Whether you want to fix a problem or simply give your video more style,Adobe Photoshop can help. I’ve put together an in-depth article to walk you through all the essential steps of fixing your video shots using tools you may already be familiar with.

Why Color Correct Video in Adobe Photoshop?

When Adobe unveiled the robust video editing capabilities with Photoshop CS6, the response from many was a simple Why? In some regards this is a legitimate question as for most, Photoshop is closely linked with digital photography.

Its the tool used to develop and process images captured by cameras into a more useful state. Of course, why can’t the same logic be applied to both video and photographic cameras (especially since these cameras seem to often be on a collision course as well)?

A Brief History of Photoshop and Video

Its important that you realize that Photoshop and Video have a long history together. Photoshop begin (in part) as tool for Industrial Light & Magic the noted special effects company. In 1987, Thomas Knoll began writing an application to edit and display grayscale images on his Macintosh computer. His brother Thomas was a visual effects supervisor at ILM and encouraged his brother to pursue it as a full application for editing.

Originally the application was called ImagePro, but was quickly renamed Photoshop as the previous name was taken. The software was used to help with visual effects in the film The Abyss (directed by James Cameron). The application was sold to Adobe and first shipped in 1990 as a Macintosh only program.

The program has been used by video and film professionals for years. I first used it professionally working for a television station that designed all of its on-air graphics using Photoshop. I then found myself using its powerful tools to create graphics for use with nonlinear editing systems like Avid, Apple Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premiere Pro. In fact Adobe estimates that 95% of all video editors used Photoshop in their professional workflow.

Which Version of Photoshop Do You Need?

The ability to directly open up video in Photoshop really began with Photoshop CS3 Extended. In those days you could open a video clip and apply a few adjustments and then send it back out. As the application matured, we eventually saw the addition of a timeline. However this was really to just view individually clips and modify frames. There was the ability to color correct and modify video and thats about it.

Was it a great experience? Not necessarily, and it wasn’t even something that many people could access. Until Photoshop CS6, the ability was isolated to the more expensive and specialized version of Photoshop called Photoshop Extended.This only came in certain versions of the Creative Suite and was a more expensive upgrade that many people didn’t take. Some video editing features existed, but they were clunky, hard to access, and relatively unknown to all but a few pros.

Now that Photoshops video tools are fully supported in the Creative Cloud, you might as well take advantage of them. Photoshops timeline is perfect for quick edits or its incredible ability to color correct using the Photoshop tools you know and love.

For many photographers and designers Photoshop is their home base. Its where they feel most comfortable and like working. Adobe has responded by enhancing the well-loved application adding highly functional, yet easy to use (and even familiar) tools to get the job done.

I had the joy of working with the Adobe team as they developed these features. I can ensure you that the goal is to give you just what you need for basic video editing. It’s essentially there to help millions of photographers and designers get all that the DSLR and other video, off their hard drives and start putting it into action.

If you need to fix a few shots, it’s a great tool. If you need to assemble a short video for the web, it’s a really good tool. It’s got a lot of features, and what really stands out is its clean and simplified interface for assembling video clips together quickly.

Supported Formats

The following formats can usually be opened in Photoshop. For best results install QuickTime Pro from Apple.

Movie Formats

  • MPEG?1
  • MPEG?2 (typically used for DVD Production)
  • MPEG?4
  • MOV
  • AVI

Image Sequence Formats

  • BMP
  • Cineon
  • DICOM
  • JPEG
  • JPEG 2000
  • OpenEXR
  • PNG
  • PSD
  • TIFF

An Overview of the Editing Process

Unlike Photography, color correction and grading is one of the last steps you’ll perform when working with video. The act of editing a video can often seem a bit overwhelming. This is because it is a very specialized process and one that differs greatly from many photographic or design tasks. Understanding the standard workflow can help you complete an edit in less time and with less stress. Lets explore the essential steps at a high level.

  • Ingest. The first step to editing video is to transfer the footage from your camera or memory cards. Video files are much larger than photographs, so you’ll often spend a lot more time at this stage. Additionally, the hardware choices you make (such as card reader and hard drive) can have a huge impact on your success and frustration levels.
  • Organize. The act of editing a video is really the process of getting organized. Essentially you need to be able to find the best parts and separate them from the parts that aren’t so good (or can’t be fixed). Spending a little more time up front on making the best selects as well as using metadata and rankings can dramatically improve the editing process.

  • Edit. The editing process is really three parts. First you edit away the portions of a clip that aren’t useful to your narrative goals. Once the clip is trimmed, you’ll then sequence it in a timeline. This process involves changing the order of clips in order to tell the most engaging story or to create a logical flow. Finally, the timing of clips is often refined by either trimming or adding transitions. This final stage improves the overall rhythm and flow of your story.
  • Mix Audio. Because the volume of your clips will come in at different levels, you’ll need to mix your tracks to achieve a pleasing sound. Perhaps you need to bring your narration track louder or pull the background sound down on a clip so its not overpowering the music track.

