Learn Color Grading: How to Get Started as a Colorist

Do you want to be a colorist, who is responsible for color grading high-profile movies, masterpiece indie films, or commercials? If so, we’re going to tell you what you need to do to start your career as a colorist, how to learn color grading, and how to find jobs in the field. While some may strive to be a famous director or producer and others aim to create incredible visual effects, still others want to get into the less-noticed yet critical role of being a colorist. Colorists give films a signature look, and movies wouldn’t be the same without expert color grading!

What Does a Film Colorist Do?

Colorists are essential to giving movies, TV shows, and videos a distinct and consistent style. All footage has its colors heavily adjusted in post-production. This is often to achieve a certain style or mood, but also to just make the footage look better and more realistic than the video that came directly out of the camera. What would The Matrix be without its green-tinted matrix scenes? What would Mad Max: Fury Road be without its intense oranges?

Color grading is a very important function, and is part of the overall equation that makes a good or immersive film. A horror movie with bright pastel colors won’t have the same effect as one with a dark and gritty look. Colorists are also important for fixing issues with inconsistent lighting, or for making a special effects shot look natural.

Professional colorists work in special rooms with neutral-colored grey walls, ideal lighting, and color-accurate monitors in order to get the most accurate and unbiased color grade.

Preparing to Learn Color Grading

Color grading is not necessarily something that you will learn about with most traditional film education. Most education and many books focus on producing, directing, writing, and sometimes editing. Learning color grading will require you to do your own research and make an effort to go beyond most traditional education.

Color grading and color correction can be done in most editing programs. Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro are two popular options. However, DaVinci Resolve is considered the pinnacle of color grading video editors. However, the program you learn on is not particularly important. The interface may change between programs, but color theory never changes. So no matter which program you use to learn and practice color grading, you should be able to swap to any tool.

Before getting into any formal training, you can start working with preset LUTs to get an eye for what looks good and what doesn’t, on different footage. Read our roundup of the best DaVinci Resolve LUTs for color grading!

Best Resources for Learning Color Grading

Trial and error can be a great way to learn. But luckily there are a ton of resources, ranging from free to paid, that can help teach you this skill.

The best place to start is usually YouTube! There are a ton of different tutorials to be found on YouTube, and you should watch multiple videos to get a variety of perspectives. This 45-minute long crash course is a great way to get your feet wet with color grading. It uses DaVinvi Resolve, the standard in color grading. Resolve is also free, so it’s the best place to start if you’re new to editing and aren’t sure how much you want to invest upfront. This video will cover the basics of the program itself as well as some basics about how color grading works.

Mixing Light is a website dedicated to color grading, so you can be sure that what you find here will serve you well. They have several plans. The base plan costs $24/month and gives you access to the website’s massive library of tutorials and video guides. The next plan costd $244/year (or about $20/month) and grants access to downloading content as well as special member offers. They also sell one-time courses with a range of prices. This resource lets you learn color grading at your own pace, and it’s taught by professional colorists! One of the most compelling things they offer is pre-built projects to practice each lesson on. Learn more about Mixing Light by clicking here.

mixing light color grading

How to Get a Job as a Colorist

Getting a job in the color grading field can be rewarding and challenging, and it’s easy to get led astray. Here are our steps for becoming a professional colorist.

  1. Don’t learn color grading in school. If your film school teaches color grading, it probably won’t be the most cost-effective way to learn. You can learn everything you need to know about color grading from free or inexpensive resources. It is a skill that you’ll do best at if you learn it at your own pace and can work with your own examples.
  2. After you feel comfortable with your color grading skills, you need some real-world experience. Your first round of projects likely won’t yield much income, but they are essential to building a portfolio. If nothing else, you might be able to seek out student films that are looking for unpaid volunteers to help out. These films might not be shot very well. This will also make it an additional challenge and learning opportunity for you. Indie filmmakers may also not have a large budget for a colorist and will be willing to spend their small budget on a less-experienced colorist like yourself. If you’re lucky, you might find some great recurring clients right away, but don’t count on that.
  3. Look for jobs at post-production companies. You probably won’t land a job as a colorist on day one. But what you will get is an environment of professional post-production experts. You’ll also be around professional-level gear and maybe able to use some of it. Make sure you let it be known that color grading is your primary point of interest. If you do well as a post-production assistant or other entry-level job, then you might be high on the list when the senior colorists need extra help or a full-time assistant.
  4. Stay in the know and build a portfolio. While color theory doesn’t change, the programs, tools, trends, and lingo might. You should stay abreast of any changes in the color grading community so that you’re always on the cutting edge. And while you’re growing, make sure you have a stunning portfolio or sizzle reel to show off to potential clients and employers.
  5. Surround yourself with talented filmmakers. Even if you’re the best colorist in the world, your work won’t be properly appreciated if it shows itself on sub-par movies and projects. If you strive to surround yourself and work with quality filmmakers, then you may be able to work on better and better projects! If you have the color grading skills and the networking skills, you’ll be asked to be the colorist on various projects, and build up your portfolio.

Getting Started as a Colorist

Color grading is a fantastic field to get into. Compared to being an editor, director, or writer it is a less popular role to go into. But it’s growing fast and there is always a demand for a colorist with a great eye for detail. If you want to get started with color grading and need an introductionto DaVinci Resolve, check out our basics guide below!

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