It’s easy to get caught up in the magic of lenses, sensors and all the other expensive and technologically advanced bits of film production equipment. After all, these big ticket items can completely change the way that your film looks, creating an entirely different visual style and providing the highest quality image. This is undoubtedly important, but it’s well worth remembering that the cheaper and simpler elements of your kit can have just as big an impact.
These accessories can ensure that regardless of what camera or gear you’re using, the captured footage looks as close to perfect as possible. One brand that embodies this belief is X-Rite, and its ColorChecker charts have become a mainstay of productions all over the world. For filmmaking, there are a range of colour management charts optimised for video, and in this article we’ll run through what these products can provide and how you should be using them.
Some will prefer the larger size and wider colour range of the classic version, while for others, the compact portability of the Passport will be hard to go past.
ColorChecker Video charts
For filmmakers, there are essentially two types of ColorChecker charts to consider. Both are optimised for video, but feature different form factors and a few key differences.
First, there’s the standard ColorChecker Video. This dual-sided chart is full-sized, and boasts a wide range of different shades to make colour management easier both on set and in post. There are two rows of six colours, along with a range of skin tones. All of these are designed to closely align with the axis of a vectorscope, while also representing common images such as a clear blue sky. In addition to these reference colours, the ColorChecker incorporates four steps from white to black, with 40IRE grey and deep grey in between. These are a huge help when working out exposure, along with a linear greyscale to assist with shadows and highlights, and a fully sized white balance target on the back of the chart.
On the other hand, the ColorChecker Passport Video is much smaller, with a slightly different range of features. Most of the basics are retained from the larger version, but there are a few less colours (only one row of six) and smaller targets. The Passport does have one additional bonus that makes it very useful however – a focus target which can be held up near your subject to ensure everything is crisp and ready for recording.
The choice of which ColorChecker Video chart to go with is completely up to you. Some will prefer the larger size and wider colour range of the classic version, while for others the compact portability of the Passport will be hard to go past. In any case, the ways that these charts can be used are practically identical.
Image by @eugenebrown ・・・ I’d turn around and drive 45 minutes back to our house if we ever forgot this chart from @xritephoto. We have a few series of interviews we’re doing with @thennied and this video color checker is a huge help with keeping the looks consistent. #colorcheckerpassportvideo #colorchecker
A photo posted by X-Rite Photo (@xritephoto) on
Determining white balance
No matter which X-Rite chart you use (not just including the video-specific models), you can rest easy knowing that the colours are all scientifically accurate – essential for any reference point. One of the most important aspects of this for video in particular is determining white balance. Now, we all know that this should be done first in any production workflow, but there are a lot of different methods out there for working it out. Some use the tried and true ‘piece of paper in front of the camera,’ while others simply guess by manipulating the colour temperature until things look right.
The specially designed target on X-Rite charts is spectrally flat, which ensures a neutral response across mixed light sources.
These methods certainly work, but for utmost accuracy to determine white balance, you may want to be a bit more scientific. After all, any sort of colour cast from your light source will be baked into the footage, and while a talented post-production team may be able to remedy the effect, they really do have better things to be doing.
So, how can you get your white balance perfect? Well, the specially designed target on X-Rite charts is spectrally flat, which ensures a neutral response across mixed light sources. When you use that as a target with your camera’s white balance corrector, you’ll be able to easily eliminate any unpleasant casts and ensure you’ve got a solid, neutral starting point. Best of all, the whole process will only take a few seconds, and then you’ll be you’re ready to rock on with the rest of your shoot.
To see this process in action, check out the video below.
Using a ColorChecker in post
Of course, production isn’t the only part of the filmmaking process where ColorChecker charts can come in handy. By ensuring they’re in frame at the beginning of balanced slices of footage, you’ll be providing yourself with a powerful tool once you’ve imported things into your post-production software. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
Firstly, by starting with the chart in frame before any grading, you can make sure that you’re providing the very best platform for any subsequent tweaks. Step one of this could be to optimise your dynamic range, using the exposure targets. In a previous article we talked about the IRE scale – a range of 0-100 that roughly corresponds to broadcast standards of brightness. Match up the black target with 0, while also keeping any bright highlights from going over 100 and clipping. This will ensure you’re using the full range of brightness available on standard screens.
You could also take a look at colour and saturation, which will require you to bust out your editing software’s vectorscope. Check and make adjustments to get the saturation levels of each colour sitting at around 50 per cent. You can always change this later to achieve a certain style, but to start with, it’s incredibly helpful to get a perfectly balanced image so you can see how things are looking.
These are just a couple of different ways you can use an X-Rite ColorChecker chart during production and post. To find out more, be sure to get in touch with DVT today.
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