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Tutorial: Adjusting Color and Brightness in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

When you compress video for the web, the video can darken and colors can become muted. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to correct color and adjust brightness and color saturation with Adobe Premiere Pro's Fast Color Corrector.

When you compress video for the web, the video can darken and colors can become muted. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to correct color and adjust brightness and color saturation with Adobe Premiere Pro’s Fast Color Corrector. If you’re a Final Cut Pro 7 user, I’ll also show you that Premiere Pro’s tools work very similarly to those that you’re used to and should be much easier to learn than those used in Final Cut Pro X. Let’s take a look.

Figure 1 (below) shows the clip we’ll be working with, which was shot at Streaming Media West in Los Angeles last year. There are two problems: First, the color is a bit off—the sign is white and not brown—and second, my face is a bit too dark. So we’ll fix both of those with the Fast Color Corrector.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 1. The clip we’ll work on, with multiple color issues.

Working in Premiere Pro’s Waveform Monitor

Before adjusting brightness in Premiere Pro, open the Waveform monitor by first selecting Window > Reference monitor. The Reference monitor opens with composite video showing; change it to the Waveform monitor by clicking the Output button and selecting YC Waveform Figure 2 (below).

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 2. Selecting YC Waveform in the Reference monitor.

The Waveform monitor shows the Brightness value of the pixels on a scale from 0–100 IRE, with 0 being black. (The Brightness value of the black you see in Figure 2 is 7.5.) After the adjustments that we’ll make in the Waveform monitor, the black portions of the image will be close to zero and the whites will be close to 100. You can see my face in the Preview Monitor on the right, which is represented by the clump of pixels circled in Figure 3 (below). If I move the video back and forth, that clump of pixels moves as my head moves, which highlights the fact that the horizontal location of the pixels in the video corresponds to where they’re located in the Waveform monitor. So it’s pretty easy to see exactly what you’re adjusting in the Waveform monitor and that’s helpful for a couple of reasons that we’ll discuss throughout the tutorial.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 3. The clump of pixels representing my face in the Waveform monitor.

Now let’s adjust the Waveform. I prefer to show only brightness adjustments so I’ll deselect the Chroma checkbox at the top of the Reference monitor (Figure 4, below).

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Figure 4. Deselecting Chroma so we see only Brightness adjustments represented in the waveform.

I like my blacks to be set at zero IRE, so I’ll click set up and bring the blacks down to 0. I like the intensity set to 100 because it’s easier to read, but these are subjective and you can find the settings that work best for you. When we look at a Waveform, there are two things we care about: First, we want the maximum whites to be up close to 100. Second, we want the blacks to be around zero; once the blacks come off of zero, everything starts to look faded. Whatever adjustments you make, you want to make sure that blacks portions of the image stay at zero, and for a subject in my skin tone range, you want the face to be between 70 and 80 IRE. So when I say the face is too dark, basically what I’m saying is that the values are clumped between 50 and 60 and I would prefer to see them between 60 and 70, or even 65–75.

We need to adjust the face without pulling the blacks off of the 0 IRE value and without boosting the whites way into the 110 or 120 range.

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