colour grading

What I learnt about freelancing full time (and other things)

Two years ago as part of my recovery from post-natal depression, my husband resigned and become a stay-at-home dad and I went back to work, this time dedicating 5 days a week to freelancing.  Work-wise, I could do whatever I liked, whenever I liked, for the first time in what felt like forever. 

I did now however, have the sole responsibility of bringing home the bacon as they say, to support our new family of four.  There’s nothing like survival mode to get you out of bed in the morning.  After having two stints of maternity leave in the previous 4 years (plus an unplanned 65 day stay in hospital in another country while pregnant), I felt frustrated that as a woman my career had to be so interrupted.  I had worked really hard to become a busy freelance colourist in Sydney prior to to all of this, and so now, I was going to go back to work with gusto.  It was my time.

To help me along the way I became a bit of a podcast fiend.  Inspirational and motivational podcasts were my new soundtrack.  If Brene Brown, Tony Robbins or Lewis Howes mean anything to you, then you know what I’m talking about.  They became my mentors.  Lots of people think it’s all a bit woo-woo, talking about the universe and manifestation but I love that shit and if you ever want to sit in my suite and nerd out about any of this stuff I’m your woman!!  One thing I learnt (thanks Tony) was that the secret to happiness and abundance is giving away. 

It was during a particularly slow couple of weeks of work where I put this idea of ‘giving away to become abundant’ to the test.  For my mental health I also needed to be busy.   I decided to offer free colour grading to female filmmakers who needed support.  For a myriad of reasons I wanted to support women in particular and I received over 100 applications from all over the country.  Filmmakers who were trying to get their films made with limited time and resources… this was the definition of inspiring.  Without hesitation, Rob Saroff at ZIGZAG Post said yes when I asked if he would provide the facility for me, he said he would even contribute all of the online editing.  I learnt about the power of generosity and friendship.  I met filmmakers like Imogen Thomas who were crowdfunding to make a debut feature film.  With such a deep sense of duty to the people of the Brewarrina community, Imogen taught me about perseverance and stoicism in the face of unrelenting challenges.  The colour grading initiative gave me a renewed love for our screen industry, for it’s filmmakers and cemented the idea that I wanted and needed to be involved in something greater than myself.

If you have seen me at an event it may surprise you to read that I too hate networking.  I learnt to reframe it as “making friends”.  I decided that most people have an interesting story to tell and the best bit is that we all have something in common already which is our love of creating for the screen.  So I decided to actively try and make new friends (nerd!) but when you’re open to that it becomes a lot more enjoyable.  I decided to invite some of these new friends for coffee or lunch, because now I had 5 days a week to do with them what I pleased.  I’d email people and let them know that I really enjoyed meeting them, which was true.

The universe brought filmmaker Monica Davidson into my life.  I colour graded her film and then, oh, Monica also runs an amazing business advisory service?  Would I like to go?  Umm.. YASS!  Monica taught me the practical things like getting a business bank account and some accounting software but she also planted a seed in my head.  That I could get an employee.  With a zest for life and confidence to boot, Monica served it up to me straight.  I loved the way she rocked her own business, embraced her femininity and infused her gregarious personality into work.  

Don’t get me wrong, the universe also served up some douchebags.  Ones who made me feel the size of a pea and even angry.  I learnt that these moments can be valuable fuel to add to the fire in your belly.  To be underestimated can be the most motivating factor of all. 

My biggest professional fear has always been that I was not technical enough to be a colourist.  I didn’t want my own studio and all the technical maintenance that came with it, but Heather Galvin (freelance online-editor and friend) had her own Flame and I found inspiration in her.  I bought my own high-end colour grading studio.  I learnt that we all have our strengths and weaknesses and just because I didn’t particularly want to talk about LUT’s and Codec’s and RAM and GPU’s didn’t mean that I was not good enough.  I could talk all day about story, emotion, colour, art, life and I realised that this was my strength.  So I embraced it.  I named it and now I’m not afraid of it anymore.  I have some awesome friends on speed-dial (the ones whose eyes light up at the mention of a tech gadget) and I’ll just be over here catching zzz’s while they do their thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I know what I need to know and can troubleshoot my kit, but just because I can’t explain the internal workings of my Sony Oled does not mean I don’t know exactly how an image will or will not break up when I play with it.  Everyone has their strength and their own uniqueness.  No one can do what you can do, and no one can do what I can do.

