Back in the early days of video, tehcnicians relied on two main instruments: the waveform and the vectorscope. Even though we now have fancy flat-panel monitors, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these venerable tools – especially the Waveform.
In Premiere Pro, you can switch to the Waveform view by clicking on the little wrench icon under the program window.
Ideally, you want a full range of video signal all the way from bright white (100 IRE) to dark black (0 IRE). If your signal is all smushed up in the middle like this, it’s going to look muddy and unattractive.
Use your color-grading software of choice (I use Colorista II from Red Giant Software) to adjust your highlights, midtones and shadows so that you have a nice full signal. You don’t want to pull your highlights over 100 or they’ll start to clip, and you don’t want to drag your shadows down below 0 or they’ll turn into inky blotches. Just aim for a nice, balanced signal.
Please note that, if you’re used to a histogram, this is a different way of looking at the signal. It is, in my opinion, a much more intuitive one. While a histogram puts dark on the left and bright on the right, the waveform, puts dark at the bottom, and bright at the top. From left to right, the Waveform plot corresponds with the image, from left to right. The darker the pixels, the lower (closer to 0) they are placed on the Waveform view.
If you’re not used to checking your color grade with a Waveform, give it a try. Before long, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.