Glow as a color tool

I’m off to NAB, so here’s a quick tip that’s short and sweet. Video cameras often have a tough time with certain lighting and color balance situations and render an image with skewed colorimetry. This can yield skin tones that tend to be very monochromatic and pushed into the red-yellow-orange range. The new crop of HDSLRs, like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II can be big offenders, as they normally produce images with high contrast and saturation. These issues can sometimes be fixed through color grading, including using secondary color correction. Sometimes you simply shift the orange tones into a more magenta image, thus ending up with a cure that’s worse than the disease. In my opinion, the skin tone colors are less of an issue, than the monochromatic range of color. In other words, warm tones may be fine if you still can achieve some highlights within the image that give you back a face with some dimensionality.

Click images to enlarge

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I recently cut a commercial for NYPD Pizzeria shot with the Canon 5D that exhibited some of these color issues. One way to achieve better highlights and a broader range of tones on skin is to use a glow filter. Here are some examples using the BorisFX BCC 6 AVX glow filter inside Avid Media Composer. There are numerous glow (or “chromatic glow”) filters on the market, including a number of freebees for FCP. BorisFX’s BCC6 collection is bundled with new Media Composer purchases, so it makes a great fix-it tool in this situation.

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After

The key to success is to really dial back on the default settings. For these shots, I started with the “White Luma Glow” preset. This simply adds a glow to the highlights without also adding color to the edges of the glow effect. Next, you need to adjust the threshold, intensity and radius sliders to taste. The objective is to latch onto the subtle skin highlights that do exist in the image and accentuate them, without making the glow so obvious that it looks like an effect. By doing so, you make the existing highlights a bit brighter and also change the color from yellow-orange to white.

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After

The end result is a face that appears to have some better dimensional lighting. It can tend to make the face look a bit shiny, but I feel this is still preferable to a face that’s a single shade of color. Remember to be SUBTLE in using this effect!

©2010 Oliver Peters