I’d become really deflated if I heard someone else got chosen for a job.  My mentors taught me that you can’t be all things to all people.  That other people’s success does not diminish your achievements.  Also, that there is plenty of work to go around! In order to generate more work I decided to learn about business, so I became a business book fiend.  Step in mentors Michael Gerber, Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson.  A whole new rake of podcasts became my teachers including Lady Start Ups and Being Boss.

So two years after throwing myself into this full time freelancing lark, and after all the things I have learnt, I have decided to start my own, big grown-up business.

On 1 July I am launching her.  Like all the best things in life, the thought of it gives me a visceral feeling.. it makes me equally ecstatic and like I want to throw up.  If it all goes pear-shaped, that’s ok too because my mentors have some really good quotes about failure (ha!). I’m going to take what I’ve learnt and go at it with gusto.  If other people can do it why can’t I?  Let’s do this people!!

I’M HIRING! Assistant Colourist wanted.

I am looking for someone based in Brisbane to assist me on a casual basis in my colour grading studio.  Depending on skill set the role may include prepping Da Vinci Resolve projects and doing preliminary base grading.  Ideally I would find someone who I could train up and mentor into the role of a colourist.  Yay! 

The role will also include administrative support and running errands.  Must be just as happy to do grading, rendering or running to the post office to send hard drives! 

Would suit recent Film and TV graduate or someone looking to move into colour grading from editing or cinematography.  Technical prowess is secondary to a warm and positive attitude, hard work ethic and great communication skills.  Must be highly motivated, a fast learner and lovely to be around!     

A sensitivity to colour, an eye for detail and a background in photography, cinematography or a visual medium will be a big advantage.

I encourage applications of ethnic and gender diversity.

If you are interested please write me a covering letter and attach your CV (with 2 work references) to by Friday 1 March 2019.

colourist balls

What are those colourist balls all about?

Ahhh the balls.  Ok. So let me first put in a disclaimer that yes, the fact that I play with balls all day is one of the oldest colourist jokes around! There is no way around this occupational faux pas.

We play with 3 balls on a colourist console, and they each have a spin-able ring around them.  The balls affect the colour.  The rings affect the brightness.


The left ball is for “lift” (shadows/blacks), the middle ball is for “gamma” (midtones/middle of the road colours that are neither dark or bright) and the right ball is “gain” (highlights/whites/bright colours).  By moving a ball in a certain direction you can push one range of colours toward a different range of colours. For example moving the “lift” ball from left to right will push any yellowy shadows toward more bluey coloured shadows.  Moving the “gamma” ball from left to right will make yellow midtones move toward blue (ie. taking some yellow out of skin tones and cooling it off toward blue). The left/right/up/down movement of the ball mirrors a vector scope. When I was starting out I drew a diagram like this below so that I could remember which way to push the balls! Quickly it becomes second nature.  In the early days during some particularly busy grading weeks I had been known to go to sleep, eyes closed but moving my eyeballs around to make different colours in my dreams.  Now there is a cool and weird colourist confession if I ever heard one!


This diagram replicates a vectorscope (an electronic tool we use to measure hue and saturation).  You push the balls in the direction you want to get either red, green, blue, yellow, magenta or cyan.

Now for the rings.  By moving each ring to the left, you wind it down/lessen the brightness of that parameter (either the shadows, mids, or highlights). By moving each right to the right you wind it up/crank it/brighten that parameter (either the shadows, mids, or highlights).


You can colour grade without a console and it’s balls/rings and just use a mouse. The software usually has little colourful ball diagrams so you can drag your mouse from left to right on the each ball and do it that way. The beautiful thing about a console however, is that it means that you can use your two hands to intuitively move and spin the balls and rings to get your desired effect. When you change one parameter it effects another eg. Lifting the shadows will slightly lift the midtones also. Everything flows and is connected. So by using your hands it really becomes more like an art form in my opinion, very instinctive and reactive and I really love this bit about grading.


Next time you’re in my suite, ask me for a spin!

