How a Film Color Palette Can Make You a Better Filmmaker (with Infographics)

Color Theory in Film
How can you make your film color palette part of the storytelling process?

Film color palettes might be one of the most underutilized parts of your filmmaking process. It can be the difference between immersing your audience in a world or boring them to tears.

We all remember the first time we saw The Wizard Of Oz. There’s that magical moment where we go from the sepia-tone to full color. The world explodes off the screen, and for a moment, we understand Dorothy’s amazement as she enters Oz. Here at No Film School, we’re big believers in the power of color to help harness your storytelling capabilities.

Think about your favorite movies.

What ate their color schemes like, and what do those film color palettes add to the story?

Today we’re going to talk about what the use of color can bring to your film, and study how film color palettes can help amplify your work. As Roger Deakins said: “It’s easier to make color look good, but harder to make it service the story.” So this will be fun. And hard. And we’ll all learn a lot.

Let’s get started.

Film Color

So what is film color?

Well, film color can refer to your movie actually being shot in color instead of black and white, but today we’re going to talk about colors used in film illicit emotions from the audience.

We’re going to focus on Film Color Theory today.

Film Color Theory Definition

The definition of Film Color Theory is a theory that states that certain colors in film illicit certain emotions from the audience. Manipulation of these colors can be used to guide the audience toward the intent of the author, juxtaposed against one another to send a message, or subverted to create dramatic irony.

To properly utilize Film Color Theory, you first have to take a look at the color wheel in a film.

The Color Wheel In Film 

A color wheel or color circle is an organization of color hues around a circle, which shows the relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors, and other color combinations.

The infographic below details all the different kinds of colors and color combinations in cinema. It’s an important tool for any director to keep by their side. This can help them decide how their sets should look, which costumes will pop on camera, and how scenes should be lit.

Color Theory infographic

Directors wield a lot of power when it comes to what appears on the screen. Collaboration with the art department, cinematographer, and costume design people is so important. Color is not just how you balance the camera, but also how people are dressed and how sets look on screen.Think about all the magnificent work done by Wes Anderson. His movies are defined by their color palettes and what emotions are expressed through those images.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

The colors expressed in this frame gives us the poppy world of this movie and set the dark and depressed tone of the film.

Anderson also can capture the opposite.

A world of adventure and a girl who wants to take on the world.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

To understand how all this still works, you’re going to have to understand how color works. And how you can manipulate colors to get what you want on the screen.

So let’s break colors down.

What Goes Into a Color?


Hue is one of the main properties of a color, defined as “the degree to which a stimulus can be described as similar to or different from stimuli that are described as red, green, blue, and yellow.” What it actually means is that hue refers to what color you’re looking at. Or the color itself.

Hue is great, but you need some other elements to deepen your color knowledge and express color on the screen.


Saturation is another color property that describes how intense of a color we’re getting. It’s the deepness of the color at hand.  The infographic below shows you how saturation works.

To truly appreciate how hue and saturation work, you need to look at color value.


The value of a color describes whether or not a color is dark or light. A dark blue would have a higher value. A light blue, a lower value.

Color Value Guide

Now that you understand how to choose and describe the colors you’ll want in your movie color palette, let’s check out how those colors can manipulate emotions on the screen and in the audience.

How Color Can Affect Emotions In Film

We all know that film is an empathy machine. A great story can take you pretty far, but film is a visual medium. We’re not meant only to read things; we’re meant to see things. And colors help us see the intentions behind what was on the page and what the director wants from us.

The below infographic sets up which colors will help you assign which emotions to scenes or parts of your movie or TV show.

Here’s a quick guide from one of our other posts on color:

  • RED – anger, passion, rage, desire, excitement, energy, speed, strength, power, heat, love, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence
  • PINK – love, innocence, healthy, happy, content, romantic, charming, playfulness, soft, delicate, feminine
  • YELLOW – wisdom, knowledge, relaxation, joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard
  • ORANGE – humor, energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant
  • GREEN – healing, soothing, perseverance, tenacity, self-awareness, proud, unchanging nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, vigor, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy
  • BLUE – faith, spirituality, contentment, loyalty, fulfillment peace, tranquility, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, sky, water, cold, technology, depression
  • PURPLE/VIOLET – erotic, royalty, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mysterious, transformation, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, arrogance, mourning, power, sensitive, intimacy
  • BROWN – materialistic, sensation, earth, home, outdoors, reliability, comfort, endurance, stability, simplicity
  • BLACK – No, power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, fear, anonymity, unhappiness, depth, style, evil, sadness, remorse, anger
  • WHITE – Yes, protection, love, reverence, purity, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, youth, birth, winter, snow, good, sterility, marriage (Western cultures), death (Eastern cultures), cold, clinical, sterile
  • SILVER – riches, glamorous, distinguished, earthy, natural, sleek, elegant, high-tech
  • GOLD – precious, riches, extravagance. warm, wealth, prosperity, grandeur

