Making it look like it should…

15 Nov

I’ve had a few emails about getting video to look right.  Shelly and a few others out there know I don’t have the best of cameras – I do almost everything on a old Sony DCR TRV280, which is just barely considered a digital camera.  So – why do my quickies look different than the stuff that Shelly’s getting with her brand spankin new HD camera?  Which isn’t to say her stuff isn’t good – she’s got a great eye, and chooses her shots wisely.  But it does bug you when your visuals aren’t 10 times better than a 8 year old $500 camcorder. 

I also generally don’t take more than 10 minutes to shoot a quickie clip and I also don’t use a lighting kit.  It’s a worst case scenario – but when Shelly and I compared footage recently – mine looked better.  So how did I do it?  Simple.  I retouch my video.  It’s something I’ve always had do to – and just assumed everyone did it these days.   It’s believe it or not the most common and best money maker for anyone who has a budding small video business like our friend Shelly.

image With video blogs, video resumes and even local tv commercials for anyone who does video work it’s probably going to be your most common work even though it’s something that most people never think to charge for when they bid a video project.  Cleaning up bad camera skills will take up most of your time.

Whether it’s removing camera shake, or getting the colors back in image a face, or removing an over exposure, or just (believe it or not) removing acne – – if people know you can do that, they’ll want it and you can charge for it.

Lets face it – people prefer to have colors that don’t make them look like they’re in a zombie movie… unless they’re in… a zombie movie.  In some cases, you may have people ask you to do that as well, but they’ll never ask if they don’t know that you can do it.  So you’ll need a good demo of color correction and adjustment techniques that you can do.  The practice of this kind of work on a variety of clips will help you get a good idea how how long it takes to do this work, and what you should be charging for it.  I’m not going to go into details on how to do color correction because it will depend on the software and the hardware you have. 

If you’ve got Ulead or some lower end semi-pro software the techniques will be completely different than say Adobe or Pinnacle or others.  So – do a bit of searching on the web for color correction for your software.  Keep in mind you’ll need to know that the colors you’re producing may be different so – practice, view the footage on different monitors, practice, practice.  The steps may seem similar but there’s nothing worse than a blog that tells you to use a $5,000 piece of software that you don’t have so I won’t do that to you.  But a bit of research and you’ll get what you need.  I’ve seen great tutorials on everything from Movie Maker to AE, and even some very high end stuff like Lyric and others.  All free – all very good.

A good example of this is that I did two versions of the demo for this blog – one in an un-named very expensive program I’m currently demoing to see if I want to buy it (I probably will) and another in the freebie Microsoft Movie Maker.  I know MM inside and out – took me 10 minutes and I had a clip ready to publish that the end result is the one you see in the link below.  The $5,000 program… spent 20 minutes, and the results were… less than satisfying because I really don’t know it well yet.  It decided to do a number of things for me I didn’t ask it to – and the footage quality from it is … well blurry, soft, and worse than the Movie Maker stuff or if I’d just rendered it directly from another program.  So – practice.  Learn, practice.  When you’re ready to use the big boy toys … use’em.  But never show off your stuff unless it’s of a quality you want people to see.


In some cases – it’s nothing more than just loading up the footage and adjusting some color curves to get the values right for the shot.  In others you’ll need to do some masking.  For example the color corrected shot above – the face is color corrected with one set of curves, the background received another.  Similarly in the day-for-night shot shown here I had to pull out the face and go with an almost pitch black.  (I might also want to add some shadows from a 3D layer … it depends on how far you want to take it.) You get the idea.

Each of these requires a different level of color correction and adjustment.  So – make sure who you’re doing this for knows that image there is a big difference in price between the kind of work needed for a wedding and the kind of work needed for a network TV commercial shot.  That price is how hard you have to work to make it look good.  Never show someone a “miracle” shot that took you 40 hours of work, and allow them to think this is nothing more than clicking a few buttons… Miracles=expensive, basic band aids = cheap.

image And if you’re looking a highly advanced techniques for color correction – you may be looking as spending as much time as you would to animate something in a full video composite.image It’s a big part of your cost, and even if it is just your time when you’re running a business it’s something you have to be willing to cost out for – which we tend to forget when we’ve taken a hobby or something we enjoy and turn it into a business.

I recommend that you learn all you can about color correction, often the most subtle color corrections on a clip are the most difficult to pull off. There are a whole slew of things you need to consider – the main character of the shot will require a different lighting than anyone else (masking and overlay), the background may need to be softened or sharpened and color corrected as well (another set of masks and overlays as well as curves), will you be needed to track the masks in the shot using motion tracking – and do they need to have some shots that will be rotoscoped? 

image image
Sure – you can make it look like a million bucks, and for a good customer, client or friend – it may well be worth it.  But most will not expect you to create a miracle shot.  Just a good simple clean image that looks nice, gives a good flesh tone and definition. 

And… It also helps if the person you’re shooting… doesn’t look like they haven’t slept since they got off a flight from Chicago two days ago because they’ve been doing all nighters writing a video camera application on the side for kids… but that’s another project, and will require I shave, eat, and maybe get some sleep.  🙂  Over all – your cheapest solution is of course to consider your lighting, take a white balance and shoot it so it doesn’t require correction if possible.

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Posted by on November 15, 2008 in Uncategorized


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