On any given image, you could spend five minutes grading or five days. So how do you know when it’s time to move on?
The issue of color grading video is one of those questions that are quite a bit more complex than it seems, and I’ll dive into some of the specifics later in the article. But first, here’s a quick video from Casey Faris where he shares his thoughts on the topic:
And here’s the larger breakdown on this question, including some of my own thoughts on the matter.
Are you doing client work, or doing it for yourself?
This question should allow for some easy answers. First up, if you’re grading for a client and you’re on a deadline, you do the best work you can (to the extent their budget allows) before the deadline. Pretty simple. If you’re color grading video for a client and you’re not on a deadline, however, then you have two options. You can grade just to the extent their budget allows, or you can grade to the level of their expectations, so long as those expectations are within their budget (which oftentimes they won’t be, especially with smaller clients). Continuing past either of those two options really isn’t in your best interest as a working professional, unless you’re just starting out and trying to land repeat clients by overdelivering on the value you promised them. If you’re grading for yourself on a personal project, then this whole question of when you’re done becomes quite a bit more existential and difficult.
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Perfection doesn’t exist, and chasing it will drive you crazy
When you’re working on a passion project, like color grading a movie, and you’re not on deadline, the natural tendency is to push for perfection. The only problem here is that perfection doesn’t really exist, and you will eventually hit a point of diminishing returns with your work. You’ll be spending your time (which is quite valuable) on increasingly insignificant details that no one but yourself will care about, let alone notice at all. So the trick here is to become self-aware enough to know when you’re hitting that point of diminishing returns (which is easier said than done). Once you’ve hit that point, or realize you’re beyond it, call it quits and move on to the next thing.
As someone who considers himself a perfectionist — and who’s held onto projects for months or years because they “just weren’t quite done yet” — the idea of letting things go once you start hitting a point of diminishing returns is very freeing. While there’s absolutely value in being detail-oriented (especially when your competition isn’t), obsessively tweaking the smallest of details in pursuit of perfection is almost never the best use of your time. So be honest with yourself. Are the tweaks you’re making significant to the project as a whole, or are you just chasing perfection? What do you think about the topic of figuring out when to stop on a project? Do you have any systems in place to know when you’re done? If so share them down in the comments!