As you can see, many colors take on specific feelings. You need to support the color with actions and set pieces within the screenplay. You can’t just add color blobs. You need to have artistic intention behind every frame. Take this image from Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton is trying to set up an idyllic neighborhood to juxtapose against Edward’s mansion. So he uses these pastel colors to make each house pop and to make the suburban lifestyle feel like a utopia.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

Now that you understand how color is used, it’s time to understand the “deeper why” of how it’s used.

Time to grab your Freud book and to dig deep into Color Psychology in film.

Color Psychology in Film

What’s Color Psychology in film?

This is the study of what complex emotions each hue can create when mixed with saturation and value. That’s right, all our lessons are coming together! Let’s take a look at this chart and really pull back the emotions and tone you can add to your stories.

Let’s take a look at three drastically different films and how they use color.

First up, take a look at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

This is a somber movie. It’s all about ending a series and the ending of many lives. That’s not a joke. It’s just a fact. So the movie thrives on the blues and greens, and not only of Lily’s eyes. But you can’t use bright blue and green. It has to be understated. That’s where hue, saturation, and value come into play. It’s muted, understated, and somber.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

What about something that’s also dark, but needs to inject humor into its dead veins?

The Corpse Bride does exactly that by pushing more into primary color territory. It can be cold and somber, but these colors also give mystery and excitement.  

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

And sometimes you can also find stuff that’s cold and warm. Like the movie Frozen.

Frozen combines the color schemes of the above two films, but pushes everything back into vibrant territory. It’s a movie that plays off the cold of the snow but relates us to the warm characters searching for love and acceptance and family.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

These colors work well together. and there’s a reason for that.

There are four main types of color schemes based on color concepts that work well together. Let’s explore them.

Four Types Of Color Concepts

As you dig into color palettes in film, you’re going to need to learn four color concepts that will help you choose what works in your film or TV show. Check out this other infographic that describes all of the four color concepts, and we’ll break them down below.


Let’s start with the most straightforward of the color concepts. Monochromatic color refers to a color scheme based around only one color. Like how The Matrix is based around the color green. It’s in almost every frame, and becomes part of the movie.

Monochromatic doesn’t have to be sad or somber. You can also have brighter monochromatic movies. Like how Grand Budapest Hotel thrives on different versions of pink with variations in saturation.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

Okay, we understand how one color works. Now let’s try adding different colors to the mix.


An analogous color scheme in film or TV refers to colors that are neighbor on the color wheel. Filmmakers often choose from either warm or cool colors for their analogous schemes because they generally fit the theme of the movie or TV show. The idea here is to get colors that find balance or harmony together.

Check out this image from Moonlight. See how it’s full of purples and blues?

The same goes for this image from Mary Poppins. All these colors work together and sit near one another on the wheel.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

Again, this works with warmer tones, like this shot from Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Credit: @CinemaPalettes

Some colors on the opposite ends of the color wheel work together too. We call those colors “complementary.”


Complementary colors are colors that are on the opposite ends of the color wheel but still look good together. You seem them used on screen a lot, but you also see them in movie posters a ton.

The idea behind these posters has to do with complementary colors that also play into our psychology. You can see how the manipulation of hue, saturation, and value plays into the tone of each of the movies represented in these posters.

You can try you hand at it with our movie poster template!

Outside of marketing, complementary colors also matter in storytelling. Like if you’re trying to bring a couple together and to show their chemistry as well. And set them apart fro mthe backdrop.

Playing off these two complementary colors, we can add a third with the triadic color scheme.


Triadic color schemes are schemes that use three colors from even distance on the color wheel. Like this poster for Inherent Vice. 

That’s poppy and neon, but what about something understated like the red doors in the Sixth Sense, juxtaposed against the yellow sand blacks in the rest of the movie?

Here we have impending doom and a highlighted thing for the audience to key in on as Bruce Willis’s character moves toward the door.

