Getting Started With DaVinci Resolve

Getting that Hollywood colour on your footage is available to everyone with DaVinci Resolve.

The image you are watching on your TV, cinema screen or your smartphone will have looked a lot different when it came out of the camera.

So how did it end up looking so good?

That’s down to a process called Colour Grading. As you are reading this then we will assume that you know this and want to know how to get started doing it.

DaVinci Resolve from Blackmagic Design, is an industry-standard coloring software that’s available or free.

Free also means free. The software comes in the standard free version and the paid-for ‘studio’ version. So go ahead and install the latest version of DaVinci Resolve right now and begin using it.

The resolve system can be utilised with full colour grading panels to give a professional and robust colourist setup. It is the go-to for professional colour graders. The software has now grown to accommodate a full, non-linear editor (NLE) to rival Apple Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro (although, it will still work absolutely fine with either as a companion tool).

So, there’s a professional colour grading software system available for you to use for free. How do you get started?

Before you begin

DaVinci Resolve GPU Full
DaVinci Resolve GPU Full

DaVinci Resolve is supported on both MacOS and Windows PCs. Blackmagic Design recommends at least 16GB of RAM, though Resolve will run on just 8GB. Resolve is a memory and graphics-intensive application and will swallow up whatever you can throw at it.

Graphics card requirements aren’t explicitly given but it goes without saying that the newer the better.

Resolve is designed with professionals in mind so it’s best to consider using high quality uncompressed footage with the software. Such as RAW, Apple ProRes or DNxHD files. Highly compressed files such a H.264 encoded clips are going to be very restrictive and you will quickly notice that your image begins to tear as you push it further in the grade. Shooting in a neutral or flat profile within your camera is going to give you the best results when grading in post. These profiles ensure that there is flexibility in the grade to pull out contrast in the highs and the lows and also dial in saturation. Whereas, if you shoot with a stylised profile you have far less flexibility to alter the image that has already been shot.

Opening up Resolve

There’s four main areas in the interface of Resolve; Media, Edit, Colour, and Deliver. For now let’s just focus on the Colour workspace.

There two main different systems of colour grading software; layer based and node based. Resolve is the latter and for those who have not seen or worked with them they can look quite confusing. Don’t worry they are quick to get the hang of and are actually one of Resolves strengths rather than a hinderance.

DaVinci Resolve Nodes
DaVinci Resolve Nodes

Nodes are used to separate different steps in the colour grading process. Think of them as a sort of left-to-right layer system. So, your first node could be a highlights and shadows node, then you could add a second node from that to alter the white balance. A third node could give you a primary grade and a fourth node your secondary grade. This is oversimplified but to get started it is more than enough.Nodes get much more advanced than this, but using them to separate stages in your colouring workflow is a good place to start.

Making tweaks

If you have come from an NLE background such as Premiere then making colour and exposure adjustments will look fairly familiar to the Lumetri colour engine effect.

DaVinci Resolve Colour Wheels
DaVinci Resolve Colour Wheels

The powerhouse of Resolve is in it’s colour wheels and curves adjustments. Which can control major and minute details of your image with accuracy. Let’s click on ‘Colour Wheels’ and take a deeper look at how these work.

You will find four wheels labeled “lift,” “gamma,” “gain,” and “offset,” each with a dial below them. Beneath that are options for hue, saturation, contrast and pivot. The names are from the internal industry grading terms but essentially “lift” is shadows, “gamma” is your midtones, and “gain” is highlights. “Offset” when adjusted will affect the entire image across all three.

Using the wheels themselves, you can alter and balance the colour of the image. You can generally adjust the colour of your shot by moving the wheel towards the opposite colour. For instance, if your shot is quite warm in the highlights, try moving the wheel towards blue.

Curves are one of our favourite features for making adjustments. Whether that’s in Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop or Resolve, they are a great tool for precision tweaks. Curves work by having a separate line for red, green, blue, and luminance channels, but they can be chained together by clicking the chain icon. Make sure they are not locked if you want to use curves to balance colour.

DaVinci Resolve Curves
DaVinci Resolve Curves

Making an adjustment is simple, just click anywhere along the line of the channel you want to alter and you can then drag it up or down. This will have added a control point to the line you adjusted, which you can go back to at any point to tweak that point again. When chained together, the curves are can be used to add contrast, by pulling down the shadows and moving the highlights up.

With curves you need to make very slight adjustments on your lines as each movement can have significant changes to your image. Keep an eye on your scopes and image to make sure it is looking the way you want it.

Note. When colour grading it is useful to do this work in a neutral environment, preferably with a grey background. Take regular breaks to look away from the screen and back again. Your eyes adjust to the image you have adjusted and fresh eyes can see things that fatigues ones can’t.

Both colour wheels and curves will give you a similar level of control of your image but they do it in different ways and finding your preferred way of working will just take practice. Once you have mastered one way of working you can start practicing using them to apply colour grades to your footage.

Round-tripping with other NLEs

Resolve can be used as an NLE itself and Blackmagic have been improving this side of the software with each new version. If this is something you would like to consider then you can do this in the ‘media’ and ‘edit’ tabs at the bottom of the interface.

One way of working with Resolve from other NLE’s is to export a high resolution version of your timeline to grade in Resolve. However, this could take some time and means baking in all of your transitions and effects. It also creates a redundant version of your media.

Using XML files is the preferred method when working with Resolve. Resolve supports XML files from both Final Cut and Premiere. It will pull in your source footage plus all of your audio, effects and transitions (as many as Resolve features, which is quite a few) so you shouldn’t lose anything in the process.

DaVinci Resolve XML
DaVinci Resolve XML Import

That’s it.

This was a rather short introduction to the interface and some features of Resolve.

You should now be able to comfortably practice using the software and making adjustments to your footage.

If Resolve becomes your colour grading software of choice then the Studio version is always a consideration that offers even more features for collaboration working.

By Andrew Edmondson