Premiere Pro Color Grading: A Beginner’s Guide

premiere pro color grading



Color grading is one of the essential stages of any video and film production
The color grading process starts in preproduction and involves different departments, such as wardrobe or makeup
LUTs are an excellent tool for grading, but it’s good to know how to grade without them

Table of Contents

Color correction is one of the most crucial stages of any film production. Whether you are filming an event or the latest Hollywood films, color grading will give your work its final look, the image the people will watch. Color grading in Premiere Pro is now easier than ever, thanks to its intuitive interface.

Back in the day, directors of photography had to do everything on camera, choosing the film stock and then choosing the lab that would develop the reels. That would give the image the desired look.

Nowadays, every filmmaker knows they must know color grading to give their material that final look they want. With the most popular cameras shooting in LOG and RAW formats, using technical LUTs (Lookup table) to transform color values is a must. We could say that no image is finished until you do the color grading. Whether you use only a technical LUT, a creative one or grade the image step by step: it will be the process that will ‘finish’ your video.

A specific look starts at the beginning of the production and continues until the color grading process. Each department plays a role. Lighting, wardrobe, location scouting, makeup, etc., will work together to determine the piece’s visual character. The same principles apply whether you’re shooting an event or a reel for social media. Any decision while shooting will affect your grading later. Framing wisely to leave undesired colors out of the shot and turning off the practical lights to avoid mixed color temperatures are decisions that will make your life easier while grading. 

Color grading in Premiere Pro

The most popular editing suites improve their color grading tools with each update. From DaVinci Resolve to Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro, all have the resources to color grade without needing an external plugin. You can download the DaVinci Resolve free version and get familiar with the interface because these tools are similar to all these programs. If you have used software like Photoshop or even your smartphone, you will be already familiar with them (contrast, saturation, exposure, white balance, curves…).

The first step in color grading should be matching each shot as a starting point, fixing contrast, saturation and color mistakes created while shooting the image (one image darker than the following, mixed color temperatures, etc.). From that point, when everything is matched, you can start the creative phase and give your video a final look, following simple color grading tips.

Color grading with LUTs

Depending on the camera you use and your time, a technical LUT designed for your camera will give you a clean starting point. So you will see an image similar to what you saw on your camera’s monitor. These LUTs basically adjust contrast and color to specific values, and there is nothing creative about it. It’s just another step on the technical chain of getting an image. From that point, you should fix and match all your shots (at least from a scene) and continue. If you don’t use LOG or RAW formats and prefer to bake your final image on camera, you won’t need to use a technical LUT since your final image is already there.

From this point, the quickest way to do your grade is to use a creative LUT. Creative LUTs are created to save time and mimic some of the most popular films, some retro techniques or film stocks, etc. The problem with creative LUTs is that they are developed for a specific shot under certain conditions (lighting, exposure…). If your image doesn’t match those conditions, the result can be unpredictable and won’t always work. However, if you are used to specific creative LUTs or even if you create yours, this could be the perfect solution. Just take care of not overusing the most trendy LUT of the moment since all your videos will look the same and the same as other people’s videos. Play with the intensity of the LUT if you don’t want to be so aggressive with the final result. 

Color grading from scratch

We recommend this method only if you have experience grading. For LOG or RAW grading, you should know the characteristics of your camera format to color grade without technical LUTs. Otherwise, getting all the colors out of the image will be tricky, and you can go crazy trying things to make them appear, degrading the final image.

We like to start with a basic correction, fixing the brightness and the contrast, shadows, highlights… A good tip is to start by adjusting the brightest and darkest points, trying to stay within the limits of the waveform. For example, if you modify a bright scene under the midday sun, it makes sense to bring the brightest point to almost the top of the waveform. However, don’t go so far if grading a dark scene. Otherwise, all your scenes will look the same and lack dynamic range. The blacks should always be near zero. Once you do this, go back and forth, adjusting the parameters mentioned. If you have experience and are more comfortable, use the curves or color wheels tabs to take your image where you want.

Then, we can continue with the saturation. There are different tools to do this. Some will work better than others on different occasions. From this point, you will see if your image needs fixing or if it’s ok. If it’s full of noise, maybe you shot it underexposed, and you have to apply a denoiser. If the skins are green, perhaps you didn’t choose the correct white balance. You can fix this with WB, Tint, or the Auto White Balance feature.


After this step, you are ready to start your creative grade. 

Remember that color grading is a back-and-forth process. Sometimes you will have to go back to adjust the brightness and then readjust the saturation, for example. 

Try the color wheels, curves and HSL sliders for creative grades. With some time, all these tools will be familiar to you, and you will know where to go even before you start the grading process.

Wrap up

Color grading is the final ingredient of any video production, and it’s a mix of knowledge and creativity. It can fix problems created during production, and, with expertise, it can take your footage to the next level. The more you experiment with different cameras, the faster and more proficiently you will grade videos. Premiere Pro gives you all the color grading tools and features you need to nail your masterpiece.

Frequently asked questions

About Jose Prada

Jose Prada is a filmmaker, musician and writer based in the UK and Spain. He has won several awards with short films and commercials and has published filmmaking courses on different platforms., the production company he founded together with Rene Strgar contributes high-end stock footage to Artgrid.

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