Help! My Footage is Underexposed! What Do I Do?
Video: Help! My Footage is Underexposed! What Do I Do?Fixing underexposed footage provides you with in-depth training on Video. Taught by Robbie Carman as part of the Color Correction in Final Cut Pro X
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Fixing underexposed footage
So you come back to the studio, load up your footage, and start previewing it. And then you see that clip or clips that are really underexposed. Underexposed footage is something that you'll need to correct all the time. Fortunately, fixing these types of clips is actually pretty easy inside of Final Cut Pro X, and to fix an underexposed shot, we're going to use the Color Board. To be clear, the Color Board gives you manual control over making a correction. Let me show you what I mean about this shot. I'll skim through it real quick and you can see it's a shot of an actor coming down a flight of stairs, and he looks pretty dark and overall the shot looks pretty underexposed.
But remember, your eyes lie to you, so it's a good idea to verify that the shot is underexposed by using the Video Scopes. So to access the Video Scopes I'm going to come up to the Window menu here and then down to this option right here, to Show Video Scopes. I can also use the keyboard shortcut Command+7. You can also access the Video Scopes by coming to this light switch icon right here and choosing to Show or Hide the Video Scopes. Once the Scope window opens up, let's click into the Settings pull-down and choose to show the Waveform scope. Then let's click again on the Settings menu and let's choose show the Luma Waveform.
The Luma Waveform is going to be the principal tool that you use to measure brightness information in the clip, and when you're trying to verify that a clip is underexposed or may be overexposed, the Luma Waveform is your best option. Let's go ahead and select a shot in the timeline to have the scope update. Okay, so now that I've got trace on the Luma Waveform, you'll notice that most of the trace is from about, I don't know, 5% up to about 15% or 16%. Remember that the scale that the waveform scope uses goes from zero or dark or black down here, up to white or 100% up here, with midtones being in this part of the scope.
With most of the trace centered down towards the bottom of the scope itself, this indicates that I have a pretty dark clip. Now, just to be clear, we can actually have values that go below 0% and above 100%. These are called super blacks and super whites, but generally speaking, it's a good idea in most workflows, especially in broadcast workflows, to keep your trace centered between 0 or black, and 100 or white. Okay, so the shot's pretty dark and to fix this shot, what we're going to do is make a correction on the Color Board.
To access the Color Board, I'm going to press Command+4 to open up the Inspector. Here on the Inspector in the Color section, you'll notice that I have an item right here labeled Correction #1. Every single clip has a default correction labeled Correction 1, and to access the Color Board for this correction, let's simply click on this button right here. And here's the Color Board. Now I don't actually have to access the Color Board by first activating the Inspector. I'm going to press Command+4 to hide the Inspector. If I want to jump right to the Color Board, I can. And to do that I'll simply use the keyboard shortcut Command+6.
And when I press Command+6 I bypass the main level of the Inspector and jump right to the Color Board. Now, to access any of the panes here on the Color Board, simply click on the pane itself. Now, you actually don't have to click, you can use some keyboard shortcuts. Those keyboard shortcuts are similar for the various panes. For example, if I wanted to access the Color pane, I can simply use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Command+C, C for color. To access the Saturation pane, it'll be Ctrl+Command+S, and finally, to navigate to the Exposure pane, it'll be Ctrl+Command+E, E for exposure.
Okay, so one way that I have to make a correction on this clip is by using this Global or Master exposure control, this guy right here. So let me go ahead and select that and drag up. Now as I do, you'll notice that I'm lightening this clip, and as a drag down you'll notice that I'm darkening the clip. But notice on the Waveform Scope set to Luma that all I'm really doing is moving the trace up and down the scope as a whole. That's not actually the result I want to have, so let me go ahead and reset this correction by pressing the reset arrow right here. What I want to do is come into these three controls for the three parts of the tonal range: shadows or blacks, midtones, and then highlights or whites.
So let's first select the whites or highlights target, and then I'm going to drag up. And as I drag up you'll notice that the clip becomes a little lighter. Also notice on the Waveform Scope set to Luma, the trace was moving up the scale just a touch. Next, let's come into the blacks or shadows target, this guy right here. And I don't actually need to drag; I can use the up and down arrows to move this puck or target. So in this case I actually want the arrow down to move to the bottom of the trace towards the 0% line. What this will do is make sure that anything that's supposed to be black in the shot will be represented as black.
I want the bottom of the trace to just touch 0%. Next, let's come into the midtones puck or target, I'm going to select that and once again I'll arrow up to lighten up this clip. Something like that is working just fine. Now you'll notice as I made that last correction that the trace came off the 0% line. That's due to the overlapping nature of the tonal range. Often, as you make a correction in one part of the tonal range, you'll need to go back to another part of the tonal range to offset the correction that you just made.
So let me come back to the blacks or shadows target right here and then arrow down just a touch to make sure that the bottom of the trace is just touching 0%. Alright, let's navigate back to the main level of the Inspector by clicking the Back button right here, and then let me toggle this correction on and off by clicking this button. Here's the original shot and you can see that it's pretty dark. Also notice that the trace is sort of clumped up towards the bottom of the Waveform Scope set to Luma. Let me go ahead and turn that Correction back on, and you'll notice that the shot looks much better and also the trace is expanded a little bit more over the scale that the Waveform Scope set to Luma uses.
Let me go ahead and hide the Inspector for a second, and let's skim through the shot. And you can now see it's a much more usable shot and the actor is much brighter. Next, let's go ahead and turn off the Video Scopes by using the keyboard shortcut Command+7. And then what I want to do is activate the Inspector again by pressing Command+4. And I'll toggle this correction on and off in a bigger view here, and you can see the shot before and the shot after. The shot after is much more usable than the original shot.
Now one last note, if you have to lighten a clip excessively, the noise that is inherent to a clip is also lightened. It may become more obvious. While there is no built-in way yet in Final Cut Pro X to reduce noise, many third-party tools exist for noise reduction in other applications. And while you can fix noise in a clip if it's severely underexposed, you might not even want to correct the shot in the first place, as severely underexposed clips, even after they are corrected, oftentimes don't cut very well with other clips in a show.
Okay, so that's the basics of fixing an underexposed clip in Final Cut Pro X. I think you can see it's pretty straightforward and pretty easy.
There are currently no FAQs about Color Correction in Final Cut Pro X.