Pro Tips, Tutorials

Basic Color Correction and Grading in DaVinci Resolve


DaVinci Resolve is very powerful free software for color correcting and grading your footage, but a lot of people find it confusing and complicated. This overview of Resolve’s Color Page will clear things up, so you can start color correcting and grading your clips in no time.

This article assumes that you already have prior knowledge on how to grade clips in other software like Premiere Pro, Avid, and FCPX, so I won’t talk about video scopes and other color correction essentials. If you need to get started from a more elementary level, check out our post on Color Correction Basics Using Adobe Premiere before continuing.

Related Post Color Correction Basics Using Adobe Premiere

We’ll start by reviewing the different components of the Resolve interface. The Color Page in Resolve has several areas that work together to let you grade your clips quickly and easily:


1. The Interface Toolbar

The Interface Toolbar allows you to hide and show different sections of the Color Page. It has buttons for the Gallery, Timeline, Clips, Nodes, OpenFX, and Lightbox. Inactive panels have a muted button in the Interface Toolbar.


2. The Gallery

In the upper left corner is the Gallery. This is where you store still frames that you can use as a reference when you’re grading and matching your clips in the timeline. Grabbed stills also contain grades which you can copy to other clips.


3. The Viewer

The Viewer displays the frame of the current position of your playhead in your timeline so you can see what you’re grading. The Viewer also allows you to do (1) Image Wipes and (2) Split Screens to help you with color matching, and refine your secondary color corrections by viewing your selections through the (3) Highlight view. You can also toggle between three other different types of viewers — these are the Enhanced Viewer (Alt/Option + F), Full Screen Viewer (Shift + F), and Cinema Viewer (Command/Ctrl + F).


4. The Node Editor

This is where you build your color-correction node tree. You can use a single node tree for basic color correction tasks, or use multiple nodes for more complex color-grading jobs. Nodes are connected linearly from left to right. There are different types of nodes — Serial, Parallel, Layer, Outside, and RGB Splitter — the most basic of which is the Serial Node.


5. The Timeline

In the middle of the screen is the Timeline. It provides you different means of navigating the clips in your project. You can view a Thumbnail timeline by making sure that “Clips” is active the Interface Toolbar. A Mini-timeline is also available and can be viewed by making sure that “Timeline” is active in the Interface Toolbar. The thumbnail timeline can show you if your clip has been graded, the source timecode, clip number, and track number, and whether it’s been flagged. It can also display either the codec, clip name, or versions of your grades.


6. Left Palette

In the lower left corner is the Left Palette. This panel consists of various set of tools for doing primary adjustments for contrast, color, and the processing of RAW files. These panels are accessed by clicking the corresponding icons at the top of the panel.


7. Center Palette

The Center Palette features additional tools with different functionality. They can be used in combination with the primary adjustments from the Left Palette, and include Curves, Qualifier, Power Windows, Tracker, Blur, Key, Sizing, and Stereoscopic 3D Palettes.


8. Keyframe Editor, Video Scopes, and Information

On the lower right of the interface is where you can find the Keyframe Editor, Videoscopes, and Information. You can switch between these palettes by selecting their appropriate icons.


Correcting and Grading

Now that you have a general idea of the interface, let’s grade a clip, so you can see more clearly how every panel works together. All the clips that I’ll be working with are by Pond5 artist rotator, starting with this Pond5 Exclusive video clip of a group of friends in a rice field:

Group Of Friends Walks Through Rice Field by rotator

Resolve allows you to tweak Camera RAW settings if you have a RAW file, and since this clip is available as an R3D file, I did just that. I changed the color science to IPP2, the color space to REDColor4, and Gamma Curve to REDlog Film. Another option is to use color management for your whole project and set the color science to either DaVinci YRGB, DaVinci YRGB Color Managed, ACEScc, or ACEScct.

Now we have a very flat image to start with and we can begin grading. Take note, though, that you don’t have to do this. It’s just a personal preference of mine to use really flat looking clips.

I’ll only be doing some basic grades here, because my aim for this tutorial is to show you how to use DaVinci Resolve in your own color-grading tasks.

Using the Primaries Wheels, I’ll do a primary grade on the first node — it’s always a great idea to start with a base color correction before adding a look to your clips.

Another practice that I highly recommend is to properly label your nodes. As you grade, you’ll notice that you’re adding more and more nodes on your clips. It’s much easier to know what each node is doing if they’re properly labeled. To add a label to your node, right-click on it, choose Node Label, and type in a name.

I can now add a Look, because I’ve already created a basic color correction. I’ll add a new Serial Node by right-clicking on my first node, then going to Add Node and choosing Serial. You can think of a Serial Node as a new correction that you put on top of your previous correction. As a practice, it’s always a good idea to create your look on a separate node.

I increased the Temperature and adjusted the Lift, Gamma, and Gain to add a warm look to my clip. You’ll find the Temperature Control in the shared adjustment controls at the bottom part of the Left Palette. Take note that there are two pages, and each gives you different controls.

Now, this looks great, but I want a bluer sky, so I’ll do a secondary color correction by adding another node. I’ll right-click on my Look node, then go to Add Node and choose Parallel Node.

