#CreativeFriday – Matching colours from one picture to another? Flexing Speedgrade CC’s grading muscle with Photoshop CC.

A few months ago i gave a presentation to a group of Photographers and had the trickiest question. The photographer wanted to know, how he could take a picture in camera as a JPG but with an inbuilt colour look or colour simulation applied. For example, take a series of JPG’s with a sepia tone, or high colour saturation applied, then take this look and apply it to other images. As mentioned on the day the colour is baked into the JPG file and isn’t available for extraction, so other than creating the look manually by visually matching the tones, it’s going to be tricky to get right and most likely very time consuming. Then a few weeks ago some one asked the same question, but this time from a printed picture/image, one that was maybe taken with a DSLR or smart phone….surely that has to be something out of science fiction!!!

I decided to explore this question and try to find a good answer.

Firstly, I looked into Photoshop CC and the Match Color command under the Image/Adjustments /Match Color.

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 21.09.10

You can see from the above image that it doesn’t do a bad job of matching the right image to the left image, however, this method does have it’s drawbacks. the look isn’t transferable to another image (or the difference), it is a destructive edit and can’t be done on a layer (so not editable at any time). Maybe there is a new way with better fidelity and a better workflow.

I install Speedgrade CC as part of my Creative Cloud subscription and start to explore the new “Match Shot” feature.

What is Match Shot traditional used for :

When people make a movie they typically shoot on different cameras and ultimately end up with completely different looking footage, i.e. shooting on a Red Epic will look different to a Canon C300 and and will look different to an ARRI. This is a huge issue for post houses and typically need to matched by eye or use some complex software or even write code to do it. The clever SpeedgradeCC engineers have worked their magic and now enabled this inside SpeedGrade and must admit it makes it really easy (Watch the videos in this post to see how it’s done). The other element that these guys brought to the table was to add the support for an image file and it’s colour look to be included as a shot match reference. In this scenario you can take a frame from the film, work with the client in Photoshop CC and get the look exactly how they want it (using traditional Levels, Curves, Colour Balance etc), then bring this image into Speedgrade CC and match the film to the picture, pretty powerful stuff and saving huge amounts of time.

But where does this leave the issue of the stills world, how powerful is this feature.

There are many scenarios that come to mind:

  • Video to Video – Proven and works extremely well
  • Still to Still (JPG -> JPG etc)
  • Video clip to Still image
  • Camera to Camera (i.e. Fuji X-Pro 1 to Canon 7D)
  • Camera Phone to DSLR
  • Art work to Still (Art work could be a painting, poster, graphics, screen grab etc)
  • Real World Objects to Still

Let us take Speedgrade CC down a few of these options and see what comes out, the only thing to say is that upon opening Speedgrade CC  for the first time does look like a console of the space shuttle endeavour (but it’s not that hard, honestly)!

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 13.40.46

Let us take the Video to Video option as well as a quick how to (This post unfortunately won’t teach you how to use Speedgrade CC, only to this one feature).

Here are two videos and I would like to make the right hand sequence look like the left hand one.

