The same model has been used for color grading for 40 years. However, new ideas are being added to make editing your color faster and easier.
The control of lift / gamma / gain for color correction has been more or less standard for 40 years, so a large group of online colorists is even named after them. However, it’s easy to forget that they aren’t the only model for manipulating colors. They’re not even the first popular format in film.
Prior to the control balls and buttons we know so well, the Hazeltine color time machine had three “Price Is Right” style wheels that controlled red / cyan, green / magenta, and yellow / blue.
The interfaces are evolving and we’re seeing more and more experiments with color interfaces. While Final Cut X’s “Color Board” wasn’t quite on the rise (although some love it, they eventually started offering traditional color wheels), there’s a very fresh version in Photon by Color.io that’s well worth it to be looked at.
When you pull up an image in Photon, instead of lift / gamma / gain circles or contrast / exposure controls or other familiar elements, you get a 3D shape that represents the color of the image. Clicking on the shape or on the image itself allows you to move the mouse around and drag to edit the image. The vertical axis is the lightness of your image and the blobs of color in a color wheel in all directions.
You just right click on the shape and push or drag, and the image scrolls with your input. All of this is done with spatial color smoothing, which avoids streaking errors when moving the image.
Photon was also designed as a tool for creating and editing your existing LUTs.
While we often talk about a tool like Lattice for editing LUTs, this wonderful tool mainly focuses on combining LUTs and changing formats. If you have a LUT that does almost what you want, but not quite, you can photon edit it.
You can bring in external LUTs, edit them with the 3D tool, and then export them as new LUTs.
One thing that comes up a lot when teaching color grading to beginners is, “Why can’t I just click on the vectorscope and drag it around?” It’s refreshing to see someone create a tool that basically does that.
You get a digital display that resembles a 3D combination of a waveform monitor and a vectorscope, and you can just move the values around so they are where you want them. It really doesn’t take much time to get used to the user interface, even after decades of working with the traditional lift / gamma / gain controls, and it allows for quick image tweaks.
It might be nice if we could get a scale like the vectorscope scale that is added to the 3D model so we can see if our color map ends up where it should, but that’s something that can be easily added in the future .
The standalone app only works with still images, but that’s still useful for filmmakers when creating LUTs for on-set image manipulation. You can quickly dial into exactly the look you want and then export that LUT for easy use in a situation in the camera or on the monitor. There is a plug-in for Resolve, but unfortunately it doesn’t currently work on M1 Macs. Photon itself runs fine on M1 Macs and we hope that the plugin for Resolve will be updated soon.