Join Simon Walker for an in-depth discussion in this video Observing Michelangelo to understand high and low contrast, part of The Art of Color Correction: Artistic Color Grading on the Timeline.
So, what sort of stories can we tell with high contrast and low contrast images? We can get a good indication of a low contrast story by looking at Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting. So, make sure you're having a look at the Art Reference PDF and click on the link to Michelangelo's Libyan Sibyl, which is a detail from the Sistine Chapel. In this painting, we can see a subtle use of pastel oranges, mauves, and greens, set against a neutral stone effect background. The colors aren't overly saturated, but they still appear to be vibrant.
This is because the contrast is flat, in that the highlights aren't too bright, and the shadows on the main area where the figures are, are too dark. I'm sure these artists didn't think of terms of shadows, mid tones, and highlights in the same way as we do, when we're considering color corrections. We're guided to these terns by the controls we use on the color wheels and the software. So let's have a look at how we can interpret and assimilate this kind of approach using low contrast to make the colors still seem vibrant. And I'm going to work with the adjusting contrast sequence in Premiere Pro. And I'm just going to start by illustrating a core concept integrating, which is making a technical correction to a clip and then going on to make a stylistic adjustment usually on an adjustment layer. So on this first clip, I'm going to apply (SOUND) the three-way color collector, from Premiere Pro.
And I'm also going to switch over to my, color correction work space, to show the, RGB parade. And, I'm going to, increase these highlights. I've seen that the original shot is quite well balanced. The shadows aren't too dark, and also the different patterns match. And they have a reasonable matching shape. So the highlights the match and the midtone color shapes also are quite balanced. So the camera operator did their job well. But what I want to do is just to increase these highlights, up to around about this 90% digital line. And I'm going to do this using the input levels.
I gotta drag on the Highlight slider and just bring them up slightly. So now I've got a spread of contrast over this image. Here's the before (SOUND) and after. (SOUND) And this is a standard thing that you do on any particular edit. Correct for an exposure and then move on to (INAUDIBLE) grade. So my next step is to add a stylistic element. So I'm going to add an adjustment layer onto this shot, and just to remind you about adjustment layers in Premiere Pro. You can create them from the File > New Adjustment Layer, or you can click on New Item icon (SOUND) and go from here.
So, New adjustment layer. It automatically recognizes the resolution and the frame rate of your selected sequence. And if you hit OK, then it turns up in the Project panel, and you can just drag it onto your clip and drag it out. And then you can select it and add an instance of looks onto this clip. And then launch the Looks Builder. If you ever get a different frame in your preview window than you're expecting, this is to do with the relationship of how plugins talk to Premiere Pro, and it's easy to fix. All you need to do is to go back to Premiere Pro. Scrub your timeline, just to update it, and then go back and re-launch the Looks Builder.
A really useful tool, for being able to adjust contrast is the Curves tool. And there's a Curves tool, inside the subjects section, inside looks. I'm going to drag the curves on here. And notice that our RGB levels are the same ones that have been corrected with the three-way Color Corrector in Premiere Pro. So we can stack up layers of filters and those previous corrections are honored in Looks. And in the Luma Curve controls, we can adjust the shadows and the midtones and the highlights by dragging on the control here, or actually dragging on one of these points. But to correct the contrast it's just as quick to drag on the contrast slider. The classic way of increasing contrast is to boost the highlights and to slightly deepen the shadows.
And this has the automatic effect of boosting the saturation. Here's the before and after. But, what we want to do, we want to boost the saturation, but still keep a muted look. Michelangelo's muted look really suited the religious material he was depicting. So, to get to low contrast, I can drag the contrast in the negative direction. And notice as I'm dragging it that the RGB channels are flattening. The more I increase the brightness of the shadows and decrease the brightness of the highlights, the more you get a flat image the lower contrast you've got.
I'm not going to do it quite this much. I'm going to reduce a little bit just to bring down the contrast. Here's the before and after. (SOUND) So this is Step 1. This is also having the effect of reducing he saturation. So you can see on the vector scope that with the effect applied, the saturation is spreading less far towards the edge the without the effect applied. And the closer it reaches the edge the more saturated it is. So we want to add another couple of tools in here. The next tool is in the Subject section.
