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A lot of people complain that After Effects does not contain its own 3-way color corrector. Well actually it does. It just has a terrible user interface. It's called the Color Balance effect. Color Balance allows you to adjust the Red, Green and Blue channels individually in shadows, midtones and the highlights. These are overlapping ranges of pixel values that control how an image looks and you can go ahead and create all sorts of custom adjustments, give the shadows a particular deep say purple tint, give the highlights a bit of a warm reddish tint or you can use this to remove color cast from an image.
So I'm going to show you primarily how to use Color Balance to neutralize color cast in an image, then touch on some of the creative applications of it at the end. Here I've the piece of archive of footage with some sepia or reddish tints in it. I would like to neutralize those tints either to get back to very clean, well balanced image or to use it as a starting point for more creative adjustments. I know it's also a bit under lit. It's looking a bit dark and dingy. I like to maximize the contrast of my images whenever I can, before I start working on them.
So I now have a good range of white to black values. A couple ways of doing that. I can apply Color Correction > Levels and manually pull my black point to the bottom of the histogram, pull down my white point to the top of the histogram, scroll my time marker and make sure that those upper and lower limits hold pretty well for the whole shot and they do. Or I can take advantage of an effect called Effect > Color Correction > Auto Contrast and have it do these adjustments for me automatically. So now I have got a good full dynamic range image.
Twirl up Auto Contrast and select Effect > Color Correction > Color Balance and you see that I have got controls for Shadow Red, Green and Blue Balance. That means I can add or subtract to those values. Midtone Red, Green and Blue, Highlights Red, Green and Blue. Now these are not distinct zones. They actually overlap quite a bit. When I adjust the shadow it will have some effect on the midtones; when I adjust the midtones, it will have some effect on the highlights and on the shadows.
So this is going to be an iterative process to dial in the colors that I want. Now while working with color balance, I'm going to be looking at color values throughout the image, and the tool for that is the Info panel. Command+1 or Ctrl+1 to open. I want to be able to read R, G and B values as I hover my cursor over different parts of this image. Now we'll be using this as an inset for this video scene to see what's going on. Okay let's start with the blackest and whitest parts of this image, because the shadows and the highlights don't overlap that much so therefore affecting black and white won't affect each other that much.
Starting with the black I've got a couple dark areas here. I have this eyepiece to showing me in general that the red values are bit hotter than green and blue, and green is a little bit lower than the blue channel. This tie is also very black as I drag through it. It's actually quite balanced in the black range. If anything is showing me that the green is still a little bit weak here and there. So to balance my blacks, I'm probably going to increase my greens just a little bit here, just so have values in the tie a bit more even, a little bit more, such as maybe four, and then let's look at his eyepiece.
I've got the green a little bit closer and the red a bit hot. Let's go ahead and pull the Red Balance down about 4 and increase the Green to 5. As I drag through now, I'm getting a lot more similar values for the red, green and blue in this eyepiece. The tie is also staying fairly well matched. The red might be a little darkened here. We'll come back and tweak that later. Now let's look at whites in the image. This headband is very white. As I drag my cursor through it I see that the Green channels lacking a little bit here as well. Let's look at his collar. Again green's a little bit weak in his shirt and shirt sleeve. Green's a little bit below red and blue.
So in the Highlights, let's bump up the Green Balance by 3 for starters. And look from here I'm closer. Let's go a little bit higher. Now I'm getting a much better balance between red, green and blues in the highlights in this image. They are pretty equal. So I'll stick with that for now. Now let's adjust my Midtones. So I'm lucky that in this image this wall is supposed to be presenting me with the black to white gradient. Try to find a good neutral gray somewhere in your image.
Then drag around and look for values around 128 or so. If I get around here, I'm seeing that my reds are hot and my blues are bit underrepresented, while my greens are pretty good here in Midtones. So let's go ahead and lower the Red Balance, and say -15 to start and bump up the Midtone Blues by say about 10 to start. You can see our red yet had a big effect on balancing out this image. Now as I drag to something closer to 128 for all these, I see that I'm pretty darn close.
Blue can come up a little bit. Red could come down a smidgen. So let's go ahead and increase Blues to 15 and lower the Red Balance just a little bit -17. Now I'm seeing pretty darn even midtones. If I had to push it, I would again just keep tweaking a little bit more, with a little bit more Blue Balance such as 17 and now I have got a fairly well balanced grayscale and this was before and after.
You can see we've really neutralized the shifts in this image. At this point you should not think of that you've done. You should always go back and recheck your earlier work. For example, let's look at those blacks again. This eyepiece is now showing the blues are very hot. Increasing the Blues in the Midtones has increased the blues in the shadows as well. Now look at his tie, I see that that's also hot as well. Let's go into the Shadow Balance and remove blues from the shadows.
Okay we're a little bit more even on the tie there, a little bit more even on the eyepiece. If anything green's a little hot, red's a little low, so I'm going to go ahead and restore some of my Red Balance and pull back some of my Green adjustments. Okay. Now we're getting a little bit more even of the setting. Red's still a little underrepresented. Let's look at the eyepiece. These are looking pretty darn even. If anything again, I might pull green back a little bit, pull red back a little bit as well.
Much better balance. I'm happy with the blacks. Now let's look at the whites. Headband, pretty even, green may be a little bit hot. Let's go ahead and look at his collar. Same thing, green's a bit hot. So that now we pull the Green Balance back out because we had increased it in the Midtones. Look at my midtones and I'm seeing now that the reds have gone back hot again that's because I have increased my reds in my shadows. So let's pull back the Red Midtones even further say -25. Now as I drag through, I'm finding pretty good color balance in there.
Pretty darn good. Green's a little underrepresented. So let's just go ahead and bump it up a little bit. I'll double check my blacks. Pretty good. Check my whites. Pretty good. Now I have a balanced image. This was before and this was after. There is one more interesting button inside Color Balance. It's called Preserve Luminosity. When you make all these adjustments of increasing or decreasing different values you may have adjusted the overall brightness or balance of the image.
Preserve Luminosity is an attempt to automatically rebalance the overall luminance in the image and you see it has very little effect on here. It has a more dramatic effect on other images. Frankly, I use this very sparingly. Sometimes it over-corrects to my taste. You do something like Auto Contrast to restore contrast when you're done.
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