But what about when filmmakers use colors that don’t go together at all?

Discordant Movie Color Palettes In Film

Ahhh, it is true that opposites attract. Discordant colors are those that are almost opposite each other on a color wheel. In color theory, a complementary color is the one directly opposite of a color. That means yellow and purple are complementary colors because they are directly opposite each other. Which makes them discordant. Makes sense?

Yeah, it’s confusing. But let’s jump into some examples.

Discordant color schemes. A Tetrad color scheme uses 4 colors spaced evenly on the color wheel.

Often, directors use discordant colors to make something stand out. Like the girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List.

Or the woman in the red dress in The Matrix.

It also thrives in movies like Pleasantville, which are all about colorizing a world that’s decided it’s okay to be mundane.

What about colors that get generally associated with a character or place?

Associative Color Palettes In Film

The associative color palette in film or tv are basically the flag you fly when someone walks into a room. It’s Umbridge’s pink coat or Heisenberg’s blue meth. It’s the color we associate with the person or place.

Like the red of the entire rebel army in Star Wars. So we can also make the dirt under the salt red. Letting them fly their colors as they travel into battle.

So if colors mark a character, and we have a character arc, you may need to transitional colors to help monitor that change.

Transitional Color Palettes in Film

You know I love a good character arc. If you’re following my Free Screenwriting Seminar or Free Pilot Writing Seminar, you know that character arcs are incredibly important for dramatic conflict. You can mark these transitions with color to help emphasize them to the audience. Look how we used Walter White’s transition into Heisenberg by darkening his attire and surroundings.

It doesn’t have to be that drastic either.

One of my favorite recent films is Gone Girl. Look how Fincher uses the first and last scene of the movie.

In the beginning we see a cool toned woman, her innocence on display. The cool colors give us the feeling of death.

In the end, he’s warmed it up, but now you know she’s capable of anything. She’s very much alive. and if you mess with her, you might wind up dead.

You can even use color to track characters and their tone over time.

Look at all these different takes on Superman over the years. And how his colors were used to represent the tone of the movie and character.

It can be hard to choose colors on your own. That’s why working with a crew is wonderful. And so is utilizing a film color palette generator.

Film Color Palette Generator

I scoured the internet and thought that the folks at Colormind have a pretty great color generator tool. Colormind is a color scheme generator that uses deep learning. It can learn color styles from photographs, movies, and popular art. You show them the colors you want, they pull them for you. It’s very intuitive and sort of works like Shazam for colors.

I also like the work done by Movies In Color. They actually pull the colors and color spectrums from movies and make them accessible to people all over to understand how people achieve what’s on screen.


Summing up Color In Film

I hope this post has helped broaden your understanding of film color palettes and how they can be used to make your story pop off the screen. As you saw in our film color palette examples, having a great screenplay is a good start, but the story can only be intensified with excellent production design, editing, and color work.

So whether you want to learn about color gradingfilm colorists,  or you’re just obsessed with the way David Fincher uses color, you know you can find it all here.

Special thanks to the Twitter handle, @CinemaPalettes, where we got most of our images for this post.

What are some of your favorite uses of color in film?

Are there times color has taken you out of a story?

What are some great color tools for beginning and experienced filmmakers?

We want to hear your thoughts on making the colors in your movie color palette in the comments!

If you’re interested in digging deeper on color, check out our post on how the colors of Wonder Woman help add dynamic action to the story!

Till next time…


By Jason Hellerman

How to Change the Color of Exterior Lights in After Effects

In this video tutorial, learn how to change the color of location lighting in After Effects — including a free project file!

You’ve probably noticed the rise in neon-toned exteriors in modern movies. (See the opening shot in the trailer for John Wick: Chapter 3.) This lighting seems like it would be out of reach for our own projects, right? However, with a few basic effects in After Effects, you can easily turn an average exterior shot into something from a Hollywood blockbuster.

How to Change the Color of Exterior Lights in After Effects

In this tutorial, we’ll look at using the Hue & Saturation effect, with simple masks, to change the color of exterior lighting. This technique can really help match an exterior establishing shot to the tone of your project. (Which makes it a great technique to use on royalty free footage.)

Ready to give your location a neon exterior look? Let’s get started!


(These assets are free to use in any personal or commercial project. By downloading these assets, you agree not to sell or redistribute them.)

