I have mentioned before that I am always seeking new ways to improve. Today, I want to share one of my daily initiatives that I religiously employ, and that’s my daily color exploration.
Each scene, each set offers a different set of challenges, and practice is what makes us better at any one specific thing.
I recognized that in my regular client work, I don’t always get the opportunity to explore heavy color correction or grading, as not every job calls for it, and unless I really made a mistake on set, the color correction should not be massive.
What I came up with was my daily exercise. Each morning, while having my coffee and waking up, I will take a photo from anywhere — perhaps an old photo from my website or something I see on Instagram that I like — and depending on the image, I bring it into Photoshop and mess with it. If it was a bad color cell phone pic from a model’s Instagram I follow, I’ll try to see if I can even out and correct the skin color, then apply a cohesive grade with the scene. The challenge is to make it as good as I can in under three minutes. Of course, I don’t save or keep these files, I just do it each day on a new pic, and the result is that I get lots of practice at adjusting different things than what I commonly run into in my daily work.
The benefit from this daily exercise is that I have new tools in my mental toolbox for how to deal with certain things in my daily work. It really does help and make a difference; I have visibly seen new abilities that I can directly attribute to these daily exercises.
The side bonus if I go and re-grade a previous image of my own is that I can upload it back to my site better than it was before, because the intention of these exercises is that I should be better today than I was a year ago, etc.
Here is a recent image of mine where I liked the photo, but I happened upon it in my daily exercise and decided to give it a less magenta and more graded feel that fits my current taste better. I spent under three minutes of exercise, and here was the result, which is of course subjective, but I like it much better now.
Any photo is usable in this exercise. Here is an example: I took a photo from over five years ago that I had done, and I had applied some type of green grade to it, which I must have liked at the time. This is a good exercise file to try to correct or normalize the color to a pallette that I currently would like. The intent isn't necessarily to make a better or more usable image, rather to sharpen my skills on how I could adjust those colors should I find myself in a situation where I need to.
If you choose not to repost your old image, you still gain the experience and knowledge from constantly practicing something such as color, and your next work will be better for it.
Part of the reason I feel this type of exercise works so well is there is no expectation from the altering you are doing with the current photo: you are not expected to deliver to a client or worry if the client will like the grading. You have no risk, and when you have no risk, I feel you are more open to try things, and often, the results of trying things are something pleasing that you may otherwise have never tried.
When I am running through my regular client work, I rarely experiment, as I am focused on the task at hand and delivering my consistent, expected result.
What exercises do you do outside your routine work to improve? Any other suggestions for readers to engage in aside from a daily color exercise?