Founder and senior colourist at Cheat
Trend prediction will always be an exercise in glass ball gazing but there are a lot of interesting observations on grading trends to take into 2023. I'll start with a caveat on trends in colour grading; I can say with confidence that it’s hard to identify overarching trends across the whole gamut of the work that we do as colourists as our work is as varied as the photography and subject matter we work with.
Trends are speeding up and also diversifying into subsets, perhaps reflective of culture and the polarisation we’ve seen in recent years, but also due to the increase in speed and dissemination through the proliferation of social media and user generated content. The democratisation of ‘grading’ the look and editing of video has given access to millions of users worldwide to alter their video content to enhance the feeling and mood of their moving images (or leave it completely ‘bare’), with billions of eyes paying attention. Brands and agencies are hurriedly trying to compete with a new form of content that strives to achieve authenticity and realism or has a low-fi feel.
For those brands and creatives going against the grain of mass consumer media, some trends are continuing from the 2000s/2010s. Highly polished commercial work, where the high-end camera formats continue to excel in image quality and fidelity, are being combined with new approaches in look development. Advancements in grading and the tools we have available means we can now refine much smaller ranges of the images we work with and find a level of perfectionism through grading alone that was once a pipe dream.
Adding HDR (high dynamic range) presentation to the mix this year thanks to broad support on Instagram, YouTube, websites and mobile devices will push this forward with a bigger canvas (more tonality and more colours available) to better showcase this extended detail and information as we see fit. I can’t wait to grade more commercials in HDR and think it’s a great way forward to keep developing our craft. This might just be the biggest trend of 2023.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is beauty in the mundane with a demand for more authentic imagery. For me, it’s about keeping a level of ‘honesty’ to the imagery as if the light and subject were captured perfectly and 'displayed' in a way that feels natural. Achieving this beautiful naturalism is extremely hard, it’s something we see AI struggle with. Faking it is hard. For me, it’s about authenticity, not realism.
One evergreen trend in the era of digital video that I’ve always been fascinated about is film emulation. The past century of images acquired on film has left us with a subconscious relationship between the look of a film and the stories being told on screen. As digitally acquired images became the norm there was a split between filmmakers embracing the new digital realism (think Danny Boyle, Matt Reeves, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderberg), filmmakers sticking with film (think Paul Thomas Anderson, Chris Nolan, Quentin Tarantino) and everyone in between that either wanted to emulate film or borrow elements of the film aesthetic and transplant that onto their digital imagery. Looping back to the mainstream and user-generated content, it has been fascinating to see this approach become populated through filters and plugins for social media content and end users.
For me, there are a lot of parallels between a chef and a colourist and with all the trends around us, it’s important to make our mark with the ingredients we are given to stand out from the crowd. Everyone can cook, some are chefs and some of those chefs set trends. With the support of the Harbor colour science team, Cheat will be at the end of that spectrum in 2023, whatever the ingredients.
In terms of culture, we've seen massive investments from tech companies into VR. We'll start seeing more virtual reality-driven content with Meta's investment in VR and the metaverse. We'll see how the technology progresses over the next few years, but it's exciting to think that there's an entirely new way to engage with content and advertising starting to form.
I’ve also seen so many talented colourists delving into social media, each with a different eye for colour and their take on some of those looks that may have felt overused in the past. I don't see any looks that feel overused right now. I think the growth we've had in the industry over the last few years has allowed more colourists to get their ‘look’ seen by more people. This has allowed everyone to get more creative, step out of their comfort zone, and try something new and fresh.
From the new generation of colourists and platforms to showcase work, the biggest thing we’ve gained in the industry is exposure. More of the general public is becoming aware of colour grading and how it can help shape the look and feel of a film or show you're watching. And when it comes to the platforms we use daily, they are constantly improving toolsets to help us achieve the looks we want faster and help spark new ideas for looks. Some tools can create surprisingly good mattes with the swipe of the mouse and a click of a button. It's a fascinating time as we'll begin to see massive improvements in efficiency for some of the tedious, less creative tasks we have to ask colourists to do, allowing us to create looks that wouldn't have been possible before.
I'm not really finding any particular trends in any jobs I've been working on recently. If anything, I have noticed more variety in looks, and more confidence from clients to achieve something that is unique to their content. As an operator, this is great. It means I get to stretch my creative muscles and keep things from getting stale. I would always encourage people to have their work stand on its own two feet anyway.