Ideal Shot Use Cases

How to Change the Color of Exterior Lights in After Effects — Use Cases

If you’re planning on using this effect in your own project, there are a few ideal shot use cases. The best uses are on night exterior shots, specifically drone aerials or stationary city skylines. For nighttime drone shots, keep the movement minimal and going in only one direction. This drastically simplifies the masking and keyframing you’ll need to do. You can also use this effect on dark interior shots that have a lot of contrast. (Think background lamp lights or wall lighting away from your subject.)

Tips for Filming

If you film your own exterior shots, here are some things that will make editing your shots in post easier. First, film your shots with a warmer or cooler white balance. This creates an orange or blue “wash” over the area lit by the lights. This will make it easier to adjust the color tone in post. Next, make sure your scene has high contrast. You can film with a picture profile that has more contrast, or you can add contrast in post using an effect like Curves or Lumetri Color. Finally, the less noise you have in your footage the easier things will be in post. I recommend filming with a lower ISO, but understandably, this isn’t always possible for night scenes. So you may want to de-noise the footage in post. (A popular denoiser plugin I frequently use is Neat Video.)

Masking Lights

How to Change the Color of Exterior Lights in After Effects — Masking Lights

First, you’ll need to mask out the light area where you want to change the color. Create an adjustment layer, then use the Pen Tool to mask out around the light area on the first frame of your footage. Follow along the edge of where the light naturally feathers out. I recommend having “RotoBezier” checked on, but you may want to check it off for shots with lots of buildings and straight edges.

Hue & Saturation

How to Change the Color of Exterior Lights in After Effects — Hue and Saturation

Next, apply the Hue & Saturation effect to the adjustment layer. Rotate the Master Hue to begin changing the color of the lighting. From there, you can adjust the feathering level of your mask. (I typically set my mask feathering between 20 to 60 pixels.) If necessary, you can boost the color saturation with the Master Saturation slider. For an extra bit of punch, you can apply Lumetri Color after the Hue & Saturation effect, and bring up the highlights.


Keyframing the lighting effects is fairly simple. On the first frame of your footage, create a keyframe for Mask Path. Then move to the final frame. Double-click on the edge of the mask. You should see a grey square outline appear around the mask. Move the mask back into place over the lights. (Adjust individual points as necessary.) This should automatically create a second keyframe for your mask. Scrub through the timeline to make sure the mask moves correctly through your shot. Make adjustments in the middle areas if necessary.

Final Compositing Tips

How to Change the Color of Exterior Lights in After Effects — Final Compositing Tips

Once you have completed the look of your lights, add an adjustment layer over all of your footage and apply Lumetri Color. Use this layer to finalize your grade. I recommend tweaking the exposure and highlights to see what looks best. You may even want to adjust the overall color saturation. You can also apply a LUT using Lumetri Color and adjust the intensity level to see how it reacts to the different lighting. If noise in your image is still an issue, you may want to overlay some film grain to help neutralize it.


Charles Yeager


Ultimate Post Workflow Guide Launches the Ultimate Post Workflow Guide

Work in progress review platform sets out to be the ultimate destination for helping projects move through post.

The workflow guide is now live and can be found here.     

There are a lot of great resources to be found on the internet.  Wikipedia, for one, is wonderful for certain high-level information, but when it comes to filmmaking, it doesn’t often dig down deep into the weeds of workflow. We like to believe that there is a lot of great information on No Film School, but of course, we cover a wide range of subjects and news that are mixed in with workflow and interviews. has now decided to launch the ultimate post workflow guide, a single document that’s a deep, complex, thorough path through post that should be accessible to even the newest filmmaker or client, but hopefully will have information relevant to everyone.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote a small number of the guides.

The goal of the project is to be a single destination for organized, curated, edited information that takes you, in a curated fashion, through post. You can dip into any article at any time, but it should also lead you naturally from one article to the next. With a variety of professionals contributing (incudling folks like Ryan Connelly and Denver Riddle), the information is designed to be highly current, and the guide promises to stay up to date.

The biggest challenge with a project like this is keeping it continuously current, as post workflow changes, but that’s how this becomes the perfect project for This is in many ways the perfect marketing move for the company.  he precise type of client who might be in need of’svices are the same folks who will be googling specific post workflow topics this guide will address.

Once you’ve landed at the workflow guide to solve your problem, you are that much more likely to wander over to and see what its service is all about. It’s a great example of using real, applicable information as a marketing strategy, and it’s one that benefits all filmmakers, whether you are a current client or not.

