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Color Grading: What Does It Mean To "Crush the Blacks?"


Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase before and been confused. In the color grading world, to “crush the blacks” basically means to completely remove all light from the darkest parts of your composition. Let’s take a closer look at the concept.

Cover image via Alexis Van Hurkman

Depending on who you ask, crushing the blacks in your color grade can be a good or bad stylistic choice. In principle, it is used to make images “pop” more, as the dark parts, which usually retain some elements of light and shading, are “crushed” off the spectrum for complete darkness — thus drawing your eye’s attention to the parts of the image with more information.

Color Grading: What Does It Mean To Crush the Blacks? - Example crushed

Examples of a raw image (top) and one with the blacks crushed (bottom) via Noam Kroll

Regardless of your opinions on the practice, it’s important to understand the concept and how you can either use it or specifically not use it in your projects. Here are some great tutorials that further explain how to work with your shadows and how to get the most out of your color grades.

How to Crush the Blacks for DSLR Footage

This video by Dave Dugdale may be a little old, but the concepts are solid and remain the same. He shows you how to work with the color curves in Sony Vegas Pro, but pretty much any NLE software will give you similar curves control. Moving the curve into an “S” motion will help you crush the blacks and pull up the highlights and give your shot a more cinematic look.

Crushing the Shadows to Reduce Video Noise

In this video by Curtis Judd, he gives some insight and examples into how to create completely crushed black backgrounds in both Adobe SpeedGrade and Adobe Premiere Pro. For those interested in getting the most out of their color grades, SpeedGrade will be your best bet, though the Premiere Pro workflow can be just as handy.

Color Grading Video to Create Cinematic Looks

In Justin Odisho’s approach, we learn how to work within Premiere Pro to adjust colors and contrast by using adjustment layers to create cinematic looks. These looks, which incorporate elements of the dark shadows and brighten highlights, don’t usually fully “crush the blacks,” but the knowledge on how it works will be helpful to you when creating your ideal composition.