colour grading fcpx

Color Grading in Final Cut Pro [Beginner’s Guide]

Table of contents

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

Color 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 color grading.

Automatic Colour Grading

Once you become comfortable with those, you can experiment with the more advanced features. When working in Final Cut Pro, you can even have the first step of color 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 color. 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 colors on the spectrum. Poor white balancing can lead to a video looking too blue (cool) or too orange (warm.)  

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Ticking this option means Final Cut Pro X will look at each clip you import and attempt to fix any unbalanced colors. 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 

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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It’s worth noting that when color 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.  

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Video Scopes

There is an option under the View menu, to display Video Scopes. HistogramVectorscope, and Waveform monitors. These are visual representations of color 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 color and its application in the grading process. 

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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 color correction options.  

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1. Colour Board

The Color Board displays a vertical color 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 color space directly affects that portion of the image. Going above the horizontal line increases it and going below the line reduces it. 

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

2. Colour Wheels

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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 color temperature, on the same degrees Kelvin scale your camera will reference (from 2500-10000K). 

3. Colour Curves

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

4. Hue/Saturation Curves

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


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

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

Color grading effects can also be specifically timed using keyframes.

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Lastly, remember that the overall amount you can change a color within depends on the resolution and color 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 to standalone color grading software. You might be familiar with their cameras, but their industry level color suite also features some pretty advanced editing features.   

The best way to understand color 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.  

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