Quick Color Correction for Underwater Video Using Adobe Premiere Pro
One of the biggest challenges of shooting underwater video is getting good color at various depths and conditions. There are some tools that can help us here such as red filters, video lights manual white balance but there’s one tool that we all have at our disposal that I feel is somewhat overlooked and that tool is our video editor.
Different editing software have different abilities to do advanced color correction, what I’m going to show you is a tried and tested method of improving the colors of your videos in just a few minutes. Although I will be using Adobe Premiere to achieve this you can do this with most editing software out there.
Before we get started I need to point out that editing a shot with no colors in it is a completely unnecessary challenge that you shouldn’t expose yourself to. Knowing how to capture footage correctly with your camera is key to get a good starting point before doing color correction. While having a good white balance is certainly the most important factor (You can learn more about how to achieve that here) you should also know which exposure settings, recording options & picture profiles to use to get the best image possible with your setup.
Adobe Premiere Basics
Let’s get started by opening up Adobe Premiere and jumping over to the color tab. Most of the color correction tips I’ll be showing you really only require basic tools like curves, which you can find in most editing software. Within the color tab of Premiere you find a panel called Lumetri Color. If you’ve ever played around with something like Adobe Lightroom or similar, the layout here might feel quite familiar.
If you can’t locate the panel, go to Window → Lumetri Color and select it.
Let’s start with the Basic Correction tab. The most important feature here is the option to correct white balance, which can be done manually by changing the temperature ( < cooler | warmer > ) or tint sliders. We can also make use of the WB selector. By selecting this we get a picker tool that can be used to select a part of the image that we know to be white. This tool doesn’t always work perfectly but it can give us a great starting point.
Next we got various settings under Tone that allows us to change things like exposure & contrast. I recommend staying away from both the exposure & contrast sliders as this can be done more accurately using different tools that we are going to cover later. I do find myself using the next 4 sliders somewhat regularly, especially the highlight & shadows. These sliders allow us to either blow out or recover specific parts of the image. Recovering details in the shadows or highlights can be very helpful, and this is quite a nice way of doing so.
Then we have the Creative tab that contains sliders for correcting things like sharpening, vibrancy & saturation. You’ll notice there’s also options to select a “look”. This, coupled with the Input LUT under the Basics Correction tab allows the use of multiple LUTs, which are basically color correction or color looks files that can be applied to your footage. While I do think good LUTs can be used effectively, they are usually not as accurate as applying a manual fix to your image. You can also use the color wheels at the bottom of this tab so change the colors of either your highlights or your shadows, but more on color wheels later.
Finally we get to the Curves tab, which is the last of the Lumetri Colors tabs we will be covering in this article. Curves can be found in most editing suites, and it’s a very powerful tool. It has various settings to control things like contrast & color balance as well as various tools to affect the Hue, Saturation & Luminance of specific parts of the image.
Now coupled with the Lumetri Scopes are the Lumetri Scopes. These tools allow us to read the information from the image in various ways that helps us achieve an accurate color balance. The one we’re going to be focusing on is called Parade (RGB). To find the Lumetri Scopes panel go to Window → Lumetri Scopes and select the tool icon at the bottom of the panel if you need to switch over to the Parade (RGB). Finally go in and de-select whatever type of scope you were previously using.
How to color correct
So with that intro let’s go ahead and color correct some shots. Here’s a shot of a baby eagle ray that I got on a recent liveaboard trip. Notice that the shot looks fairly good before any changes have been made. This is down to the accuracy of my white balance, my choice of camera settings and in this case, using a high quality red filter.
We can notice the color information now being displayed over at the scopes, Three lines of red, green and blue. These graphs show the distribution of color over a scale of 0 – 100. 0 being absolute black and 100 being absolute white. So down from 100 we get to highlights, then mid-tones, shadows and finally black at 0.
(Pro Tip: If the colors of your image don’t look good at this stage, perhaps go and play around with the temperature and tint sliders over at the basics tab)
The first thing I like to do when color correcting an image is to stretch the image out. This instantly gives us a better representation of what the image could or should look like. And we will make this adjustment using the RGB curves. And what we are looking to achieve is to place the darkest part of the image on the 0 line, and the brightest part of the image at about 95.