You’ll notice that there’s a new node under my existing node, and both of them are using the same source input. The output of these two nodes then goes to a parallel mixer node. A Parallel Mixer combines the outputs of two or more nodes into a single output.

While the new node is selected, I’ll go to my Qualifiers. My mouse pointer will change into an eye-dropper and I’ll click on the sky to key it, then tweak the key using the Hue, Saturation, and Luma values in the Qualifier palette.

My sky is a bit on the yellowish side because of the look applied. This would be a difficult task to key out, but using a Parallel Node allows me to use my primary color-corrected node as the source of my input to easily create keys, since I’m using the color information from the first node for keying.

You can view your Key by turning on the Highlight Wand icon. The three icons on the upper right of the Viewer give you different ways of viewing your key. I’m using the “Highlight B/W” option so that I can see a black-and-white image of my matte.

I noticed that some of the shirts in the clip are also getting keyed out, so I need to add a mask to only select the sky. In Resolve, a mask is called Windows or Power Windows. Making sure my new node is selected, I added a Linear Window< and resized it to fit select the entire sky. I also added some softness to it, so there would be a more natural transition to the horizon.

I lowered my Gamma a bit and increased the values of Saturation and Color Boost to get a bluer sky.

One final thing that I’ll add to this grade is a simple vignette, so that I can give more focus to the girl in front. Select the Layer Mixer node, then right-click on it, choose “Add Node,” and select “Add Serial.” Add a Circle window to your new node and resize it. Lastly, invert the window, so that you’re affecting only the areas outside of the circle. Now you can reduce the value of the Gamma to your personal taste.

Here’s what this clip looks like before and after color grading in Resolve:


Applying Your Color Grade to Other Clips

Now that we’ve finalized our grade, we can also apply it to other clips. Resolve has a very fast and efficient way of doing this. Right-click on the viewer and choose Grab Still to create a still in the Gallery.

Select all ungraded clips in your timeline by shift-clicking on the thumbnails. Click on the created still in the Gallery, then right-click and choose “Apply Grade.” This works even better if you have a three-wheel mouse. You can use the third button to apply your grade much more quickly to other clips.

Resolve applies the node tree and grade from the still to the selected clips on the timeline.


Creating a Basic Bleach Bypass Look

One of the classic looks in films is the Bleach Bypass. And this is something that is very easy to do in Resolve. Let’s apply this style to another Pond5 Exclusive clip from the same series by rotator.

Group Of Friends Walks Through Rice Field by rotator

First, create a Primary grade on your first node, then right-click on this node and add a new Serial Node.

Rename that new node, then add another node, this time choosing a Layer Node.

You’ll notice that Layer Nodes look a bit similar to Parallel Nodes. The main difference is that they have a layering order, with the lower nodes given priority. The Layer Mixer also gives you the ability to create blending modes.

I renamed my second node as “Partial,” then lowered the saturation value to 35. I selected my lowest node, and set the saturation to zero. Next, I selected the Layer Mixer and set the blending mode to Softlight.

And here’s the before and after of our shot:


Creating a Color Discordance Look

If you’ve seen Schindler’s List or Pleasantville, you should be familiar with this look. Using this kind of grading style helps a lot to bring focus to a specific element in a particular shot.

Create a Primary grade, then add a new Serial Node. While your second node is selected, open the Qualifier Palette and select an element on your viewer. In this shot, I chose the woman’s bandana. I also switched into “Highlight” view so that I can see my Key.

You’ll notice that the dress of the person behind her is also getting selected. A quick and easy fix to this is to create a Curved Window and create a selection around the bandana.

The people are walking in the shot, so I need to track the Curved Window, as well. The Color Page has a built-in tracker that’s really fast and powerful. Just go to the Tracker Palette and, depending on where your playhead is, you can either start tracking your shot forward or backward.

The bandana is also swinging in and out behind the girl, which would be a little more difficult to track automatically, so I decided to do this manually. First, I created a new curve mask by pressing the Curve Window icon with a plus sign. I then selected the other parts of the bandana, opened my Tracker palette, and changed the mode to “Frame.” Now, I simply move the window accordingly so that I can follow the bandana tail movement on my own. You’ll also notice that there are keyframes generated every time I adjust my window.

Now that I have everything set up, I’ll add a new node, and this time, add an Outside Node. The outside node reverses the alpha or matte of the previous node. This gives you more flexibility, rather than just reversing your window, because you can manipulate the colors of each node separately.

To make a really good black-and-white image, we’ll use the RGB Mixer instead of just reducing the saturation of this shot. Open the RGB Mixer palette, then check the Monochrome checkbox to make everything black and white. I’ll also adjust the sliders for my RGB channels, so that I can add a nicer contrast to the shot.

And here’s how our final grade looks:

We’ve covered a lot in this tutorial, including tracking and almost all of the nodes available in Resolve. Hopefully this makes DaVinci Resolve feel easier to learn. I mostly just used the basic tools in the Color Page here, so imagine what you can do when you start using the more advanced tools. DaVinci Resolve is free and you can download it through the Blackmagic Design website.