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Video Tutorial: Soft Clipping in DaVinci Resolve

Limit the extreme registers of highlight or shadow detail using the Soft Clipping feature in DaVinci Resolve.

DaVinci Resolve
DaVinci Resolve and a drool worthy color grading suite [via Blackmagic]

A small but powerful feature in Davinci Resolve called “soft clipping” makes a huge difference in the way I work. A component of the software for several years now, soft clipping allows me to bend footage far further than I normally could by limiting the extreme registers of the highlight or shadow detail. Since I use it in every single session, I really can’t undersell using this powerful feature.

Soft clipping is found inside the Color page, in the middle, bottom-half of the screen within the first Curves tab. Select the second drop-down to modify the soft clipping. You’ll see the red, green and blue curves, but these react differently than the main curves; here, you won’t be able to draw points on the curve to change the contrast of the image. Rather, you’ll be able to change where the high and low ends of the shot begin clipping.

You can change the soft clip of the channels individually, but by default the three channels are grouped, or “ganged,” together. Unless you’re dealing with an image that has, say, a bright red traffic light that causes a spike in only the red channel, the default ganged style is my my choice each time.

In practice, a colorist can initially limit the highlights on a particularly bright image where, for example, light bulbs or sunlight are blown out, as you’re performing your primary grade. As you balance the image, you can white balance the highlights to taste as you’re controlling the clipping or utilize the soft clip while you’re lifting any part of the image. I find it useful when working with commercial clients who are trying to achieve a bright, saturated look where the image is naturally dark. Consider an image of several people inside a living room with bright afternoon sunlight outside. The filmmakers have exposed for preserving the highlights that are streaming in, leading to an underexposed interior where the people are. This is a perfect time to use soft clipping.

Pumping the mids and highlights will only get you so far before the upper range of the image begins to clip. To continue brightening the image, the soft clipping rolls off just the last few percent of the image and allows you to keep cranking in brightness. The effect is similar to that of using an S-curve in the standard curves feature, but it’s a quick way to limit the high or low-lights when you are working in a quick commercial atmosphere. You can also quickly wreck the image if you use the curves improperly, but this doesn’t seem to happen as much with soft clipping.

My usage of soft clip can go extreme, depending on the shot and what the client’s trying to achieve. I often max out the High Soft at 100 to preserve as many highlight details as possible. I use this maximum value that Resolve allows as a sort of bar for determining if I’m pushing the image too much. If I really need an extra push, I can also pull the sides of the channels down to limit the highs or lows even further.

Preserving highlights is the name of the game. It is much more important to preserve highlights than to have overly crushed blacks, although in a video featuring very high contrast I will frequently limit the darks to have that detail in there. Still, having detail in the highlights is one of my highest priorities, as any clipping means a dip in the overall video quality, even so much as to make it look much less filmic, or beautiful, to many people. I would say it is one of the defining characteristics of good filming technique.

Have you had success with the soft clipping feature? Have you seen any downsides in using it or find it difficult to work with? Let us know in the comments.

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