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Why Are Roger Deakin's Waveforms Better than Mine?

Richard Swearinger

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Do clean waveforms equal better shots?

I was looking at the waveforms of a few different great films and they all shared something. The waveforms were very clean looking and usually surrounded by big areas of black—completely unlike mine which typically look like RGB shredded wheat.

Attached are examples from Roger's The Assassination of Jesse James and Ben-Hur.

Of course there are no shortcuts around careful composition, elegant lighting, and proper exposure, but am I crazy to think that uncluttered, organized-looking waveform patterns might also be an indicator that the image is on the right track visually?






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I have no idea what you mean. Can you share some similar shots of yours with their equivalent waveforms?

I can't think of any reason as to why a waveform reading should have any impact on the aesthetic quality of a image.

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Crew, Color Correction, and Control. Probably not in that order, but that is why so and so who is working on a huge budget and your own things can be distinguished. No matter how creative the DoP you need not only the crew and kit to get a good look but a director and producer willing to give you that control over the image (many won't). But if you get there, you can get great looks.


As for a histogram proper; I don't even really use the things and I bet most DoPs, at a point, don't either. We may check them, but I think many of us still fall to using our meters, and moreover our eyes and while we shouldn't we may be working right off of our evfs etc (or with a quick false color toggle).

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I really think there's something in this.

I don't think cinematographers are using waveforms to judge composition, or even very much to judge about lighting, other than exposure levels.

But by 'measuring' the images with a waveform monitor, some of their structure makes itself apparent.

(That's true if we're looking at images from the camera or final shots as they appear in the film).

The waveform is showing something about the geometry of an image, and often images that people like from a cinematography standpoint are very clear and simple, the viewer knows exactly how to interpret what's going on.

Look at this list:

(I'm not saying I agree with the list, but they are the sort of shots many people like).

Most of them are very simple and could be sketched without too many pencil lines.

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From what I read from Roger Deakins is that he attempts to get 'very close' to his final look in camera, whether film or digital. He then 'tweaks' the color balance when color grading. In the case of "Oh, Brother Where Art Thou"(2000) he was one (if not the one...) of the first to use massive color grading via digital means, to make the 'dusty/warm' cast, especially taking 'green' fields of whatever and turning them in to a golden yellow...


In any case, the main message is start with a color scheme, light to as best as can be expected for the circumstances of filming, and tweak later in post.


I would also note that often for the DVD/BD disk releases he has not been intimately involved in the color correction of the released product, and so, there could be variations depending on who did it, and their 'color aesthetics'.

Edited by John E Clark
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Instead of comparing waveforms, compare your images to his. Start asking why you like his specific frame? Is it the quality of light? The color? Composition?


A waveform, histogram, vectorscope, and so on are just tools to figure out exposure and color. They will never tell you WHY a decision was made.

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I would also note that often for the DVD/BD disk releases he has not been intimately involved in the color correction of the released product, and so, there could be variations depending on who did it, and their 'color aesthetics'.


the most common practice here is to use the final TV masters also for dvd and bluray creation and for making VOD files and these masters (usually prores hq or 444 here) are checked by the main colorist of the feature film. the colorists are usually reasonably precise about the color accuracy of these tv masters compared to the original dcp grade so the possible color/gamma variations, if any, are thus almost always the dvd/bluray authoring company's fault. if there is enough budget there may be a separate grade for TV masters which is checked by the DP and Director so they should know if there is some intentional changes made to it like making the darkest scenes a little brighter for TV release to ensure the viewer can see the important elements.


workflows can vary from country to country but it is most likely a screw up if there is very noticeable changes in brightness/gamma/colors in bluray/dvd release compared to the tv masters or cinema release (excluding the darkest scenes which may be intentionally made a little brighter for tv release to compensate the viewing environment)

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