Attempting to color correct mismatched footage in the editing room can be an extremely arduous task, but these helpful tips will give you better results every time.

If you’re a working editor or colorist, chances are you’ve faced the challenge of matching straight-out-of-the-camera shots that just don’t look right. Even if the cameras had the same exposure/white balance settings, there will still likely be some obvious differences in contrast, saturation, and color balance between them. This can be a result of different color science, camera settings, or lens choice.

color correct mismatched footage: an example of mismatched footage

Whatever the reason may be, it’ll ultimately be up to you to know how to match the footage in post so the shots can intercut seamlessly with each other. Here are the steps you need to follow next time you’re faced with this issue.

1. Match Contrast

Before pushing around your color wheels, start by adjusting the contrast of both shots so they match. Keep an eye on your scopes, and try to get the black and white levels of both images as close to perfect as you can.

2. Match Saturation

color correct mismatched footage: match saturation

There’s a chance that the saturation levels between your two shots won’t be quite right from the get-go, and once you make contrast adjustments to each shot, those differences will be even more pronounced. You’ll want to compensate for these issues by increasing or decreasing saturation as needed to get both images in the same arena.

3. Adjust Color Balance

If one of your two images looks better straight out of the camera, start this stage off by working on that one. Tweak your shadows, mids, and highlights until they look balanced, and then save a reference image you can use as a baseline comparison when coloring the second shot. The goal with this step isn’t to have an exact match between the two shots, but to get them close enough so that you can fine tune things in the next step.

4. Fix Problem Areas

color correct mismatched footage: curves

Even after balancing your two shots in Step Three, it’s possible that there will still be inconsistencies. For instance, your skin tones may match perfectly, but the shadows may be cooler in one image when compared to the other. This is very common and can easily be addressed with a secondary color corrector — whether it be a color key, power window, or curves adjustment.

5. Create a Look

Your shots should now be very close to matching. That said, if you’re planning to do any additional creative color work (such as adding film emulation or creating a more distinct color look), you should do it at this stage. Any fine tuning/creative adjustments you make at this point will help to hide the inconsistencies between the shots and ultimately give you a better final result.

Got any color correction tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!