We took a look at some pre-release articles and the content is impressive both for its organization and its ambition. Whether you are a student first dipping your toe into workflow or a post pro dealing with a particular issue, there’s something in there for you.

The workflow guide is now live and can be found here.     

Written By Charles Haine

Original Source




01 The Summer Blockbuster Colour Grading Tutorial from Juan Melara on Vimeo.


I’ve received a lot of requests to share the techniques I use to achieve the various grades on this site and on Vimeo. But by far the biggest request has been to show how I create the cool/warm look. Otherwise known as the summer blockbuster look, the teal and orange look etc. The techniques I show you also form the foundation for most of the grades on this site. I hope to create a series of these tutorials (hence the 01 numbering) so stay tuned for more upcoming tutorials. I’ve already got a few ideas but If you have any suggestions, send me an email or contact me on twitter.

In this tutorial I assume you have some basic Resolve knowledge and you’re able to setup up projects, import footage, apply LUTs and create nodes. I also assume you have a basic grasp of colour correction and colour correction best practices. If you’re new to Resolve or colour correction/grading in general, I recommend you check out some of the resources at the bottom of this post.

Special thanks

Before I go any further I have to thank Toby Linden for kindly providing the footage of the gentleman with a gun. Toby is a talented cinematographer, check out more of his work at his website – and follow him on twitter – @TobiLinden.

Why Resolve?

Short answer: It’s really good, it’s free and it’s very easy to use.

The only excuses you should have for not using Resolve is if your system doesn’t have the specs to run it or you’re already using something better. In both cases you’ll still be able to get something out of the tutorial as the basic techniques should be applicable to whatever colour grading software you are using.

Why use film print emulation LUTs?

People ask me why I use film LUTs and if they are somehow cheating by using them. I use LUTs because I think they’re an important component in achieving this look. Film LUTs have been used by post production studios on films for aslong as they’ve been conducting DI colour grades. There’s a good chance that the films people continually try to match the look of, have been graded with a film LUT which has then been baked in, thus becoming a large part of the finished look.

Give the LUTs a try, see if you like their aesthetic. It should still be possible to achieve the looks from the tutorial without them, but it’ll be a little more difficult and I find the results generally aren’t as good.

So is it cheating, shouldn’t you be creating the look from scratch by hand? Well you are creating the look from scratch and by hand! The LUT is really only setting some rules for what colours are and aren’t possible, it’s not grading the image for you. When I grade for a client they only care about the end result. They don’t care how I get there or that I’m really printing out each frame in B&W and then colouring them in using crayons. As long as they get the look they want on time and on budget it doesn’t matter to them. The only people you impress by doing something from scratch and by hand are other colourists.

The tutorial

I tend to power through the tutorial, so you might need to re-watch certain parts. But I prefer to watch an information packed 5 minute tutorial 6 times, than a 30 minute tutorial that only has 5 minutes of worthwhile information.

I’m not sure, but I might be making it look easier than it is. Because of this I recommend trying the looks out on the same footage I use in the tutorial before trying it out on your own footage. This will allow you to get a feel for when you are heading in the right direction.


So if you want to follow along their are a few things you will need:

  1. Davinci Resolve. Download the free Lite version from Blackmagic Design.
  2. The footage I use. All the files in their original R3D format can be downloaded from here. If your system isn’t up to the task of handling 5k footage, let me know and I’ll look at creating 1080p/720p versions…
  3. The film print emulation LUTs. Download them here and read this post for instructions on how to install and use them. If you are grading your own footage not in log format, download the video2log Input LUT from here.

The theory behind the 2 node subtractive colour setup

Analysing the blockbuster look its clear that it’s more complex than adding a cool hue to anything that isn’t skin tone or using the push/pull technique: cooling down the shadows, warming up the highlights and hope that your skintones look natural.

In the tutorial I analyse the look of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and show you it’s not one single cool hue being added to the image, but actually several hues that appear at specific places on the luminosity ramp.

The subtractive colour model states that adding two complementary colours together cancels them both out and returns them to neutral. Using this knowledge, we place two log nodes in series which gives us 6 range adjustable control points on the luminosity ramp. We can then use those 6 control points to add hues exactly where we want them and cancel out hues we don’t want by adding the complementary colours. A powerful setup that is easy to tweak and adjust.

