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How to colour grade Sony Alpha A7R III Raw file from scratch in fylm.ai

In this tutorial we will see how we can grade a still Raw file from Sony Alpha A7R III from scratch in fylm.ai using two different approaches - traditional and AI based.

In December 2021 we released fylm.ai update 1.1 which we internally called here at fylm.ai “The Photographers Update”. The reason we called it that way, is because release 1.1 introduced still Raw files development and debayering. This exciting release allows still photographers to start and complete their colour journey in fylm.ai and opens up a whole new world of opportunities.

In this tutorial we will see how we can grade a still Raw file from Sony Alpha A7R III from scratch in fylm.ai using two different approaches:

  • Traditional approach
  • AI based approach

Download the tutorial files

If you wish to follow along, you may download the raw files used in this tutorial.

Inside the download you will find the two Raw files used in this tutorial, two Preset files in .json format (which contain the complete look) that can be imported into your fylm.ai and the synthetic colour chart from which we will extract the colour grade using the AI Colour Extract tool.

IMPORTANT: By downloading the above file you agree to the following license terms. This license is for Personal-Educational Use Only. Personal-Educational use means non-commercial use of the photographs for educational purpose only. The Photographs may not be used in any way whatsoever in which you charge money, collect fees, or receive any form of remuneration or recognition. The Photographs may not be used in competitions, advertising, be re-edited, re-sold, re-licensed, or sub-licensed. Title and ownership, now and in the future, of and for the Photographs remain exclusively with Shay Cohen Arbel.

Traditional approach

Let’s begin by uploading the Raw files we will be editing.

As you can see, the thumbnails are black and white. That’s because fylm.ai by default reads the built-in thumbnail previews embedded in the raw file. In this case, the images were captured with a black and white picture style in camera which is why the embedded thumbnails appear in black and white.

As soon as we select a file to load, it is developed and displayed in colour.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

By default, fylm.ai will develop your Raw file into ProPhoto RGB colour space which is a wide colour space suitable for colour grading. It will also automatically colour manage your file so that it fits into the ACEScct workflow which fylm.ai uses internally. You may change the colour space into which your file will be developed if needed, but mostly you will want to leave it as is.

Establishing the overall look with Cine Looks

I will begin by establishing the overall look and appearance of my image and for that I’ll start by choosing one of the Cine Looks which I will use as my starting point. To select one of the Cine Looks, click on Add Tool > Cine Looks.

As soon as I add the Cine Look tool, I’m presented with a selection of looks on the right hand side of the app under the Previews tab.

To be able to better judge how the different Cine Looks affect my image, I’ll make the Previews column wider. To do that, I will drag the Previews column border to the left using the handles.

Having a wider Previews column allows me to better see the different effect each look has on my image.

Selecting the appropriate look to base your grade off should be based mainly on the story behind the image. In this case, I’m looking for a look that nicely balances between the cooler and warmer tones while preserving the skin tones. Also, I’m looking for something slightly on the colder side due to the location in which the image was shot, the weather and the lighting.

As I’m happy with the appearance of Cine Look 1, that is what I will use for the base of my grade. To select Cine Look 1, all I have to do is click it. The look is automatically applied to my image. I can change the opacity of the look if needed using the Opacity slider under the corresponding thumbnail.

The Cine Look tool is also added to my tool column automatically.

Here is our image as it looks right now with Cine Look 1 applied to it.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Primary Correction

The way it is, the image right now is way too dark. To correct that, let’s add Log Primaries tool so that we can easily adjust the shadows, midtones, highlights and exposure of the image. Of course, we could use other tools such as Curves for example, but in this case, Log Primaries will allow us to adjust our image very easily. To add the Log Primaries tool I’ll go to Add Tool > Log Primaries.

Log Primaries tool is added.

As tools in fylm.ai are added in sequential order, the Log Primaries will be added after the Cine Looks tool (as we have already added the Cine Looks tool in the previous step). Personally, I prefer to apply the Cine Looks or Print Film Emulations near or at the end of the pipeline, so I’ll drag the Log Primaries tool before the Cine Looks. To drag a tool click on the 6 dots icon on the left hand side of the tool and drag it into the place.

Let’s explore the options available in the Log Primaries tool. Shadows, Midtones and Highlights control the respective brightness levels of the image. Offset control allows us to make global adjustments.

If we move the Horizontal slider, we will adjust the exposure of that respective brightness level. For example, if we move the horizontal slider under Shadows to the right, we will brighten the shadows. If we move it to the left, we will darken them. If we move the horizontal slider under Offset we will brighten the entire image. If we move it to the left we will darken the entire image.

