There are several ways to copy the color grading from a reference image with Capture One. Today, I’ll show you the simplest method that doesn’t require advanced image editing skills.
However, you still need to understand two fundamental principles of working with reference images.
First, reference and target images should have a similar plot.
It’s pretty pointless to copy color grading from a landscape to a portrait or a wedding shot. Color plays an important but not the main role in how we perceive an image. Without a context, color simply loses the ability to deliver a message. That’s why we have no issues with associating red color with a “dangerous” look of blood and a “delicious” look of strawberries at the same time. As well as with Santa Claus, lips, tomatoes, sports cars, roses, YouTube, red stripes of USA flag, and a whole bunch of other different things. Context is everything, and you need to consider this when you’re working with a reference.
For this tutorial, I’ll take a still from Atonement (2007, Joe Wright) movie as a reference image:
And will copy the color grading to a RAW with a pretty similar plot:
BTW, this RAW file is already available for my $9+ patrons to download and practice in color grading.
Become my $9+ patron, and you’ll also gain excess to a collection of unique Capture One styles and other patron benefits.
Second, both images should have similar tonal contrast.
The same color grading looks completely different depending on image tonal contrast. That’s why before working with color, you need to compare tone on reference and target images. The easiest way to do this is to desaturate both images:
As you can see, they have pretty different tonal contrasts, so I’ll crop my target image and adjust the key areas in layers to match the reference:
When images appear similar to each other, we can reset desaturation.
Now, it’s time to copy the color. Here I’ll use Normalize tool – it works excellently to replicate such a color grading. If you’re not familiar with Normalize tool, check out these tutorials:
Normalize tool replicates a reference color on a target image by adjusting White Balance.
However, you can’t get the required color grading just by modifying the general White Balance. Usually, it makes sense to copy WB from three areas of your image: Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights. Unfortunately, Normalize doesn’t support layers, so you would need to do this manually.
First, let’s copy White Balance from the shadows. Create a clone variant of your target image – we’ll use it for color transfer. Pick normalize color on the shadow area of the reference image and apply normalization to the shadows on the cloned variant. Make sure to note the WB numbers.
Next, create a new filled layer on your primary target image, and set Luma Range to include only shadows.
Thus, we now have a layer that affects only shadows. Copy WB numbers from the cloned variant:
We have replicated the color of the dark areas.
Reset the WB on the cloned layer and repeat these same actions with Midtones and Highlights. As a result, you should have three layers (Shadows, Midtones, Highlights) with respective Luma Range Masks.
Each layer will have a different WB picked with Normalize tool.
Color on your image should look pretty close to the reference now:
We’ll make some final touch adjustments, and the copying is done:
The EIP file with this editing is also available for my $9+ patrons. You can check out all the masks and adjustments I’ve used here.
Plus, there is still room for some additional corrections; for instance, you can decrease saturation and adjust the hue slightly to fit the reference better. So, go ahead and practice!