Making the Grade: An Introduction to Cinematic Color Grading

Olivia Broadley
Jan 26, 2024
5 min read
What is Colour Grading?

Colour grading is a crucial element in visual storytelling, playing a significant role in shaping the mood, atmosphere, and overall impact of a film or video. It is the process of adjusting the colours in a visual composition, manipulating the brightness, contrast, saturation, and hue of individual colours to enhance the visual aesthetics and convey a particular narrative tone and evoke specific emotions. The process occurs during post-production.

The Role of a Colourist

Whether grading an episode, feature film, commercial or music video, the role of a colourist demands technical expertise and extensive collaboration. Colourists work with directors, showrunner/producers, or cinematographer to help them achieve their artistic vision. From production dailies from diverse locations and times all the way through final colour, colourists support storytelling

“You’re really trying to elicit that sort of emotional language – see what they want this to feel like. And there is no real vocabulary with colour as such. People will use words like ‘rich’, or ‘visceral’, or ‘honest’ or ‘expensive’, and you have to try and pick apart what those things mean.” – Jet Omoshebi, Colourist, on conveying key stakeholders' vision.

The Colour Grading Process

Colour correction precedes colour grading, each playing distinct roles to achieve the desired visual outcome. Colour correction initiates the process, where images are adjusted to rectify any issues from production.

The grading process is where colour becomes a storyteller, shaping the mood, tone and narrative.  This creative collaboration with filmmaker and colourist is more than simply technical and elevates the overall visual storytelling experience. In cinema, colour isn't a mere visual element but a profound storyteller shaping our emotional connection.  A BFI exploration of the colour red in cinema noted “A splash of red is rarely just a splash of red.” It evokes danger, death, lust or action. (Carrie, American Beauty). Similarly, yellow takes on a role of psychological anxiety in movies like Kill Bill and The Shining. Colour grading is a true artform.  

Top Colour Grading & Correction Software


Baselight is a robust colour grading tool known for its powerful capabilities in achieving precise adjustments and enhancements. Its intuitive interface allows for seamless integration into the post-production workflow, making it a preferred choice for many professional colourists.

  • Robust colour grading tool known for precise colour adjustments and enhancements
  • Seamless integration into the post-production workflow for professional colourists

DaVinci Resolve:

DaVinci Resolve has long been recognized as a comprehensive solution for colour grading and correction. With its advanced tools for primary and secondary colour adjustments, as well as its integrated editing capabilities, it remains a top choice for both independent filmmakers and Hollywood studios alike.

  • Advanced tools for primary and secondary colour adjustments
  • Integrated editing capabilities for independent filmmakers and studios

Avid Media Composer

Avid Media Composer is a video editing software, widely embraced in the film and television industry. Within its robust toolset lies comprehensive colour grading capabilities. Additionally, Avid Symphony, an integral part of Avid's offerings, extends the colour grading experience, providing specialised solutions tailored for professional colourists.

  • Robust toolset includes extensive colour grading features such as curves, colour wheels, and colour match tools,
  • Offers support for third-party plugins like Colorista, which provides advanced colour grading tools.

ClearView Pivot

When it comes to presenting your work, Pivot enables you to host high-quality, critical review sessions in real-time with your collaborators across the globe. Stream colour and frame-accurate footage to multiple parties in 4K HDR with 12-bit colour depth and 4:4:4 chroma sampling — all at the click of a button.

  • Provides high-quality remote video review tool for streaming colour-accurate footage
  • Supports 4K HDR and 12-bit colour depth for VFX reviews

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