Image from Jagat’s brand film for Alila - Hinu Bay, from Angela Cerasi's AC Magazine column "The Art of Colour Grading: Brightness"

Brightness: AC Magazine column

This column, “The Art of Colour Grading: Brightness”, written by Angela Cerasi of Peachy Keen Colour, was featured in the Australian Cinematographer Society’s “AC Magazine“.  It is the third of Angela’s ongoing regular contributions to the magazine.



Well hello, it appears we meet again. All set for another juicy column related to the art of colour grading? I am a senior colourist and founder of Peachy Keen Colour and in my downtime I like to write, dance, collage and colour (with actual pencils). In this edition, I will share my thoughts on the highs and glows of… brightness.


Firstly, let me split some hairs between luminance, brightness, brilliance, lightness, illumination, lustre and radiance – using a desk lamp on a table as a reference point. The luminance (luminosity, radiance or intensity) is the amount of actual light that is emitted from the lightbulb. This remains constant and might be 100 Watts or 1500 Lumens.  (Watts is energy consumption, Lumens is light output). The illuminance is also measurable and refers to the amount of light hitting the desk.  Brightness and lightness (same thing) is perceived based on your actual distance from the lamp, so it changes and is subjective depending on how good your eyes are! You may judge the brightness to be dim or brilliant – brilliance being a perceived quality of how intensely bright or sparkling something is. If a fat, gold bullion sits under the lamp, it’s lustre (reflected light) might be described as shiny and metallic.


In colour grading, we usually just refer to the ‘brightness’ of a scene, shot or frame and how this affects the character and story. Within visual language, brightness can create a sense of openness, clarity, and positivity. It can bring a feeling of happiness and a lighthearted atmosphere. Subsequently, this is why a lot of dramatic narratives have a lack of brightness. The darkness can add weight to the story. There is also the subconscious bias that darkness adds filmmaking gravitas – seeing as traditionally TV shows like soapies and sitcoms had to be bright, and films were allowed to be moody and dark. A lack of brightness can definitely be a powerful signifier that we are watching something meaningful and cinematic.


It’s no secret that darkness is the light level of choice for a lot of cinematographers, colourists and directors. Just check out the hearts and flaming hot emojis when someone posts darkly-lit images on Insta! Don’t get me wrong, I love a dark and cinematic look as much as the next person. But what I really admire is the choice to go bright. There’s nowhere to hide, you have to bring a whole other level of creativity to get contrast and mood in your image. Recently on Disney+ I devoured season two of The Bear, which was markedly brighter than season one. Even with the increase in brightness (perhaps a nod to the elevation in the character’s lives) they were able to masterfully convey tension, depth and grit in the bright, white space of a restaurant kitchen.


The creative use of brightness can influence storytelling in many different ways. Spatially, well-lit areas appear larger, while shadows and low-light areas can create a sense of confinement. Bright lens flares and blooms can add a dreamy or ethereal quality to scenes. A sudden increase in brightness might represent a revelation, enlightenment, or a turning point in the story. Conversely, a lowering of brightness can symbolise danger, secrecy, or impending doom.


Personally, a grading element that I often use to open up the feel of a frame is an anti-vignette (my lingo, not found in a glossary!). Using a large rugby ball-shaped window, inverting and feathering it, I increase general lightness while retaining contrast.  Sometimes lenses will vignette edges and it’s not until you anti-vignette the frame that you realise the air and space this gives to a scene or character.


To hear more about light and darkness feel free to check out Episode 9 of The Art of Colour Grading Podcast, available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!


P.S. This column’s feature word is ‘secondaries’.  A gaggle of colour grading corrections who feel far more sophisticated than their predecessors, the ‘primaries’. Primary colour corrections are the basics of tweaking luminance, hue and saturation of the lift (shadows), gamma (mid-tones) and gain (highlights). Secondary colour corrections involve a more isolated change such as masking a part of the image, keying an individual colour or twisting a specific hue.



Image from Jagat’s brand film for Alila – Hinu Bay


Enjoy this article? If so let me know at or DM me at @angela_cerasi.  


Interested in remote colour grading but not sure how it all works?  Check out these blogs on how to supply your media here, and how to give the best creative brief even when you’re not in the room (including a free checklist) here.  Check out Angela’s first AC magazine column “The Art of Colour Grading” here.