Making the color grade: Getting started with DaVinci Resolve

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Making adjustments

Adjusting colors and exposure is easy in Resolve, but it’s likely a bit more involved than what you’re used to. If it is just a basic white balance correction you need, then the new color temperature and tint controls make for an easy solution. You’ll find them at the bottom of the screen on the second tab of the Color Wheels control.

DaVinci Resolve Color Wheels

However, the real power of Resolve lies in its more advanced controls. We’re going to focus on two: Color Wheels and Curves.

In the lower left of the main screen you’ll find a toolbar with several different options, including Color Wheels and Curves. Click Color Wheels, and you will find four wheels labeled “lift,” “gamma,” “gain,” and “offset,” each with a luminance dial below them. Beneath that are options for hue, saturation, and a few other things. You can essentially think of “lift” as shadows, “gamma” as midtones, and “gain” as highlights. “Offset” affects the entire image equally.

One thing to note is that lift, gamma, and gain are all connected. An adjustment made to lift, for example, will mostly affect the shadows, but it will also affect the mids and, to a lesser degree, the highlights. If you want to darken your shadows for a look with more contrast, you can drag the lift luminance bar to the left, but you’ll notice in the RGB parade that the shadows aren’t the only thing that move. So you may have to go back and increase the gamma luminance to bring the midtones up.

By interacting with the wheels themselves, you can balance the color of the image. If your whites look a bit blue, try moving the gain color selector toward orange. You should see the RGB parade adjust in response to this.

While you can adjust shadows, mids, and highlights completely independently, we recommend sticking with the default lift, gamma, and gain controls when you’re just starting out. Because the effects are smoothed out across the exposure range, it makes it easier to maintain a natural look.

Curves are another set of controls found in the tool bar below the timeline. There is a separate curve for red, green, blue, and luminance channels, but they can be locked together by clicking the chain icon. If you want to use curves to balance color, make sure they are not locked.

DaVinci Resolve Curves Control

To make an adjustment, just click anywhere along the curve line of the channel you want to adjust. This will add a control point. You can then drag it up or down (watch what happens in the RGB parade as you do this). When locked together, curves are often used to add contrast, by dragging the shadows down and the highlights up.

Both color wheels and curves can accomplish the same goals, but they do it in slightly different ways. They also allow you to get creative by adding a color cast to, say, the highlights while leaving the rest of the image neutral. Now you’re moving beyond corrections and into the world of color grading. Don’t be afraid to experiment, as that’s often the best way to learn.

Working with other NLEs

One thing we haven’t covered yet is how to actually get footage into Resolve. If you plan to do all your editing in Resolve, then you can import footage from your camera or hard drive just like any other application. This is done from the Media workspace. If you are editing in another program, then you have a couple of options.

Option one is simply to export your video in a high quality format from your NLE, and then import it into Resolve. For some people, this may be conceptually easier, but you will have to either “bake in” any transitions and effects already in your editing timeline, or hold off on applying any transitions or effects until you’ve gotten the footage back from Resolve.

The preferred method is to export an XML file that Resolve can use to call up the same timeline you’ve already built in your NLE, along with all the source footage. Resolve supports XML files from both Final Cut and Premiere, and it can handle a variety of transitions and effects, plus all of your audio, so you won’t lose anything in the process.

DaVinci Resolve Export XML From FCPX

An XML file offers a lot of flexibility, and it won’t create a redundant copy of the media used in your timeline. It is also much, much smaller and takes far less time to save than exporting a video. You will have to render out new videos from Resolve with all of your color adjustments (from the Deliver workspace), but that’s it. Resolve can also output an XML file to tell your NLE where the video files are.


This was a very rough overview of a very powerful program, so there is much that was not touched on. Blackmagic Design provides a good overview of the new features, and there are plentiful tutorials on all aspects of Resolve elsewhere online. We recommend checking out Premium Beat to get started. Our goal is to introduce you to this powerful option that you may not be aware of.

DaVinci Resolve combines world-class color grading with a fully functional NLE and it’s completely free, so you might be wondering if there’s a catch. There isn’t. Blackmagic Design makes money selling hardware (such as its many cinema cameras) as well as higher-end versions of Resolve and other applications.

DaVinci Resolve Studio, for example, costs $995. If you really want to feel like a big potato, you can step up to the full system: A $30,000 package that includes Resolve Studio and a bespoke hardware interface that will make your home office look legit.

But the base DaVinci Resolve isn’t some “lite” version; it won’t frustrate you with needless truncations designed to sway you to upgrade. In fact, the paid versions offer few, if any, advantages over the free version for single users. Most of the additional features have to do with collaborative editing, working in networked environments with remote servers, or running on Linux machines and clustered GPUs.

The Studio version includes a few more effects, better noise reduction, and stereoscopic support for editing 3D content, but that’s about it. You can compare features across versions on Blackmagic Design’s website, but it’s mostly a long list of “Yes” down the page.

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