How to make your videos look better in 2019

1.  Light. Light. Light. Light. It’s all about light.  Without it we would literally have no image.  Look for interesting light to capture… filtered, speckled, coloured, soft, dappled, twilight, harsh, glittering and glorious light.  Capture the contrast between light and shade and this will make your image more dynamic.  If the natural light is not interesting enough cut some of it out and create dark shadows.  Make sure your character has an eye-light – every character needs a light and a twinkle in their eye no matter how dark the scene is.  If you are filming a dark scene, light it up and put light into those shadow details then bring the exposure back down in the grade.  There is no coming back from an underexposed shot and your image may break up with noise.  Hire a good cinematographer!  She/he is worth their weight in gold.

2.  Create a visual mood board of the look that you want before your start shooting.  Show your collaborators and have this on hand when you’re making decisions on costume, location and set design.  Show your cinematographer and your colourist so that every one knows your intention and can aim for the same visual goal.  This planning and preparation will help make your videos look better – if you are wanting a soft colour palette then make sure your lead character or presenter is not wearing a black shirt or a bright, bold red dress.

3.  Stay away from cream walls as a backdrop.  If you’re shooting a documentary interior try and find a wall nearby with some colour or some pattern.  If it’s an interview set up give the shot depth by having them stand in the foreground of a location with a background with objects at different heights (buildings, trees etc).  If you have a stationary subject create depth and interest by adding something in the background which can be out of focus like a coloured curtain, a vase, a sculpture, or a painting.  Cream walls also make it more difficult to pull out/isolate some subject’s skin tones and it limits the separation between background and foreground.  We want a good separation between background and foreground so avoid cream and go find a wall of a different colour or pattern, or if you have time and budget paint the wall!


4.  Limit zooming in on full frame shots during the edit unless very necessary for the story.  Zooming in on a shot reduces the quality of that shot no matter what the source resolution.

5.  Leave enough time in the filmmaking process for the final finishing.  Lock your edit (!) and let the VFX, the sound and colour department have time to craft their magic.  This is the best part (in my biased opinion!) so try and avoid crazy finishing deadlines and soak up the wonderful experience of putting the icing on the cake.  Great finishing will elevate your video and make it look infinitely better.  

ASK THE COLOURIST: PART 2 – Featuring “Magenta”, “Warm it up” and “Softer”

In Part 1 it was explained how this series of blog posts would aim to unpack some colour grading language and turn it into easily understandable terms.  I had some great feedback about “Crush the Blacks? Split the Diff? and How to make something Fluro?”.  Reminder to email me at if you have any terms or questions you would like me to decode or answer.  Here’s the next instalment!


Magenta is basically a fancy pants word for the shade between red and blue.  A purpley-pink.  This word is often thrown around in a grade suite if the skin tones look too pink or red, someone might say “it has too much magenta”.  Poor magenta gets a bad wrap… no one likes magenta!  As a colourist when you pull magenta out of the image you are increasing the green, (decreasing one colour increases the complimentary colour) so often when you pull the magenta out you do it just slightly because no one wants a green image either.  Pulling magenta out of skin tone and going toward green will make it less red and more yellowy instead.  No one wants a ruddy skin tone and often too much magenta in an image can be very undesirable.    

Image with a lot of magenta in it
Image with less magenta in it


All images are basically on a scale of warm through to cool.  A warm image is literally in the realm of red, orange and yellows.  It is probably lit by tungsten (artificial lamps) or candlelight.  A cool image on the other hand is in the world of blues.  It might be lit by natural daylight which is actually blue compared to artificial interior lights.  In advertising warm images can be more appealing and pleasant so being directed to “warm it up” is quite common.  Skin tones are warm by nature and it’s really important to get warmth in the skin tones in most cases so the character looks healthy and well.  As a colourist who needs to warm up an image, depending on the image you are working on you can add yellow/orange to the midtones (which will usually affect the skin tones), highlights (skies, brightest parts of image) or shadows (blacks).  The most common thing to do would be to warm up the midtones/skin tones, and increasing yellow/orange means decreasing blues.

