The Colourblind ‘Colourist’

It may come as a surprise to you, given the name of this website, but I am colourblind. Yes, how daft. Why would I choose to go into a profession where colour is so important? I actually don’t have an answer to that, I must be mad. 

So throughout my career I’ve not had too much of a problem with this minor disability, I’ve worked around others who see colours ‘properly’ (don’t get me started on that – I could waffle on for days). In the early days of making videos of high school events and selling them on VHS to my friends I had my parents. Then flatmates, co-workers, random people in the street, and now my wife and kids can help. I’ve had a few disasters along the way when no-one checked my work – one video in particular about 15 years ago – entirely greenscreen with a virtual studio. I thought I’d pulled the best key ever, until the client very calmly asked me why they had red hair (their hair was not meant to be red). 

So over the last year or so I’ve tried to educate myself on colour theory and science so I can at least make sure that the colours are accurate and true. One of the benefits of working in a digital space is that really at the most basic level all the colours are just numbers. Numbers that can be represented by a graph, chart or scope. So I began to really learn how to read my scopes. This is an example of my readout on a shot (using Nobe Omniscope): 

Nobe Omniscope
Colour reference scopes from Nobe

These three main scopes from the top left clockwise are my histogram (shows the balance of colour and luminance from left to right, left is black and right is white), then a little reference image of the shot I’m looking at, then my vectorscope (which shows the colour saturation of the image – the further out the lines travel the more saturated the image, and each of the primary and secondary colours has a target it aims for, plus a rather handy ‘skin tone’ reference line to give an idea of where skin tone should be on the chart), then my RGB Parade, which shows each of the primary colours separately, and within each colour I read left to right the area of the image it’s referring to, then top is the brightest and the bottom is the darkest.

 Between these main scopes I can colour correct an image to a point where I’m scientifically accurate and there are no ‘casts’ of colour creeping in which shouldn’t be there. I can make sure that the exposure and saturation are correct, and that no-one has bright red hair if they’re not meant to. 

My challenge is in being creative with colour, as this is based on taste and instinct rather than maths. I may never be able to do this, as for me it will always be trial and error. Not being able to see the colours that a director or client is referring to means it’s just impossible for me to go beyond my numbers and graphs. 

I’m glad I’ve taken the steps to learn what I have, and I feel confident that I can get 50% of the way to a perfect image on my own now, and the last 50% is why professional colourists exist. I’m never too proud or stubborn to ask for help, so if a project requires a proper grade then I’ll hire an expert. 

The rest of the time there’s my very patient wife and kids!

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