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  • Writer's pictureDylan John Dickerson

BEST WAY to correct skin tones in Final Cut Pro

Correcting off color skin tones in Final Cut Pro got a whole lot easier with the introduction of HSL masking controls in October of 2019. Final Cut Pro now gives us the power to isolate the skin tones with incredible precision to adjust them how we want, and not affect other colors in our shot. Let’s do some learning.

To identify whether your skin tones are accurate to what our eyes would see, we’ll pull up the vectorscope and the luma waveform. These two scopes are going to be your best buddies when it comes to making skin tones natural. If you didn’t see my last week’s video on scopes, check that out after this because I go into all scopes in some detail. So we’ll press Command 7, we’ll make sure to have a two up scope option by pressing view, and then one of these. Then we’ll click this icon that looks like a bar chart in a text box, and we’ll pull up the Vectorscope and the Luma Waveform.

With the vectorscope, this line here is the skin tone line. It doesn’t matter the shade of your skin, it’ll all be on this line if accurate. What we will end up doing is crop in to our subjects skin by using the crop tool and if it’s not on the line, like we see here, then we’ll do some corrections to make it natural again.

The luma waveform will help us to tell if the brightness of our subjects skin is accurate to the natural brightness of human skin. Generally human skin should fall between 35 and 70 IRE on the luma waveform depending on the person’s shade. Because of this, most exposure adjustments we make will be done in the midtones.

So let’s do an example. Possibly something in your shot left a color cast on your subjects skin like we see here. I have no idea why my skin tone was off here, because I use a white balance card, but it is. We can tell it’s wrong just by looking at it. Something is off. Cropping in to the skin and using the vectorscope’s skin tone line to check will help us verify our assumptions. We like the color of our shot as a whole, but clearly the skin tones need adjusting. So we’ll press command 6 to bring up our color correction window, we’ll add color wheels, and we’ll press ‘add color mask’ right here. We’ll go down and make sure HSL is selected for the mask. This was that awesome new update I talked about in the intro. We’ll select and drag our subjects skin till we have a good area selected, without involving too much of the rest of the shot. If you want to add more to the mask, hold down shift and drag. But don’t get mad if things in your shot that are a similar color are getting included in the mask, because here’s how we’ll fine tune the adjustment.

Head on down to where you made sure your mask controls where set to HSL. By clicking ‘view mask’ we’re able to see what was selected in the shot. The white part is the selected area that we will be affected if we make a color correction, and the black will not be affected if we make a color correction. H is the hue or color adjustment slider in your mask. Generally, the dropper does a good enough job with this, so I rarely use this one to adjust. However at times you may need to. Saturation and Luma we’ll use the most to fine tune the mask so we can make a skin tone color correction. These top two triangles are for the range of each category, so the range of brightness in this slider, and the bottom triangles are for feathering, or basically to make the adjustment more gradual and softer.

There is no set placement for these, since every shot is different. It’s basically trial and error until you find the most area of your skin tones selected in white, while leaving what you don’t want to change in black. Once you have a good selection, we’ll turn off the mask and head up to our sliders. Since all of my skin tones look pretty off color, I’ll use the master color wheel to adjust the color. Push the wheel away from the general off color of your shot and try and line up your subject’s skin color on the skin tone line in the vectorscope.

We can also see that my skin is maybe a little too bright. Yes, I haven’t been getting much sun as of late, but it could be dragged down a tad. And we can tell that just by eyeballing it, and by checking the luma waveform. Most color correction I do I feel like I just eye ball it, and if it looks off, then I adjust, but it’s always good to check your scopes to make sure your eyes aren’t being dumb. I’m going to lower the skin tones with the midtones slider because that’s where the luma value for my skin lies. Adjusting by way of the Master, highlights, and shadows color wheels will usually lead to a less than desirable effect.

And that’s it guys!

There is a chance you set your white balance wrong while shooting and the whole shot is a certain color. This is an easier fix and you probably won’t even need to use a color mask. So for this, just crop in on your subject’s skin, pull up your color wheels, and push the ‘master wheel’ until the skin tones match up with the skin tone line correctly. Click reset, and done, and check if the shot looks balanced. If not, you can add another color wheel to make different adjustments and proceed with masks if you think it needs a more precise correction.

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