Additionally, we can use the Log Primaries to to add a color cast or tint to Shadows, Midtones, Highlights or to the entire image using the Offset control. To add a blue tint into shadows for example, we will push the black circle in the middle of the Shadows control into the blue hues.

The following image shows brightened shadows with a cool tint added to them.

Right now, let’s just brighten the shadows without adding a tint to them. We will move the horizontal slider until the Y control reads 0.45.

Our image now looks like this.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Of course, we could brighten the image more, but when colour grading it is very important to keep these two aspects intact as much as possible:

  • Creative intent at the time of shooting
  • Overall mood of the image

Whenever working with over or under exposed images, we need to assume that was the creative intent of the artist and try to preserve the original feel and mood captured in the image. In this case, the overall dark-ish atmosphere adds to the slightly melancholic and intimate feeling so we should respect that and try to work within these creative boundaries. Needless to say, if the over or under exposure are a result of a mistake we must correct that, but this is not the case for our image.

Let’s have a quick look at the before and after.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Alternative view for the Log Primaries

If you are familiar with the Bars view of the Log Primaries tool from other software, you may select to switch the view of the Log Primaries tool. To switch to the Bars view, click on the View drop down near the top of the tool and select Log Primaries Bars. Please note, you should treat the Log Primaries Wheels and Bars as two separate tools, meaning that whatever you select in one view will not show in the other and each view can have its own separate set of adjustments.

When using the Log Primaries Bars view, the colour wheel is replaced with individual RGB channels which you can manipulate separately. Moving the Red slider up Under Shadows for example, will add Red to the shadows making the image warmer, while moving the slider down would decrease the amount of Red and hence increase the amount of Cyan making the image colder. Moving the Y slider will change the brightness accordingly.

Fine tuning the slider values

If you look carefully, under each channel in the Log Primaries Bars view (and next to almost every value in every control in fylm.ai) you will find a dot. If you need a more precise control over the slider, simply click the corresponding dot and start moving your mouse in circular motion clockwise while holding the mouse button pressed down (to increase the value) or counter-clockwise (to decrease the value). This will allow you to change the value with a precision 1/1000 of the maximum allowed value allowing for very fine and precise tuning.

Blending modes

In addition, if you are familiar with the Blending Modes you may change the blending mode of the tool in fylm.ai by selecting the Blending Mode drop down. Explanation about different Blending Modes is outside the scope of this specific tutorial.

So far, we have applied a Cine Look and adjusted our shadows. As a reminder, here’s our image as it is now.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Adding density – Subtractive Colour

Let’s continue editing our image. Next we will use Subtractive Colour. To add Subtractive Colour I’ll go to Add Tool > Subtractive Colour.

Subtractive Colour is a very neat tool. Subtractive CMY colour model emulates the colour processing of a real film emulsion. Unlike additive RGB colour model where saturation increases as the colour becomes brighter, in subtractive mode saturation increases as the colour becomes darker. It will allow us to emulate the feel and density of real film emulsion.

We will begin by linking the Cyan, Magenta and Yellow controls together by clicking on the link icon near the bottom of the tool.

Next, we will increase the density of all three controls to add richness to our image. This will naturally make our image darker so we will compensate for the decreased exposure by increasing the Y control. I ended up with something like this.

Don’t forget to place the Subtractive Colour tool before the Cine Looks, so just drag it into place. Here’s how our image looks after the recent edit.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

This one makes a huge difference.

Secondary Correction

Next, while I think that skin tone is pleasing, I want to make it just a tiny little bit more orange. To do that I’ll use the HSL tool. To add the HSL tool I’ll go to Add Tool > HSL.

Again, I will position it before the Cine Looks tool and slightly change the Hue value for the Reds.

The effect this has is rather subtle so I suggest using the on/off toggle in the upper right corner of the HSL to to turn it on and off to see the difference it makes.

Adding grain for character

Next, we will add some grain. Please bear in mind that grain cannot be saved in a LUT file, so if you intend to export this look as a LUT or XMP profile for Lightroom, the grain data will simply not be included in the exported LUT. However, when you save a graded copy of the image from fylm.ai, the grain will naturally be included in the file.

To add grain to your image go to Add Tool > Texture.

Since the texture is the very last tool we will be using and it doesn’t affect the colour information, I don’t mind having it applied as the last tool, so I will leave it after the Cine Looks. I will use a large value for my grain. I ended up using 4 as the value for my Texture control.

Making the highlights a bit colder

As the very final step, I’ll go back to my Log Primaries tool, go to the Bars view, and add some Blue to the highlights to make the appearance of the highlights colder while preserving the overall feel of the shadows and darker area in the image.

Here is our graded image.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Let’s compare it to the original image.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Re-using the existing grade

Now that our grade is ready, we can use it as the base for the grade of other images. fylm.ai allows you multiple ways in which you can re-use an existing grade but in this tutorial we will explore one.

