Commercial Retouching Workflow Part 2 Advanced Color Grading

Sef McCullough teaches commercial color grading

Have you ever looked at a polished image and wondered how the retoucher achieved that color grade? In this color grading tutorial Sef McCullough reverse engineers images and shows how to recreate a specific grade.

There are several approaches to color grading, but unfortunately, too many of the techniques used by photographers and retouchers are destructive and deteriorate the image quality.

Sef uses native Photoshop tools for isolating color from luminosity, Adobe color themes, Adobe RAW, and an entire suite of products to teach you to produce the perfect color grade.

Throughout this color grading tutorial Sef goes over non-destructive methods to color grade for commercial imagery, provides insight on color theory, and helps expand your creativity when working on an image. Sef approaches his work by first analyzing the colors that are actually in the image, and not just the ones we perceive with our eyes.

This advanced color grading workflow will allow you to create stunning color in your images without degrading the quality.

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  • 01. Introduction
    • Thumbnail for Introduction / Introduction
      Introduction (2:14)

      An introduction and overview of the series with Sef McCullough outlining the goals for this color grading tutorial. Learn to audit color, identify schemes, create palettes, leverage the power and flexibility of Adobe Camera RAW, reverse engineer a grade, bring disparate color grades into families to create compelling and cohesive images with color. Let go of your reliance on color filter packs and unleash your creativity using native Photoshop tools and a targeted, knowledgeable approach when color grading images.

    • Thumbnail for Introduction / Opening a Color Workspace
      Opening a Color Workspace (3:18)

      Watch how to setup a Color workspace to take advantage of Adobe Color CC and Adobe Color Themes integration for grading.

    • Thumbnail for Introduction / How to Unpack Color
      How to Unpack Color (9:23)

      Learn to analyze and unpack the range of color that is present within an image and the impact that combinations of color can have on perception. Through manual sampling and auditing learn to detect a color palette using native Photoshop tools to see the technical vs. perceptual color that is present in an image.

    • Thumbnail for Introduction / Using Hue Maps
      Using Hue Maps (4:09)

      Use native photoshop tools to isolate color from luminosity to gain a better understanding of what colors are inherent within an image. Develop a consistent method to audit colors grades in an image.

    • Thumbnail for Introduction / Adobe Color CC Online
      Adobe Color CC Online (5:49)

      Build on previous principles of unpacking color in an image with a more automated workflow using Adobe CC Online.

    • Thumbnail for Introduction / Adobe Color Themes
      Adobe Color Themes (5:35)

      Utilize Adobe Color Themes within Photoshop, connecting all of the previous unpacking methodologies and tools to view and source color palettes in a color grading workflow. Reference existing color schemes with the Adobe Color Themes toolset and manipulate them on the color wheel.

  • 02. Color Grading
    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Unpacking Image 1
      Unpacking Image 1 (6:00)

      Setup a smart object workflow to transition between Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop in a non destructive manner while developing an advanced color grade for an image. Utilize Adobe CC Online to create a palette with accurate color analysis and connect that back to Adobe Color Themes within Photoshop.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Image 1 Edit
      Image 1 Edit (11:53)

      Apply all of the tools and methods of auditing color and apply it to an image grade.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Unpacking Image 2
      Unpacking Image 2 (3:04)

      Re-enforce the application of auditing color to setup a grade for a different image.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Image 2 Edit
      Image 2 Edit (11:11)

      Create three variant grades from the same image applying the principles of auditing color. Learn to create a system of reliably identifying and manipulating color grades, with color schemes helping to assist the creative narrative. Rely on your skillset, instead of filter packs, to communicate with clients in an educated way.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Unpacking Image 3
      Unpacking Image 3 (3:13)

      Learn to unpack color from an image that is overwhelmed with atmospheric light to create a more compelling image and defined story, through a fuller range of color.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Image 3 Edit
      Image 3 Edit (10:11)

      Compare targeted local versus ambient global compliments to enhance an image dominated by atmospheric light.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Unpacking Image 4
      Unpacking Image 4 (5:57)

      Unpack color on one of photographer Kate Woodman's RAW image files and build an approach to a color grade to enhance the story of the image.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Analogous Variant
      Analogous Variant (9:04)