  • Color Grade. For many photographers, one of the first tasks they tackle is that of fixing color and exposure issues. When editing video, you’ll want to put this task near the end. There are several reasons for this reordering.


First, because video is a sequential medium, you’ll often make adjustments based on the shots that come before and after a clip. Additionally you may change the look of a clip based on the mood youre trying to convey. There is also a technical reason for this approach.

Using color and exposure adjustments in Photoshop increases the demand on your computer. As such performance can slow down which can impact the ability to view clips in real-time (an important part of the edit stage). Typically you can quickly adjust a clip to see if its usable, but then discard the adjustment layers until youve finished the actually editing stage.The color grading and image repair tools make it an excellent choice for even video professionals.

  • Export. Once youre project is all done, you’ll find several publishing options available. From Photoshop you can create master quality QuickTime video files for archiving as well as DPX image sequences so you can exchange with other professional tools. You’ll also find the ability to export H.264 video files for use on the web or several portable media players.

Get to Know the Video Workspace

One of the best ways to learn something is to actually try it. The use of workspaces has helped users stay organized when working in Photoshop for several years. A workspace is essentially a saved configurations of panels; the ability to quickly switch between one layout to another. To work with video, you’ll find a dedicated workspace called Motion.

There are a two ways to change work- spaces.

  • Choose Window > Workspace > Motion.
  • Click the Workspace Switcher (a pop-up menu) in the upper-right corner and choose Motion.

Workspaces are sticky, meaning that their layout can be changed from the default position by moving panels around or even closing them. If your screen doesn’t look similar to what you see here, choose the Reset Motion option from either the Window > Workspace menu or the Workspace Switcher. Once chosen and reset, the key tools and panels you’ll need to edit video will be readily available.

The Timeline Panel

The Timeline panel shows you a linear arrangement of clips that youve edited together. Because video is a time-based medium, as you assemble clips in the time- line, it will grow longer. You can change the zoom level in the timeline to see more or less clips, but it is still a constant measurement of the progress youve made when editing video. If youve ever used a video editing tool, the Timeline will seem fairly intuitive.

For now, lets explore the basics:

  • Play. In the upper-left corner of the timeline panel click the Play button. The video in your timeline should start to playback. If your system has sufficient power, it may playback in real-time. Otherwise, frames may need to cache to RAM in order to playback smoothly.
  • Stop. Click the Stop button to stop playback.
  • Next Frame. Click the Go to next frame and Go to previous frame buttons to try out advancing a frame at a time. This is a useful command when you want to closely examine a clip when per- forming image touchup or trying to trim away unwanted action.

The Canvas

As you played back video in the Timeline panel, the Canvas updated to match. These two panels are closely related. While the timeline shows you a graphic- based interface to control the timing and arrangement of clips, the canvas shows you the end result. The Timeline and Can- vas are co-dependent and you must be able to see both at the same time while editing video. For this reason, most choose to keep the Timeline panel docked at the bottom edge of the screen directly below the Canvas.

The Layers Panel

Most Photoshop users quickly come to de- pend on the Layers panel to organize their Photoshop documents. The use of layers makes it easy to combine artwork, photos, text, and adjustments. Chances are as an experienced Photoshop user you already know (and depend on) the Layers panel.

When working with video, you’ll find an important addition to the Layers panel, that of Video Groups. Much like a regular group which contain several layers, a video group holds several clips. The bottommost clip in the Video Group appears first in the timeline, while the subsequent clips that appear above will come after.

The Channels Panel

The Channels panel is docked with the Layers panel by default. The Channels panel lets you view the individual components of color. Video is typically treated as an RGB file by Photoshop, meaning that three channels are used to describe the amount of Red Green and Blue in an individual pixel.

The brighter the area in the individual channel the more presence there is for that color. Being able to read the Channels panel will help you unlock a wealth of color correction tools.

The Adjustments Panel

The Adjustments panel is the easiest way to make nondestructive adjustments to a video clip. Unlike the Image menu (which applies to only a single frame of video), the adjustment layers created by the Adjustments panel can be refined and adjusted at any time.

The adjustments are grouped into three categories:

  • Tonal controls. Use these controls to adjust Brightness/Contrast, Levels, Curves, and Exposure in a nondestructive fashion.
  • Color controls. Use these controls to adjust Hue/Saturation, Color Balance, Black & White conversion, Photo Filter, Channel Mixer, and Color Lookup properties.
  • Creative/Advanced controls. These controls are special purpose adjustments and include Invert, Posterize, Threshold, Gradient Map, and Selective Color.

The Histogram Panel

The Histogram panel is very useful when color correcting or adjusting exposure. The panel shows you a left to right graph, which illustrates how the pixels in the image are distributed across brightness levels. To read a histogram, start at the left edge, which shows the shadow regions.

The middle shows the midtones (where most adjustments to an image are made), and to the right are the highlights. One easy way to understand it is that a wider histogram indicates better contrast in a clip.