So when I drag the top of the RGB curves here, I’m affecting the highlights of the image. In this case I will move the highlights up a little bit to get the highest peak of blue on 95. Next we can select and drag the bottom part here to get the darkest part of the image down to 0.
Next we can add some contrast to the image by creating some new keyframes over the highlights, shadows and mid-tones of the image. The way you add or the amount of contrast you add will have a significant impact on your shot, and everyone does this part differently. Some say less is more, others like a more punchy contrasted look. Whatever style you choose is up to you, play around with it and see how it looks or try the ones I’m using here as a starting point! Different shots require different contrast as well, so there’s no copy-paste formula that works perfect here.
Now that the contrast has been applied we can turn our eyes to the color of the image. Most camera manufacturers naturally add too much green to the image (for when diving the tropics), and that’s definitely the case for my Panasonic GH5. So let’s try to correct for this by visiting the green colored circle here which brings up the color control for green. Now when it comes to balancing out the colors, you have to do it based on your own memory of how it all looked. At least I’ve never come across any standard formula that takes care of it. With my GH5 I will remove very slight amounts of green to help bring out the reds and blues.
Next we can go back to the basics menu and play around with perhaps the shadow and highlight sliders. By targeting these parts of the image specifically we can effect changes in a slightly different way than by only relying on the curves.
Finally let’s jump on over to the creative menu and add just a touch of sharpening to the final image. How much sharpening you add will depend on how sharp your image appears out of camera. A pro tip here is to turn sharpness down (I put it down as much as possible) in camera so that you can rather add it in post later.
Now that’s already a drastically changed image, and with some practice this can be done in less than a minute per clip. But if you find yourself editing clips that are perhaps part of the same sequence, you can also go into the effect controls and right click on the lumetri color effect and choose copy. Next, hover over a similar clip and right click and paste. Now if needed you either tweak that copy slightly or start over again from scratch.
Advanced color grading
Now let’s take a look at another shot like this shot of a clown triggerfish. I’ll just go ahead and repeat the process we just did, by first correcting the image to the RGB parades, next I’ll add some contrast and remove some of that pesky green. That looks better already.
But with this clip let’s go further and play around more with changing colors. Below the RGB Curves we find the Hue Saturation Curves, where there are multiple curves to control various parts of the color spectrum. What we can achieve here is highly accurate color changes to specific parts of the image, which when used right can be very powerful.
The way we do it is quite simple. Let’s say that we want to change the saturation of the orange part of the mouth here. We can go down to the first curve called Hue vs Sat, or Hue vs Saturation. First we will use the color picker above to select the orange color of the image. This places multiple keyframes on our curve. Now by moving the middle keyframe either up or down we can saturate or de-saturate that specific part of the image.
Next we can do the same if we want to perhaps slightly change the color itself. Go down to the Hue vs Hue curve and again use the color picker to select the color we want to change. Now let’s move the middle keyframe around to achieve a different color entirely.
Then we can also play around with the Hue vs Luma curve. Here we can again isolate the color and choose to either make the oranges darker or lighter by moving the middle keyframe up or down.
If you feel that the selection of color isn’t wide enough, you can move the outer keyframes further away from each other to encompass more of the similar colors. You can also manually place keyframes yourself on the curve by clicking anywhere on the colored part of the curves themselves.
Finally you can head over to the color tab and play around with the shadows & highlight color wheels to create different styles of shots.
If you feel that this style of color correcting might be too time consuming, you can check out the color wheels & match tab. Here you can do specific changes to either the midtones, shadows & highlights. By moving the center cursor (comes up when you hover over it) towards any part of the outer colors, you are adding that color to that specific part of the image. The further out you move the cursor the more color you will add.
Also to the left of each wheel is a saturation slider that controls the saturation of the tonal range it is next too.
I hope you found this article helpful and that you perhaps take parts of the information here and add it to your own color grading workflow. Thanks for reading and happy diving!