FCP X: Quick Color Correction

You know the drill… The deadline is crashing down around you and one of your clips was shot by a color-blind orangutan and it is ruining your entire opus. But, you don’t have time for a complete color grade – in fact, the video scopes are pretty much of a mystery. What to do?

Easy – read this. This color correction technique isn’t perfect, but it is REALLY fast and gets you close enough to keep your job.

Here’s the problem: the color is way off; in this case, between two model train shots. The left picture looks great, while the right picture is blue/green and washed out.

While you can color correct a shot at any time, it is best to have FCP X analyze the clip BEFORE you edit it to the Timeline. Analysis can only be performed on clips in the Event Browser.

Analysis looks at the grayscale and color values of the entire clip. If you don’t analyze a clip before editing it to the Timeline, when you color correct an unanalyzed clip in the Timeline FCP X looks only at the color values of the frame at the position of the playhead, or, if the playhead is not in the clip, at the color values of the frame at the exact middle of the clip.

For this reason, spending a little bit of time analyzing the clips you want to color correct before editing them into the Timeline is a really good idea. Remember, analysis runs in the background. While I do NOT analyze during import, I do analyze after I have a sense of what clips I want to edit into my sequence. That saves time and disk space, without waiting until the last minute to analyze my clips.

To analyze clips in the Event Browser, select the clip, or clips, and choose Modify > Analyze and Fix.

Check Analyze for Balance Color (the grammar of that sentence continues to set my teeth on edge) and click OK. (As soon as analysis starts, you can edit the clip to the Timeline as normal. You don’t need to wait for analysis to finish before editing the clip.)

NOTE: You can monitor the status of analysis by either typing Command+9 or clicking the small “clock” in the Dashboard. This displays the Background Task monitor.

Select the clip in the Timeline that has color problems. To correct problems in exposure or color cast, select Balance Color from the Magic Wand menu (Apple calls this the “Enhancements menu.”) The keyboard shortcut is Option+Command+B.

To disable or remove, this correction, uncheck Balance Color.

As you can see, this improves the color, right image, but it still doesn’t match the richness of the first shot in our sequence.

To match color between two shots, select the clip with bad color, then, go back to the Magic Wand menu and select Match Color. The keyboard shortcut is Option+Command+M.

Two images are displayed in the Viewer, along with a message at the bottom saying click the frame you want to match.

Here’s the cool part: The frame that you want to use as the source for your color match DOESN’T have to be in the Timeline.

For instance, here’s the shot with color I like — located in the Event Browser. I skim to the frame I want to use as the color master and click it.

Instantly, the selected frame is loaded into the left side of the Viewer, and the clip with the bad color on the right is immediately corrected to match the color of the master clip.

Compare the difference between the way the clip started, on the left, and the finish result!

Click the Match button in the lower right side of the Viewer and make sure FCP X renders the Timeline.

NOTE: On my system, I’ve found that color corrected clips don’t always playback smoothly, nor are colors accurate until after rendering is complete.

Now you can see how much more closely the two clips in our sequence match.

Assuming your clips have been analyzed, the process of color correcting a clip using these two techniques would set you back about 15 seconds. While we could do a better, more accurate, job using the video scopes and manual color correction in FCP X, we could not do it anywhere nearly as quickly. When time matters, and your clips need help, this is a great tip to keep in your back pocket.

NOTE: I’ve created a video tutorial that goes into color correction in FCP X in a lot more detail Click here to learn more.

(Thanks to Fran and Miles Hale of Model Railroad Builders for their permission to use these clips.)

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19 Responses to FCP X: Quick Color Correction

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  1. Yura says:

    Hi Larry.
    Thanks for sharing all your knowledge.

    I’ve edited a movie. Then decided to balance the colors.
    I’ve performed Auto-Balance for the source video in the browser, hoping it will balance all the clips (on the timeline) from this video.
    That didn’t happen.

    If I have multiple clips (from one source video), how can I balance colors for them all at once?
    (I know about copy-paste effects, but is there another way?)

    • Larry says:


      Color grading doesn’t work like that – you can’t adjust all clips by the same amount at the same time. Each shot is different, and needs to be adjusted separately.


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