the basic controls and a few common techniques, the best thing to do is just start experimenting to come up with the look and feel that fits your film.

And if you’d like some more tools to add style to your projects, check out Motion Array’s vast library of color grading LUTs and more.

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