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Production Tips: Working With a Color Checker on Your Next Shoot

Tanner Shinnick

Color grading your videos? Consider using a color checker or color chart to get that perfect color grade every filmmaker is after.

Achieving that perfect color grade — and color correction — is something that filmmakers yearn for. There’s just something so refreshing about a perfectly colored video. Most of the time, we consider our color tools to be those that we use in our editors, or within Resolve. However, there’s one tool you can utilize on set that will make managing perfect color much easier. That tool is a color checker — or color chart.

I have to admit that until not too long ago, I’d never used a color checker on anything. Obviously, I had seen them around, but I wasn’t sure how they’d work for me as a filmmaker. Frankly, when I got one, I had to pore over videos online to figure out just how this tool would make me a better cinematographer. After much effort, I’ve discovered just how powerful a color checker can be.

Let’s take a look at how this little tool can help you get better video.

Perfect Color

There’s so much that goes into making sure you have perfect colors in your video — from proper CRI balance in your lighting to setting the best white balance temperature in your camera. All of these factors play a vital role in getting perfect color from your images. The role of the color checker, or color chart, is to help keep color constant and consistent throughout the entire process. Through lens changes, camera changes, lighting changes, etc., color charts keep everything running smoothly.

Now, how in the world does it do this? Essentially, the color palettes in your color checkers are perfect swabs of cyan, green, magenta, yellow, red, and blue. Once captured within the frame of your camera, this image is then brought into your NLE. Once in your NLE, or color correction software, you can harness this to correct for the picture perfect color.

Check out this video below for a more comprehensive tutorial on how to incorporate this in your next project.

Perfect Exposure

One added benefit of grabbing a color checker is that (most often) it comes with a middle grey card. A middle grey card sits perfectly at 50 on your IRE scale. That means you can use this with two tools: zebras and false color. If you set your zebras to show at 50%, once your zebras appear on your grey card, you’ll know you have a properly exposed image. The same can be said of false color. Whichever color you have allocated to represent 50 IRE, once proper exposure is set, then that color will appear on the middle grey card, thus yielding a properly exposed image.  

Overall, snagging a color checker for your next production is always a great choice. Is it the most fun thing you could buy right now for your filmmaking kit? Let’s be honest, probably not. However, it could be the perfect addition on your journey to better videos. 

Cover image via Gecko Studio.

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