Diving into DaVinci

Diving into DaVinci

When working on our most recent film, 50 Summers, we ran into a few problems in the color grade. A few of our interview shoot locations were baseball stadiums — it’s tough to pass up using a lush, green ball field as a backdrop. But these locations created a problem when trying to keep both the subject and background properly exposed. 

Ideally, we would have silked the subject and used the sun as our key light, which would’ve kept the exposure for the subject and background close. Unfortunately, we had a tight schedule with our talent, and it was a very windy day, so we opted to put our subject under an awning and use our lights to balance the foreground and background exposure. The result was not stellar. We had blown out highlights in the background, and the subject was under exposed, but we had an image that was workable. It would just need some extra time in the color grade to rescue the exposure. 

I’ve been using Adobe Premiere Pro as my dedicated editing software for years, and the Lumetri window has been a great addition for color grading. I have a very comfortable Premiere Pro workflow that I’ve developed over the years, so in this instance, it was tough to stray away from a program that I knew. But I wasn’t getting exactly what we needed. 

I’ve been curious about the color grading tools of DaVinci Resolve — an immensely powerful, free editing software (with the option for a $299 premium version). I had been watching DaVinci Resolve tutorials, and felt that its color grading workflow might be what I needed to save this interview. 

Grading Versatility 

The big draw for me was the versatility that DaVinci seemed to offer. I noticed that colorists were able to layer multiple components of their grade and isolate specific changes they were needing to make to particular areas of the frame. For example, being able to bring out the golden tones of a skin color, while pulling the white balance away from being overly warm — basically making opposing grading moves to the skin tones and the white balance. 

I hoped if I could separate my talent and the background, then I could make big corrections to each of them with separate grades. This versatility is gained by using DaVinci Resolve’s node pipeline workflow. When trying to make similarly complex adjustments in Premiere Pro, using its color grading window Lumetri, I find it fails to give me the results I need. 

Power of the Node 

The first, and probably most important, aspect of grading in DaVinci Resolve is working with nodes. Nodes are kind of like layers in Photoshop. They’re containers that house one or multiple functions that make up the color grade. A single node could contain all the changes needed for a color grade: The white balance correction, s-curve for contrast, saturation boost, addition of a LUT, etc. But the real power is being able to spread these actions to different nodes. 

Working with the 50 Summers interview, I was able to select my talent in one node, bring up his exposure and warm up the white balance. Then on a separate node, I had an adjustment for the background, which lowered the exposure and added some blue to the blown-out sky. Working with nodes is probably my favorite aspect of color grading in DaVinci. 

Unfortunately, Premiere Pro doesn’t have a feature like the nodes workflow. I have tried stacking multiple Lumetri effects onto a single clip in an attempt to make specific corrections to a single image. I’ve had some success doing this, but I don’t think Premiere Pro was built to operate in this way. When stacking Lumetri effects, I start experiencing unexpected and unwanted results in my image.

Lost in Choices 

After learning the basics of the node workflow, I had to start getting familiar with the adjustment controls. The difference between some of these controls is not always apparent, and without searching Google and using tutorials, I wasn’t always sure which would give me the result I needed.  

While this does create a steep learning curve, the flip-side to having access to all these subtly different controls gives the ability for a lot of fine-tuning of an image. While DaVinci Resolve is not difficult to use, I feel that color grading in Lumetri’s window is a bit more straightforward and welcoming to someone just starting out.

Making the Switch?

After spending about a month working in DaVinci Resolve for color grading, am I switching to it for all of our color grading? Probably not. 

The 50 Summers interview was a great opportunity to test out DaVinci Resolve, and I’m happy with the result of the color grade. I can see myself using it more and more for color grading, but I’ve been using Premiere Pro for years. I simply have more experience with the platform. If I need to make a quick grade to get out a rough cut, I know the results I can get in Premiere Pro, and I know I’ll get them reasonably quickly. 

Even though I only used DaVinci Resolve for one month, I’ve started to notice that when I start color grading a project in Premiere Pro, I’m quickly looking for the higher level of control I had in Resolve. Eventually, I might switch completely, but for now I think I’ll work in both worlds.

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