Have you ever wondered why movies and TV shows look so different from videos you shoot yourself? Back in the day the reason would be that they were shot on 2 totally different formats. While your personal videos were shot on VHS video tapes, movies and your favorite TV programs were shot on film. Film holds a much wider range on the color spectrum than video. It can also be altered and tinkered with in the developing process.
But today, things have changed. With current technology, many movies and TV shows shoot on the same type of format that is used with consumer cameras. These cameras all shoot in High Definition (HD). But still you might say, "My videos look different than the professional material you see on TV or the big screen." Many factors come into play with this--the lighting, the camera angles, the lenses, the way it's edited--but I believe the biggest element that is overlooked is color correction. You can open any home video editing software program, like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, and find the "color correction" effect or "color curves". These programs have very basic color correction options that will instantly help you see a dramatic effect on the way your videos look.
How To Color Correct Your Videos
What's White Balance, anyway?
When you are ready to give color correction a try, the first thing you want to do is color balance the image. You'll frequently hear photographers and videographers talk about "white balance", which is a type of color balance. When you white balance an image, all of the white objects on the screen will appear white, an all other objects will be adjusted according to these white points. White balance is the starting point for color correction, because it makes all of the different shots of a production look uniform.
Video has a tendency to look flat and the colors overly saturated. To correct this, further color adjustments are necessary. After white balancing, you'll want to bring up the levels on the highlights and then bring down the levels on the darks (shadows), adding more contrast. After you properly adjust the brights and darks, you'll want to adjust the mid levels to a point where everything looks balanced...but not boring.
Now this is where a professional editor or colorist would go in and color grade the video. Color grading involves the process of changing the overall look of the video so that the shots in the entire project look uniform (like they were all filmed on the same day), thus giving productions their own unique look, think "300" or "The Matrix".
Below is an still image from one of Holdcom's video, showing how it looked before and after color correction:
The image on top is what the video looked like straight out of the camera, the image below is what the video looked like after a simple, basic color correction was applied. You'll notice the image on top looks very flat and orange-y, while the image on the bottom looks like it has much more depth. After correction, the skin tones look good and the colors are not overly saturated (orange).
If you're looking for an easy, inexpensive way to make your videos productions look more professional, color correcting should be your first step.