And it's the Fill Light tool. And the Fill Light targets just the shadows in the image. So if I drag this up, it's going to predominantly affect the shadows but also impinges on the mid tones, which is the nature of making color corrections. But what I want to do is to exaggerate this flatness even more. Then I can apply the rain saturation in the subject area. And the nice thing about this tool is that you can reduce and increase the saturation in the mid tones or the highlights, or the shadows. So If I reduce the highlights down, around say 60 or so, And then, leave the mid tones at 100% saturation.
And then bring down the shadow saturation to say only 25% or so. This is now becoming quite a desaturated and flattened image. The next step would then be to try and put in some of the colors that Michelangelo was using. And he was using pastel burnt oranges and golds. So, I'm going to apply a 3 way color corrector. And I'm going to push the highlights up towards, kind of burnt orange there.
And, also, because these artists were painting on wet plaster, there were very few shadows, and so there's very little black in the image, and they would be adding color to a white base. So, in this case, I'm going to add a tiny little bit of yellow into the shadow area there. And, there's one more correction I think that this image needs. And I'm going to use it from the Post section, so it's processed last in the tool chain. And what I want to do is just to bring down the midtone slightly, because, we are losing definition here.
The colors aren't looking saturated, but if you bring down the midtones here We begin to make the colors stand out. If you bring it down too much then it begins to make the image much too dark. But just a little adjustment like so. I'll just give you the before and after. Then means that these colors are still muted, but they're jumping out at you. If I turn off the entire tool chain. Then we'll see a higher contrast image, and although those colors are saturated it has a completely different mood. (SOUND) To this image, where you can still see the color, this color is still jumping out at you, it's still quite vibrant.
I'd like to just show you a more finished version of this effect. I've applied a preset, based on the works of Michelangelo, to the adjustment layer on the second clip, and the underlying clip itself has this same three-way correction to adjust for the brightness levels that we set up on the first clip. So I'm going to select the adjustment layer. And that lets me click the edit look button to look at the preset applied to this second adjustment layer. And I'm using here a preset from the master artist collection of presets, and I'm using the Michelangelo preset.
And this was set up to simulate the sorts of colors and the sorts of effect that Michelangelo was achieving with this paintings. So we've got a very similar set of tools, other ones that we were just building up. But there are an additional few tools here to actually slightly tweak the image a bit more. The ranged Ranged HSL tool brings out the red slightly, if I turn this off. And that has a very subtle effect by slightly saturating the color. And there's a similar job being done by the saturation tool, which is being set to 110%.
Now these are all in the post section, so they are being processed after these other corrections. So remember magic bullet looks processes these tools in order. But it also processes these colors in a high dynamic range. So if you boosted highlights and then wanted to get some of them back, still within looks you can do that because it doesn't clip the image. And here's that second curves tool where I'm adjusting the contrast of the midtones. And there is one more piece of the puzzle here the pop tool.
The pop tool adds the local contrast or the slight sharpening effect. And here it is before and after. And this is really in here to adjust for the fact that we have low contrast. Low contrast means that there aren't many dark shadows. And I know we're not painting in this particular example, we're actually using video footage. So although we're being inspired by the techniques of these famous artists, we have to translate this into modern techniques. So I've added Pop here at a 50% sharpening setting, so let's just bring out some of that little detail so the audience can see what's happening in the image bit more clearly. The nice thing about presets is that you don't have to go with any particular preset.
You can still adjust it. So if I turn off the curves tool at the end of the tool chain here. Here's the before and after. You may prefer this particular muted look, which still has a reasonably flat contrast. It's not quite as flat as with the curves tool. But it's more muted than the original shot. And lots of these color corrections, especially the stylistic ones, are subjective. And they're cross referenced with the mood of the story that you're portraying on screen. But the point of this particular preset is that I find it's really interesting that you can still get reasonably vibrant colors or colors that jump out with a muted flat contrast.
- What is a grade?
- Starting with contrast and color
- Observing Michelangelo's approach to high and low contrast
- Accentuating highlights in the style of Fra Angelico
- Working with Leonardo da Vinci's limited palettes
- Using chiaroscuro to increase tension
- Changing the mood of a scene with light and shade
- Applying colors to complement skin tones