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Discover how color correction vs color grading affects your photos.

The process of capturing the best photo does not stop with the perfect point and shoot shot. As the saying goes, the real magic happens in post. More specifically, some of the biggest changes happen during the color correction or the color grading phase.  If you have ever wondered how some photos achieve a specific ambiance you just can’t mimic even with the best gear or perhaps you find yourself thinking why the genre of a movie seems to affect the kind of colors you see in each frame, then this guide is perfect for you. Learn the difference between color correction and color grading as well as how best to apply both to your photos so you can bring out their full potential!

Color Correction vs Color Grading: What Are They?

Many people confuse the two terms, thinking they are interchangeable. However, this is not the case. Think of color correction vs grading not as two similar process but as consecutive steps. The first step to understanding the difference between color correction and color grading is being able to understand what they are. Both color correction and grading are actually processes that belong under the color workflow phase of post-processing raw photos. As a rule of thumb, professional photos should at least have color correction performed before submission, while color grading is a process that comes after first pass of a color corrected photo.

What is Color Correction?

Applicable to both film and photography, color correction is all about adjusting the colors, so they look true to life and accurate to the naked eye. One of the simplest ways to explain this process is how you should use it in correcting your blacks and your whites. Depending on the circumstances when a photo is shot, the colors within an image can look ‘incorrect’. What should be deep blacks can look more like washed out greys, or perhaps what should look like pure, clean white can look like an off shade of cream instead. By applying preliminary color correction to your photo, the image can look much truer to color as if the viewer were seeing the subject in person.

Despite being its own process, there are many ways to implement color correction. An experienced photo retoucher or photographer would know how to play around with the saturation and warmth, as well as the brightness and contrast of their photo for an image that is as close to reality as possible.

What are Examples of Color Correction?

E-Commerce or Product Photography

One of the most common and most valuable examples of color correction application is any form of e-commerce photography. Products, especially those with an aesthetic aspect such as properties, clothing, and cosmetics, must be captured in a flattering way that entices the customers. After this, they must be color corrected so as to set customer expectations. When presenting products to our market, it is important that the customers know and gets exactly what they paid for. By applying color correction consistently to the images that businesses use for their e-commerce, marketing materials and product pages, customers can rest easy knowing that the products they are interested in will look just like the ones used in these assets.

Portrait Photography

Portrait Photography requires a keen eye for color correction, especially for spot correcting any discoloration. Harsh studio lights or poor camera settings can make perfectly healthy black hair look greying and dull. On the other hand, great photos can be ruined by how the shot makes great teeth look more yellow than white, or a zit that chose that specific day to flare up. By color correcting these small details, you can transform a portrait photo from drab to fab while giving your client a serious confidence boost.

What is Color Grading?

Now that you know what color correction is, it’s time to find out more about color grading. The difference between color correction and color grading lies in their order and effect. Color grading always comes after color correction. This is because you can only start play around with an image’s color once you have corrected the hues within it to be accurate and balanced. Versus color correction, color grading is all about using color to create an artistic ambiance or to tell a story. Color grading is supposedly rooted in the science of color theory.

The roots of this colorful science are a little unclear. Though Sir Isaac Newton discovered the color spectrum, ancient civilizations all over the world have long considered color to affect one’s mood. However, the first person to pen any academic literature on the matter was the German statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In his work called the Theory of Color, the politician-artist went over how color affects our psyche, and how colors innately possess their own nature and function. These ideas have continued to prevail and develop over time. In the period of modern science, the renowned psychiatrist and father of art therapy Carl Jung argued that “colors are the mother tongue of the subconscious”. Since its pioneering, color psychology has seen use in corporate and artistic fields. From marketing material to film, the use of color psychology has seen the application in the form of color grading to evoke specific human emotions or ideas.

What are Examples of Color Grading?


Some of the most popular applications of color grading exist in film. Films by Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro use dark, dreary colors that instill the audience with a sense of dread, sadness, or fear and foreboding. On the other hand, color grading can be used to completely transform a setting into something it is not. Films like the Martian explore this by applying high saturation and warmth to a regular valley filled with rock formations. Color grading can also communicate a sense of style by a director or photographer. Wes Anderson does this seamlessly, creating a whimsical, almost vintage pastel lens for the audience as seen in his many works of varying genres. From the hilariously thrilling wartime whodunnit, the Grand Budapest Hotel, to the French Dispatch which chronicles the stories from the final issue of an American magazine based in France— Wes Anderson films make consistent use of the same palettes.

Product Photography in Advertising

Unlike e-commerce, which requires you to showcase exactly what the customer will get, examples of color grading in advertising can be used to tell a story of a particular product such as a seasonal special for food, or perhaps a new fashion collection for the shifting seasons. Images of food in advertising tend to be subjected to warmer color grading and high saturation. This is because deep oranges, reds, and yellows create a more appetizing appearance—evoking feelings of hunger and excitement. On the other hand, brand stories for beauty and fashion can utilize color grading to tell a story about a new release, while balancing it out to present products accurately and as true to color as possible.

We hope that this short guide to differentiating color grading versus color correction will help you in applying post-processing edits to your photos or breathing new life into old ones. If you have saved photos from important moments in your life, partner with photo retouching experts for their image enhancement services. However, if you are a professional or hobbyist photographer that is still learning the ropes of post-processing, avail of photo editing services for photographers in the meantime so you can still deliver for your clients as you learn the ropes.

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