Image which would be considered ‘cool’
Warmed up


Making an image softer has nothing to do with focus and should not be confused with soft focus.  We always want sharp images (unless you are doing a drunken POV for example!) and the sharply focused image can have a soft feeling to it.  You can make an image “softer” a few different ways.  In practical terms it can be executed by decreasing contrast, lifting blacks, rolling off highlights.  You could also desaturate any jarring colours so they were not so bold and strong.  Also slightly blurring the picture or a part of the picture if the pixels looks too sharp.  Often Go-Pro’s are too sharp and will need to be softened to match other shots in the sequence if they are not Go-Pro.  The effect of ‘softening” can make the image more pleasant, feminine, flowing, cozy and “nice”.  The opposite of making an image softer is making it more “punchy”, hard, harsh or crisp.  Examples of commercials that feel soft are usually baby-related ads, life insurance ads and ad’s for fabric softener!  

A harsher image
A softer image

ASK THE COLOURIST: PART 1 – Featuring “What is crush the blacks?”, “Split the diff?” and “How to make something fluro?”

Hello and welcome to my first Q & A post!  Shout out to my girls at the ‘Free the Bid’ workshop last weekend who submitted the content for this post and some of the future ASK THE COLOURIST posts.  If you have a piece of terminology or a phrase that you have heard thrown around in a colour grading session and you have no idea or a vague idea what it means, feel free to email it to me at  No judgement here and all will be anonymous.  The goal is that next time someone geeks out about LUT’s or codec’s in your session, you can have the confidence and knowledge to know exactly what they’re talking about and why it does or doesn’t matter to the actual story at play!


Disclaimer: I will try and decode any jargon in my answers!



This is often used to describe a style which is heavy on the blacks (read: dark blacks, deep shadows) and you will often see this look in an action film or gritty, grungey work.  If the luminance (brightness) in your image is made up of whites through to black and all the colours in between, the bottom end of the luminance channel (the “toe”) which means the light shadows, the shadows, the dark shadows and the black would all be crushed down to a black level. Often some details in the shadows can be lost but perhaps those details aren’t important.  The overall effect of crushing the blacks is often a hard look.  Sometimes it can feel cinematic because in the cinema there is the scope for the picture to be darker (dark environment means our eyes just and we can see more in the shadows).  The opposite to crushing the blacks would be to pull more detail out of the shadows and sit the shadows up.  The image will feel lighter and not so heavy.  Examples of works which do not crush the blacks are commercials for baby related products like nappies, hygiene/cleaning products and romantic movies!  Examples of works which often crush the blacks are action films, horror and hard hitting drama.

This still from Narcos Mexico has “crushed blacks”. The shadow areas have been crushed down to black and detail has been lost. However the overall effect which is gained is that the scene looks gritty, the room looks dingey and the emotion that you can see in the lit part of the character’s face is emphasised as it’s the only part we can see.



Splitting the difference between one look and another is literally going half way between the two looks.  In our colour grading software there is an option to set the output to 50%, but if we don’t want to get so technical about it the colourist can just do it by eye.  An example may be adding a heavy sepia look to the image, splitting the diff would be reducing that look back by 50% to where we were before and not going so hard on it.



I wonder if this question means fluro colour or fluro lighting?  Best thing to do is use fluro/neon coloured clothing or lights from the get go.  Failing that we would crank (increase) the saturation of the object but also crank the luminance/brightness.  You could twist any primary colours of red, green, blue to lighter/brighter versions.  Cool thing about fluro colours is you get those really unique candy pinks, apple green, off the chart yellows.  You could slightly desaturate everything in the scene to make the neon stand out even more.


Most peeps try and alleviate fluro lighting that may have been captured unintentionally on set.  It can be pretty nasty on skin tones and give an unwanted green cast.  If you want to try and make something look more fluro (ie. like a night time scene in a 7-11), you would increase the brightness and take the whites and top end of the luminance channel towards a light apple green colour.  If you can see the practical lights you could make them glow or make the entire top of the frame a little hazy (read: lower contrast, but sitting bright) because often fluro light is just so garish and bright.

5 ways to get the best out of your grading session

If you are a director, producer, cinematographer or advertising creative, here are a few nuggets which might be useful for your next colour grading session!

1. Be prepared and think about what you want visually in advance. If you can't quite articulate what it is that you are after, are there any images you can bring to the session? What is it about these images that you like? If you can't quite put your finger on it then do not worry! Your colourist is an expert at imagery and deals with pictures everyday. They should be able to see a common thread. These reference images are a great place to start.



