colour grading fcpx
colour grading fcpx

Basic Colour Grading in Final Cut Pro X (Step-by-Step Guide)

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One of the noticeable differences between amateur and professional video editing is in the colour grading. If your films lack colour balancing, or if the colours of shots within a scene don’t match, it will be noticeable.

Colour grading can be done to balance across footage, or for applying a particular artistic finish to a film.  

If that all sounds a touch intimidating, the good news is that all professional editing software will come with basic tools to get started with colour grading.

Automatic Colour Grading

Once you become comfortable with those, you can experiment with the more advanced features. When working in Final Cut Pro X, you can even have the first step of colour correction done automatically.  

Analyze and Fix

Within the Final Cut Pro X Import window, there’s the Analyze and Fix pane. Here, you’ll find the option to Analyze video for balance colour. Essentially, this corresponds to how the footage was originally filmed and if your camera was correctly white balanced.

This means how your camera sees white objects under different lighting conditions and how it subsequently shows all other colours on the spectrum. Poor white balancing can lead to a video looking too blue (cool) or too orange (warm.)  

FCPX screenshot 1

Ticking this option means Final Cut Pro X will look at each clip you import and attempt to fix any unbalanced colours. This will also include issues of exposure (the brightest parts of an image) and contrast (how they compare to the darkest regions).

This is a useful feature but by no means an exact science. If you want to try it, then test with a couple of clips, as it will slow down the overall import time. 

Balance Colour 

FCPX screenshot 2

This is a process that can be done after import, on a clip-by-clip basis. Whether a clip is in the Browser or being used on the Timeline, clicking on the enhancement button will show the Balance Color menu option. Instantly, the clip will take on a new look, depending on the level of adjustment required. How well this works does depend on the overall lighting and general quality of your footage.  

FCPX screenshot 3

If you’re unsure of what the difference is, you can turn off the automatic balance under the Inspector. The Effects pane will list the Balance Color application, where it can be disabled, or have the Method adjusted. Playing with these settings can show what footage looks like.

FCPX screenshot 4

Match Colour

Another option under the enhancements menu is Match Color. This feature will attempt to copy the look of one clip with another. First, select the clip you want to change, choose Match Color, and then click on the clip with the desired look.

When you are more confident with manual grading, you can still use these options as shortcuts before making finer adjustments yourself.  

FCPX screenshot 5

It’s worth noting that when colour grading in Final Cut Pro X effects can be layered upon each other. No one tool or setting is necessarily going to fix a problem or achieve a certain look, but rather a combination of effects might be needed.

As with other visual effects in Final Cut Pro X, all layers you add to a clip can be toggled off and on inside the Inspector window.  

FCPX screenshot 6

Video Scopes

There is an option under the View menu, to display Video Scopes. HistogramVectorscope and Waveform monitors. These are visual representations of colour data and help you to fine-tune things.

As you make corrections, they update in real-time, which is a great way to learn more about the scientific nature of colour and its application in the grading process. 

FCPX screenshot 7

Manual Colour Grading

For manual adjustments, Final Cut Pro X comes with a range of tools. Once a clip is on the Timeline the ‘Show the Color Inspector’ option becomes available.

Let’s look at each of the four colour correction options.  

FCPX screenshot 8

1. Colour Board

The Color Board displays a vertical colour spectrum, crossed by a horizontal line with four nodes. These represent the Highlights, Midtones, Shadows and Master ranges of the clip.

Moving a node to a different colour space directly affects that portion of the image. Going above the horizontal line increases it and going below the line reduces it. 

FCPX screenshot 9

You can also control Saturation and Exposure. These are great if you want to bring more contrast to your shots and make certain colours more vibrant or muted.  

2. Colour Wheels

FCPX screenshot 10

The first recent edition is Color Wheels. These offer the combined features of the Color Board, but with subtler levels of control. The digital option also allows for setting overall colour temperature, on the same degrees Kelvin scale your camera will reference (from 2500-10000K). 

3. Colour Curves

FCPX screenshot 11

Color Curves are great if you’re familiar with advanced image editing software, like Adobe Photoshop. The Luma (whitest areas) and primary composite colours (red, blue, and green) can be adjusted separately.

4. Hue/Saturation Curves

FCPX screenshot 12

If you’re feeling confident then there are Hue/Saturation curves which offer even finer control. This is handy if you’re looking to tweak footage even further.

Masks

FCPX screenshot 13

Each of these different effects can be applied to specific areas of your clips using Shape Masks. Also, you can change a particular colour using a Color Mask (which is shown as an eyedropper icon).

Multiple versions of each colour correction can be added to a clip and under the Effect listing. Dragging and dropping change the order and each can be disabled/enabled.  

Colour grading effects can also be specifically timed using keyframes.

FCPX screenshot 14

Lastly, remember that the overall amount you can change a colour within depends on the resolution and colour sampling depth of the footage itself. 👍

Final Cut Pro Colour Grading – Wrapping Up

In short, there are many plugins available for grading in Final Cut Pro X, ranging from cheaper options like FCPeffects, all the way up to Magic Bullet Looks for feature film style grades.

There is also a range of standalone colour grading software, like DaVinci Resolve and FilmConvert. You might be familiar with their cameras, but their industry level colour suite also features some pretty advanced editing features.   

The best way to understand colour grading in Final Cut Pro X is to start testing out all of the features and see what works best for you. If you don’t have a project to work on then try downloading some stock video and have a play.  

Chris Suffield
Chris Suffield
Writer | Producer | Videographer | Offline Editor

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