Written By Juan Melara

Original Source




What I really like about Davinci Resolve is the flexibility offered by the node based workflow. There are seemingly endless ways to setup the structure of your grade. And while I sometimes setup some complex node trees, they all generally follow the same basic plan. In this post I’ll show you this plan and explain why I use it for the majority of my grades.

Readers of this blog will already be familiar with this structure, but hopefully this post will shed more light onto ideas behind it.

So what’s the plan?

Node Structure

Above is the basic plan. Each box doesn’t necessarily represent a node but rather an operation that can be made up of any number of nodes. It also shows the order of operation from left to right (if that isn’t clear from the large numbers!?).

The basic idea behind this plan is to make corrections in a logical order, each preserving the required image data to properly make the next stage of corrections, and the corrections further on downstream.

To simplify this further into 3 stages. Think of stage one as a global balancing of the image, to lay a solid foundation for your grade. Stage 2 is localised corrections, both technical and aesthetic. Stage 3 is back to global corrections, sitting atop with the theory being that they tie everything together.


Every grade starts with balancing the image on the first node (or if your footage is raw – in the raw tab and the first node). Regardless of whether I’m after a rich saturated grade or a low contrast desaturated grade with milky blacks, I always balance the image with the same standard target in mind. To create a neutral, correctly exposed and suitably saturated image, full of information which makes downstream adjustments such as keying easier. A benefit of this standardised approach is the ease of copying over looks from other projects – a big time saver.


So once the image is balanced I move onto localised exposure corrections. Think of these corrections as an extension of the cinematography process but at the same time we’re able to push the corrections beyond that, and start to make creative exposure decisions.

Maybe the DP didn’t have ND grads to lower the exposure of the sky – I bring in a soft edged rectangular power window to take it down. Or maybe there wasn’t enough time to flag off one of the lights and there’s too much spill/bounce on what should be a dark background – an easy fix with a power window. The aim with these corrections is to be subtle and to make them look like they were achieved in-camera.

The reason I do these corrections at this early stage is because I quite often create looks that add colours to specific luminance values. If these values don’t exist prior to the application of the look then the colours from the look can’t be added where they need to be. Applying the exposure corrections after the look won’t yield the same natural looking results and can sometimes be a give away that an image has been manipulated.

Below is an example. Both of the results actually look somewhat ok, but it still illustrates my point.


  1. The first image has been balanced and a look has been applied. The look is quite basic – purple added to the shadows, blue added to the mids and yellow/orange added to the highs.
  2. In the second image a soft rectangular power window has been added after of the look to lower the exposure of the sky. Notice how it’s just taking the existing colours and lowering their luminance (and adding a bit of saturation in the process).
  3. The third image is the exact same correction as in the second image, but this time it has been added before the look. Notice how the darker values are now picking up the colours from the look.

While both of these examples are neither right or wrong, I think it’s important to understand the difference the order of operations can make, allowing you to place your exposure corrections where they need to be for the desired result.


This stage is similar to stage 2 but the corrections now focus on colour. It’s a combination of correcting elements that weren’t right at the time of shooting, such as correcting wardrobe colours etc. But it’s also creative, and is the first stage of building the look. Colours or elements such as skin tones are qualified, corrected, and then pushed where they need to be. This is usually a back and forth process carried out at the same time as building the bulk of the look in stage 4.


By now the image should be both technically and aesthetically pleasing and in a lot of cases this fourth stage might not be necessary. But sometimes you’ll want to push the grade further. Think of this stage as an overall look you’re applying globally to the image (or most of the image). Such as warming the image by adding orange to the mids and highs or adding teal to the neutrals and cool colours to achieve the blockbuster look.

After adding the look you’ll find that sometimes some of the colours underneath might need to be adjusted. Maybe the skin is far too warm after adding the orange to the mids and highs. At this point I go back and make the required qualifications and adjustments in stage 3.

Like I said, it’s a back and forth process. Making mostly global changes in stage 4 and localised changes in stage 3 and even going back to stage 2 to make exposure adjustments.


In some ways this last stage is an extension of stage 4. This stage usually consists of making final adjustments to really glue all the stages together. Here is where I sometimes add a curve, make final exposure adjustments, add or remove contrast, lift and tint the blacks and tweak the overall saturation. This is usually carried out in a single node that sits right at the end of the grade. Think of this node as an adjustable LUT. It is applied to all the clips in the project and apart from saturation I usually don’t adjust it on a clip to clip basis. Keeping this last node mostly unchanged is an easy way to ensure there is consistency in the grade between all the clips.