2. Know that the longer you look at an image the more it can normalise. Go get a coffee. Go to the fridge. You can begin the session exploring some really interesting looks and styles but for some reason after a while they don't look that interesting or stylish anymore. This is kind of like how when you walk into a blacked out room it looks really dark at the beginning and then after a while it doesn't seem as dark. Your eyes start to adjust and get used to your surroundings. This is similar to how your eyes start to normalise the image in a colour grading session. I think it's really useful to work on images briefly at the beginning and move forward rather than go into too much detail on one shot. Your colourist can save some key looks and then compare them side by side to give them context between one another. Your colourist uses electronic tools like a "vectorscope" (to measure hue/colour and saturation) and a "waveform" (to measure luminance/brightness) to keep their eyes in check and know how far away from the "normal" looking original they have taken it.



3. If you would like to know more about the colour grading process as it happens feel free to ask questions. Most colourists will be more than happy to talk about their craft and actually love talking about what they do! As they say, there are no stupid questions and giving a commentary of what you are doing can be really insightful and lead to new ideas about what is possible.



4. Provide your colourist with a copy of the final edit (an offline reference) before the grade session. At this point your could always email through some reference images too. If it is a long form project the colourist will have time to watch the project through in advance. If it is a music video or commercial then the colourist will be able to get an idea of what is involved and can start the session without any surprises.



5. A true collaboration can yield the best results. Come to your grading sessions with some visual ideas (either brief or detailed) and ask your colourist their opinion. They work with colour and images every day and this is their niche. It is also really awesome to be challenged in a session by questions, requests and suggestions. At the end of the day it is YOUR session, use it how you like!


Would you like to know more?


Email Angela at


5 examples of how colour grading can be used to enhance a story

“It’s easier to make colour look good, but harder to make it service the story” this quote by cinematographer Roger Deakins is spot on. I feel like there are infinite examples of how colour grading can be used to enhance a story but let’s throw five out for the fun of it. I think an important thing to remember is less is often more so that the “look” doesn’t have the opposite effect and jar you out of the story.

1. If a story is to feel soft, romantic, dreamy, ethereal, then the colourist can use some colour grading tools to enhance this feeling. Examples might be lifting the shadows to make the overall image feel lighter, softening contrast levels, slightly blurring the image to take out any over-sharpness, twisting or de-saturating hues to make them more pastel and less bold, sitting the midtones a little higher to make the image feel less dense and heavy, using shapes to create a sun flare effect in a portion of the image.


2. During the climax of a story, colour can be “turned up” a notch to reflect the intensity unfolding on screen. This could be done by slightly cranking up the contrast, or the saturation of all or selected colours. A “harder” or more “intense” look could be achieved by taking the current look and pushing it a bit further, for example an otherwise natural look could have some more stylised elements brought in. Examples of this might be blowing out the highlights, crushing the blacks a bit more, saturating the warm tones, making the overall image more dense in comparison to other scenes before or after it.


3. If there is a scene which is meant to feel off balance, off kilter, like something is not quite right, green could be used to mirror this underlying feeling. Often used in horror films or sci-fi, colours on the green spectrum can be used in the same way that a dutch angle might be used in cinematography. Green is often the colour of sickness and it can feel like an unnatural light source (as opposed to the natural colours in our atmosphere of cool overcast blue or warm sunny yellow).


4. The use of shapes to darken/brighten areas of an image can be a great tool to enhance the story. My personal favourite is vignettes (oval shapes) and I pretty much use these in some capacity in every work. If a character in a story is feeling bogged down or oppressed in their situation perhaps their scenes could have a soft vignette covering the top third of the frame to darken it down a little, reflecting their mental state. If a work is trying to focus the audience’s attention in a direct way, maybe a vignette could be used to brighten this element or portion of the frame and then the inverse to let everything else be more dim.

5. Blue is a colour which can be experimented with to create feelings of sombre, sadness, endings, misfortune and unhappiness to name a few. If the mise en scene is not overly blue through costumes and set design or location, colour grading can still create a blue/cool look by reducing warmth in the highlights, midtones and/or shadows. Reds can be de-saturated, cyans can be saturated. De-saturating the entire image will also usually render it cooler and can reflect the underlying tone of the work too.