To re-use our colour grade for other images, first we will save it as a Candidate. To save a grade as a Candidate we will use the Add as a Candidate button.

As soon as our Candidate is saved we can use it as the base for the colour grade of other images. Saved Candidates appear in the Candidates column and also in the file tree in the Project tab. By the way, there is no limit to the number of Candidates you can save per image.

With our grade saved as a Candidate we can re-use it for other images.

First, let’s open the other image.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

At the top of the fylm.ai interface, we will use the Apply Grade From button, to copy the grade from our Candidate.

Using the Apply Grade From option will open a modal window which lists all of our Candidates and Matches.

Simply select the appropriate Candidate and click on Apply to copy its grade to your image. The grade is copied.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Let’s quickly compare it with the original image.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

At this stage, naturally, you can fine tune your grade. I slightly adjusted the exposure and contrast and ended up with this.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Now, let’s see how we can use a very different approach to colour grade our image.

AI-based approach

What I’ll do is use the AI Colour Extract tool in fylm.ai to extract a colour grade from an image I like off of which I will base my grade. fylm.ai allows you to extract a colour grade from any image, but in this case we will use a synthetic colour palette extracted from an existing image. The colour palette I will use is the following one.

If you wish, you can extract a colour palette from an image using a number of tools and services, such as Adobe Color, or others.

Once I have my colour palette I will upload it to my project. Unlike a Raw file, which contains metadata that allows fylm.ai to know the source characteristics of the image, with a generic file that is not possible. This means I will manually have to select the correct ACES Input and Output Transforms so that fylm.ai can properly colour manage the image.

As my file is a simple sRGB file, that is what I’ll use for the ACES Input and Output Transforms. If you wish to know more about the colour management in fylm.ai please read this document.

Next, to be able to use the AI Colour Extract tool, we have to save the reference image (that is our synthetic colour palette image) as a Match. Save it as a Match using the Save as a Match button.

To use the AI Colour Extract tool, we have two options. We can either select the “AI Colour Extract From…” option from the contextual menu in the Project tab or we can add the AI Colour Extract tool from the Add Tool option.

Now we need to select the match from which we will copy the grade to our image. That is our reference image we saved earlier as a Match.

Any other Matches you might have saved in your project will appear in this modal window.

After we click on Apply, the colour grade is applied.

We can manually adjust the white balance point or the tint of the look created by the AI Colour Extract tool.

Alternatively we can use any one of the presets shown on the right under the previews tab.

Let’s explore the available presets. The first option, called the Magic Look is the look that the AI Colour Extract tool has created for us. This option matches the overall appearance of the reference as well as white balance point, contrast and exposure.

The second option is the Colour Gamut that the AI Colour Extract tool has extracted from our reference. In simplified terms this look simulates the colour gamut of the print film used for the creation of the look without further creative decisions.

Other options include the Magic Look in a combination with different white balance points. You may combine any one of the presets with manual white balance and tint adjustments.

In this case, I will not go with the Magic Look but rather select the second option called Gamut Only. Here is our image with the Gamut Only option.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

I will slightly change the White Balance and Tint to make the image slightly warmer and to improve the skin tone appearance.

Here is my image after the White Balance and Tint changes.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

This is already looking good, but I will slightly adjust it by adding some density using the Subtractive Colour tool and also some Texture, just like we did when we traditionally graded our image. Additionally I will slightly desaturate the Reds using the HSL tool.

Here is our image after these changes.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Let’s compare it to the original image.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

Finishing the job

At this point you could either save your image or do one of the following:

  • Export a traditional .cube LUT so it can be used for other images or video in software like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, Affinity Photo, ON1, or others
  • Export an enhanced XMP profile so it can be used in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw directly with other Raw images

To export a LUT or XMP profile from fylm.ai click on the Export button at the top of fylm.ai interface and select the appropriate option.

As a still photographer, you do not need to change anything in the modal windows that open, so just name your LUT or XMP profile and click on Export.

Here is our image with the exported XMP profile applied in Lightroom.

As you can see it has a slightly different appearance from the look in fylm.ai and that’s because the way Lightroom develops Raw files is slightly different from the way fylm.ai develops the Raw files. For non-Raw images like JPG, PNG, TIFF or others, the appearance between fylm.ai and Lightroom will be identical.

Here is the same XMP profile we exported from fylm.ai with some minor exposure and contrast adjustments in Lightroom.

And here is our AI-assisted colour grade saved from fylm.ai.

© Copyright: Shay Cohen Arbel

That would be all for this time. Should you have any questions, feel free to ask them in our Discord channel. Until next time, keep creating awesome stuff!

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