Inside Resolve

Node Structure

Above is this plan in it’s most basic form as setup inside Resolve. This example is made up of only serial and parallel nodes. Of course you’re not limited to just these nodes.

If you’re not familiar with the different nodes available in Resolve, read the explanations below.


Serial nodes are easy to understand. Corrections are applied in series and added on top of the corrections from the previous node. In the example above I’ve balanced the image in node 1, this is then input into node 2. In node 2 I’ve used a circular power window to darken the edges of the image. Now the output of node 2 is the sum of the corrections from node 1 and node 2. The output of node 2 is now considered our master image, all corrections in stage 3 will be carried out on this master.

For the majority of adjustments serial nodes are all you need.


Nodes setup in parallel apply their corrections to the input at the same time. This is also regardless of where they appear on the parallel stack. To illustrate the difference between serial and parallel nodes lets look at nodes 3 and 5 in the example above. In node 3 I’ve qualified the skin and pushed it a little warmer. In node 5 I’ve qualified the redder parts of the skin and pushed them further towards red. If I did this with serial nodes it would be difficult to qualify the reddest parts of the skin in node 5 since warming the skin in the previous node (node 3) might remove the the red from the skin entirely, making it difficult/impossible to qualify. This doesn’t occur in parallel since both nodes 3 and 5 have access to the same quality information being output from node 2.


Layer nodes have a similar appearance to parallel nodes, but their functions can be quite different. Think of layer nodes as a horizontal stack of corrections with priority given to nodes lower in the stack. To reveal the corrections of nodes higher in the stack, you need to qualify elements in the lower nodes. Anything outside of that qualification will show through. At the same time you can select the composite mode (add, multiply, overlay etc) that dictates how all the nodes are combined. I like to use layer nodes to split the image in 2, applying a set of corrections from multiple nodes to the image and then then bringing back uncorrected parts of the image and layering them on top. Check the Summer Blockbuster tutorial for an example of this.

For a better explanation of these nodes read page 468 of the Resolve 9 manual.

For a really good visual explanation of the differences between serial, parallel and layer nodes watch the following video by Gray Marshall and check out his blog.

Resolve 9: Parallel vs. Layer Nodes from Gray Marshall on Vimeo.

Order of operations

While its quite difficult to make destructive corrections which cant be reversed in downstream nodes, it’s still crucial to make corrections in an order that allows creative flexibility downstream. I’m quite often sent screenshots of grades where the user has applied a look too early in the node tree, sometimes even in the first node. This has then made it difficult to qualify elements such as skin in subsequent nodes. This issue can largely by avoided by making the corrections prior to the look (such as in parallel in stage 3). I also often see grades that didn’t balance the image adequately in the first node, leading to similar qualification issues. Fixing this issue is usually harder since making global changes to the image balance when a look has already been applied, can sometimes require the look to be rebuilt.

For this reason it’s important to treat the image with respect at each stage, to ensure you’re handing over good data to the following stage. This is a lot easier than trying to correct problems by adding more nodes downstream. After stage 4, its unlikely I will make colour based qualifications, so theres no issues blanketing the image with a global look and its precisely for this reason I leave the application of a look towards the end of the node tree.


Speaking of destructive corrections there a few instances where Resolve allows you to destroy or clip data which can’t be recovered in subsequent nodes. Clipping occurs with the application of LUTs, Soft Clips and Vs Curves (regular Curves are fine). For this reason try and limit their usage towards the end of your grade where you won’t be needing the clipped data.

For a really good explanation of the instances that Resolve allows clipping, check out another video by Gray Marshall.

Resolve Tips: Accidental Clipping in DaVinci Resolve v9 from Gray Marshall on Vimeo.

This clipping of data is one of the reasons I recommend that LUTs be applied on the very last node or through the node tab, it just produces better results.

To illustrate this – below is an example of the same gamma correction applied after the LUT node (left) and before the LUT node (right). And whilst the LUT isn’t clipping the image into white, it’s still restricting the colours, which prevents them from getting richer as would be expected when lowering the gamma.


Whilst there really are no right or wrong ways to structure your grade, from experience I find there a structures that order corrections in a way that tend to produce consistently better results. If anything consider the order in which you make your corrections and question whether there is an easier, cleaner more logical way to achieve the same if not better result.

As always if you have any questions or comments use the comment form below or feel free to drop me an email.

Written By Juan Melara

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