      Edit of photographer Kate Woodman's RAW image files through building a analogous color grade in a strategic approach. Learn to discern the line between using Adobe Camera RAW and Adobe Photoshop to manipulate color. Continue to analyze color with your eye versus the data that photoshop perceives.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Complementary Variant
      Complementary Variant (6:25)

      Edit one of photographer Kate Woodman's RAW image files, to create a complementary color scheme and a new variant from the analogous scheme.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Split Complementary Variant
      Split Complementary Variant (10:14)

      Push the edit on one of photographer Kate Woodman's RAW image files with a split complementary varian grade, creating a dramatically different look and feel, evoking a more commercial aesthetic. Learn the process of running Adobe Camera Raw as a filter.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Unpacking Image 5
      Unpacking Image 5 (10:19)

      Unpack color on one of photographer Kate Woodman's flattened TIFF images, with a completed grade to discover the colors used to create her final image. Unpack 2 palettes from Kate’s finished color grade and the base color of the TIFF file.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Creating Smart Filters
      Creating Smart Filters (7:34)

      Utilize Adobe Camera RAW and a smart object workflow to recreate a color grade from a Kate Woodman original image. Make global image changes to dial in the grade moving towards targeted adjustments after developing a balance of color across the image. Reverse engineer and create the grade non-destructively, primarily in Adobe Camera RAW. Minimize the amount of work on the image within Photoshop’s layer based, rasterized workflow.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Adjusting Smart Filters
      Adjusting Smart Filters (8:36)

      Push more targeted adjustments in Photoshop to recreate a grade on a Kate Woodman original. Using masks in combination with dodging and burning to push highlights and advance the polish of the grade. Apply a smart filter created in previous lessons to a David Parrish image. Analyze the pros and cons of using LUTs

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Applying LUTs
      Applying LUTs (3:48)

      Dissect a commercial grade action containing a beautiful LUT and apply it to one of photographer David Parrish's images.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Recreating LUTs
      Recreating LUTs (6:25)

      Recreate the same look from a a commercial grade LUT for one of photographer, David Parrish's images. Develop your grade from scratch using Adobe Camera RAW and Smart Objects. Develop a macro to micro level approach to dial in the look.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Unpacking Image 6
      Unpacking Image 6 (6:09)

      Combine previous lesson concepts with Adobe Color CC, Themes, and unpacking color for 2 distinct images from photographer, Rob Grimm. Analyze their distinctive color to bring them into the same cohesive “family”.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Matching Image 6
      Matching Image 6 (6:51)

      With good color analysis from the previous section, use the Adobe Camera RAW workflow to create cohesive color grades in the same family for 2 images from photographer, Rob Grimm. Compare exposures and the effects on color. Utilize the adjustment brush within Adobe Camera RAW to make more targeted adjustments.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Unpacking Image 7
      Unpacking Image 7 (5:32)

      Continue to practice the process of unpacking color on 2 distinct images with an athletic theme. Match their color to bring them into the same family. Identify and distinguish local versus ambient color identities to make good decisions when trying to create a palette for matching color grades

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Matching Image 7
      Matching Image 7 (8:33)

      With the understanding of local versus ambient color and solid workflow for extracting color from an image, build a new grade from scratch to create a matching color grade brining 2 distinct athletic images into the same cohesive family.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Color Balance
      Color Balance (4:32)

      Review an image in Adobe Camera RAW, evaluating and adjusting the image to create a sense of balance before manipulating a grade within Photoshop

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Creating Depth
      Creating Depth (7:35)

      Learn how to use color to emphasize space and create depth within an image. Build up a composition in a targeted approach.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Color Variations
      Color Variations (10:54)

      Create a variety of creative looks from a single image and its base grade. Transition back and forth between Photoshop and ACR to develop and push different aspects of color at the core of the image. Utilize selective color to quickly create split tones and a variety of grades,

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Experimental Grade
      Experimental Grade (12:10)

      Create an experimental color grade using a gradient map and tying in the color pallet from Adobe Color Themes. Work through assigning colors to tonal areas of an image, adjusting brightness through the gradient to perfect the grade. Build a dynamic way to create a color grade that is flexible across specific areas of the image. Create a split tone with control and precision. Utilize a high pass action to create a finished look.

    • Thumbnail for Color Grading / Wrap Up
      Wrap Up (1:25)

      Listen to some closing thoughts from retouchist, Sef McCullough, as he recaps the tutorial series, highlighting your progress and the approach you can take going forward in your work with color.


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