Open Speedgrade CC and make sure it is “MEDIA”  mode (top right), using the navigator on the left hand side, find the clip that needs to be altered (in this case it is the clip that was shot flat) and drag it from the content folder (Yellow) to the left hand side of the time line (marked in Blue).
Red – File system navigator
Yellow – Contents of the folder
Orange – Time Line
Blue – Clip that is being dragged from the contents area (Yellow) into the timeline
Continue to drag and place the source clip (the one that has the desired look) onto the time line and move Speedgrade CC into “Color” mode (top right).
Both clips should now appear on the timeline (this is shown in Red), along with a play head (shown in Purple).
As soon as Speedgrade is moved to the “Color” mode the frame of the clip will be shown in the yellow section of the screen. Notice here that only one clip is shown, but there are two clips in the time line. We now need to create a second play head, this playhead will be used to position Speedgrade CC to the point that it will reference the source clip and create the look for the destination. Click the “2up” button (in Green)
Once the “2up” button has been clicked, a second play head will appear, as well as the second frame. Notice in the screen shot below the flat shot is on the left and graded shot on the right (there is no hard and fast rule here, as the grading source is irrelevant and can be controlled by the selected play head (described in the next section).
It may be, that you need to move the frames of the clips to find a frame that matches in both source and destination. To move the play head, you will need to grab the handle at the right hand side (marked purple), this will move the grabbed play head only. The middle section of the play head (yellow) is the time code of the clip, and when dragged, will drag all play head handles. The green part of the clip is the playhead number.
Using the playhead handles on both clips (single play head shown in Red), a similar frame can be found across both clips, or a frame on each clip that will a resemble the source frame and destination frame (remembering that the source is the graded and destination is the flat clip).
Once this frame selections are made the shots can be matched. Before we make the “match”, notice the blue box under the “Look” menu and see that there is a layer called “Primary”. If this layer is not there, click on the “+P” to create it. Sometimes there is a layer called “AutoColorMatch”, before the “match” button is pressed this layer should be deleted. Make sure there is a “Primary” layer there first, then Click on the “AutoColorMatch” layer and click the “trash” icon (bottom right of the blue box).
The green box above contains the “show grade” button and should be turned on, then any grade changes will be made visible. The pink box contains the match shot button, once this is clicked, the destination frame will be matched to source frame.
The next part is to get the grade out of Speedgrade CC and into Photoshop CC, and apply to the flat video.
To do this, click on the “AutoColourMatch” layer, then click on the icon next to the trash can (marked red).
This will create a look file in the panel below (marked yellow).
The look file will be the difference in tonal values from the source to the destination and is completely portable between applications (Ae, Ps and Pr).
The look will be displayed to the right of any current items in the list (marked blue). To export the look file out of Speedgrade CC, right click on the look and choose Export Look.
The Export look dialog box will be displayed
Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 16.04.02

The ones that we will focus on are the .look, .cube and 3DL files. Click on the Export button and place the file somewhere (it will be a zip file), you will need to unzip the zip file before progressing to the next step, and bringing the look into Photoshop CC or CS6.

Open the clip in Photoshop, it should be displayed on the screen with an associated time line, as well as the video in the layers palette.

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 16.07.31

Photoshop makes it really easy to apply the colour .look file.

Select menu item Layer / New Adjustment Layer / Color Lookup and press OK. Once chosen navigate to the properties panel, and you will see 3DLUT File, clock on “Load 3D Lut”, then click on “Load 3D LUT in the next panel.


Find either the .look, .3dl or the .cube file that was exported from Speedgrade CC. You should see the video looks the same as the source clip that we used earlier in this post. At which point it wil behave just like a normal Photoshop layer (why not try a blending mode for something different!).

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 16.15.20

you can see the final video with both clips below (the flat version was the right hand side)

Watch the above example how to video below

YouTube version

Matching Video to a Photoshop still image

The next logical step is to grade a piece of video against a JPG file that was created in Photoshop CC/CS6. For this we will apply  levels and curves to a still file in Photoshop CC and save as a JPG file, then take this into Speedgrade CC and grade the same flat video to the Photoshop adjustment.

Image to Image matching

How about we then take this one stage further and work on still images and tackle the original problem.


All video was assembled using Photoshop CC.

This post is a bit more complex and i have tried to be as accurate as i can, if you find an error in the text please drop me a comment. Also, if you find this post was useful, then please drop me a message.


Without the support of the following people this post would not have been possible

Glyn Dewis (Photographer / Retoucher and Trainer), Glyn can be found here.

John G Moore (Professional Photographer), John’s website is located here, his Behance page and G+ profile.

Julieanne Kost (WWW Principal Evangelist at Adobe Systems), Julieanne’s blog, and her work.


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