Would you like to know more?


Email Angela at


Free colour grading initiative for women – half year update!

Well what an awesome six months that was! Over 100 applications were received for my free colour grading initiative to support female directors and/or cinematographers. To converse with so many talented and passionate filmmakers everywhere from Melbourne to Perth to Arnhem Land has been a truly wonderful experience. I loved examining the applications with a glass of vino in the evenings!


I first had the idea for my initiative one day in February when I had a slow couple of weeks of work. It was around the time of the Oscars and the #metoo and #pressforprogress movements. I am a big advocate for the call to level the playing field in our industry so it got me thinking. There I was not busy, with some time on my hands and an itch to be grading and working with kickass emerging filmmakers. If I could spend my down days colour grading some projects to help women get their stuff made then I could be part of this inspiring global movement. Fast forward to March and I was all over our industry news platforms promoting this unconventional and slightly crazy idea I had. I was told that I would go broke and that I couldn’t/shouldn’t do stuff for free. Well I would just like to say that I have probably had the best six months of my 12 year colour grading career so far, and that giving away your time and expertise for something you are passionate about feels freaking amazing!


First up was “Theo and Celeste”, a 2min short film combining live action, stop-motion animation, painting and puppets. Hannah Doherty was the creator of this work… she wrote, directed, shot and even hand painted some of the animation. From her previous work I could see that she had a very hands on approach and it was pretty clear that this chick was uber talented in so many mediums! It was my pleasure to work with such a creative filmmaker and help bring her vision to life. “Theo and Celeste” screened at the TedX Sydney convention in July.


The next project I selected was Imogen Thomas’s debut feature film, “Emu Runner”. The story of this film is seen through the eyes of Gem, a spirited 8-year-old girl, who deals with the grief of her mother’s death by forging a bond with a wild emu, a mythical bird of her ancestors. Imogen’s journey to get this film made on a “micro budget” was both remarkable and inspiring. The screenplay was created in consultation with Indigenous members of the Brewarrina community, in north western NSW, over many years. Despite the challenges and hardships of getting a film like this off the ground, it was obvious that it had been the good will of so many people during the process which had moved it forward, especially the Brewarrina community. I felt like I could really elevate this film by providing a professional colour grade and by enhancing the story through the use of colour. The DOP Michael Gibbs flew up from Melbourne for the grade at ZigZag Post. I spent 7 days on it (plus some after hours fine tuning!) to get it to a place that felt really right for Imogen. Of course limited budget and resources meant that lighting and shooting conditions were sometimes not ideal so we worked on fixing these and making the film more cohesive. “Emu Runner” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and will have it’s Aussie premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival in October. I have my tickets and a babysitter booked – can’t wait to celebrate a job well done with everyone!


Jessica Barclay Lawton was the next successful applicant. Her 15 minute atmospheric and visually stunning short film “Living Room” was shot with a crew of four over the course of one week in Tokyo. Guerrilla and hybrid filmmaking at it’s finest! DOP Alex Cardy did a stellar job with natural light and one LED. Yes, one LED. I loved the opportunity to colour grade this film and work with this amazing director, out there creating even with limited resources! Every frame of this work could be a promo still, I love her aesthetic.


My 4th colour grading initiative project was a 5 x 7min web series for director/producer Laura Clelland called “Life of Jess”. Representing from Brisbane (total soft spot for my hometown), Laura was recently selected as one of Screen Producers Australia’s “One’s to Watch” and it was an absolute delight to meet her, Sandra and DOP Brendan Shambrook during our session.


“The Hitchhiker” was a proof of concept short for a feature film. It is the 5th project selected for my free grading initiative to support emerging female directors. The application won me on “an all-girl vampire road trip comedy (think Buffy meets Bridesmaids)”. Adele Vuko, Johanna Somerville and DOP Dan Freene all attended the grade. It would be awesome to see Adele succeed in directing her first feature film after a run of short film and web series success.


So I am taking a couple of months off and then will resume my initiative in November. Ladies, let’s do this (some more!)

Would you like to know more?


Email Angela at