Camera Profiles and Color Calibration

Accurate representation of color is important to us all, but especially so in the field of wedding photography (product photography too!!).

It is important to get it right in camera so that less time is spent trying to correct color casts and shifts in Photoshop.

Central to getting color right in camera is to manually set the white balance for the shooting conditions at the time. It only takes about 20 seconds longer, but it saves hours.

I use the X-Rite Color Checker passport to help me with this. It costs around $130 on eBay.

I first set my camera  for white balance. The Color Checker Passport has a white balance card in-built as well. Then I take a shot of the Color Checker target in the light where I will be shooting. And that’s it.

In Lightroom, in the Library module, I highlight the image of the Color Checker Passport. Then I click on the Export button. I give the image of the Color Checker Passport a name and a new profile is created in the Camera Calibration tab in Lightroom.

I move to the Develop module, choose the newly created profile from the drop down Camera Calibration menu, select all the images from the shoot that I want to use the profile with and hit Synchronise. All the images taken in those lighting conditions will now be color corrected to a standard base line from which you can warm or cool images as needed.

This saves me from second guessing what my eyes tell me on the monitor and imagining imperfections in this part of my workflow. It also saves me hours of work guessing at an appropriate color temperature in the RAW processor for each batch of images that I process.

If you ask whether I now take a Color Checker Passport test for different lighting set ups I am in at, say, a wedding, the answer is yes. It takes very little time to do and I am completely over fiddling around in my RAW processor to approximate a decent temperature and colour balance.

So, manual white balance to set overall parameters, and then use of the Color Checker Passport image to get the most accurate color possible for my camera and lens combination.

Of course, if you wanted, you could take a shot of the Color Checker Passport target in settings you typically shoot in (sun, shade and flash). The software that comes with Color Checker Passport allows you to save these targets for the camera you use as a preset in Lightroom (you must use a DNG (Digital Negative) file). Then, all you need to do is open the appropriate preset in the Camera Calibration tab in the RAW processor, click on it and synchronise the images you have taken for the shoot to get accurate color.

Regarding DNG files, I now import all the RAW files from my camera as DNG files in order to allow the Color Checker Passport software to do its thing (Color Checker Passport needs a DNG file to create a camera profile), but also because:

a) it’s a future proofed file format (because Adobe made it open source) and proprietary RAW processors will chop and change and

b) the DNG format takes up a little less space even thought it still contains the xmp. data which is the all important part of a RAW file. In other words, a processed file saved as DNG shows as only a single entity as opposed to a processed RAW file which show the RAW file as well as its attendant sidecar (xmp.) data file.

You may ask whether, if you have a couple of bodies,you would need to make two camera profiles, one for each body. The technical and in-the-field answers are “yes”.

This is because no two sensors respond the same to color wavelengths, and even two identical model camera bodies from the same manufacturer will show a slightly different color response…..

All that remains is to ensure that your monitor and printer are calibrated so that what you see on-screen is what you get when you print out your images.

If you want to read a little more about the Color Checker Passport for your own interest, there are many sites explaining this tool, but you can have a look at a video of it at work here.

If you want to read about it in greater detail take a look at Rob Gailbraith’s page here.

In a future post, I will have a look at simple and easy to use methods for monitor and printer calibration which should keep you very happy with your little studio at home!!

Color Checker Passport with mid grey patch circled

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Farewell to the first decade of the new millenium

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve and we are on the cusp of a new decade. Economically, there are uncertain times ahead, with the financial vulnerability of of financial institutions, even whole countries, affecting everyone.

Photographically, there are exciting times ahead with camera manufacturers deciding to discard the megapixel wars. After all, a 5 megapixel camera will produce excellent 8x10s and even A3 prints (at a slightly lower resolution). Manufacturers  are now concentrating on image quality from full frame sensors paired with larger photosites per pixel to greatly improve image quality.

At long last, the compact camera market is being tantalized with DX size sensors in a compact body and even interchangeable lenses…..

I’m not an early adopter by habit, so I’m waiting for Ricoh and Panasonic and Olympus to iron out any wrinkles and for Nikon and Canon to enter the market in this category.

I don’t see anything new and exciting in terms of color management or workflow systems as the take-up of Lightroom and Aperture expands and improves with each version release. The in-camera white balance tools have already saturated the market and, let’s face it, spectrally neutral grey or white or black is spectrally neutral……Not much wiggle room there.

I expect to see an even greater increase in lenses with vibration reduction technology from the big two with VR technology becoming more prevalent and filtering down to even the simplest compacts.

If I can afford it in 2011, I’ll buy the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VRII lens which received glowing posts re sharpness across the range and for its more aggressive VR capabilities (ie allowing u to shoot hand-held at ever slower shutter speeds).

Also looking forward to the D700 replacement. This will no doubt have HD video capability and an increased megapixel count, and it remains to be seen how this increase compares with the excellent ‘noiseless’ sensor of the D700 at high ISO levels. Who knows, the trade-off between a higher megapixel count in the D700 replacement and noise-free images on the D700 at high ISOs might just convince me to pick up a second hand D700……

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and a healthy and happy 2011.

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Pre Wedding shoot

On the day after Boxing Day, I met Ailyn and Ben at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens. Ailyn and Ben were about to leave Adelaide to get married amongst family and friends in Malaysia, but they wanted me to take a few shots of them in the outdoors before they headed overseas.




















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My $2 Custom White Balance filter

Last week I tried out an expensive ($70) white balance instrument that came from Korea. It worked liked the booklet said it would. But, by that same token, anything is better than the standard AWB setting on the the DSLR.

I promised I would have a look at cheaper options and the results are in. The Mennon WB filter is a piece of plastic (I bought the 77mm version to handhold over the largest lens diameter I have). It was very cheap. I took two images, one without and one with. The results speak for themselves:

With $2 Custom White Balance target

Without Custom White Balance target

So, what does this mean for color critical  work? Well, the white plastic material is probably not spectrally flat and may introduce color shifts if the end product is color critical. However, it is smaller, lighter, does a decent job and is $68 cheaper……..

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White Balance

Good color balance is one underpinning of good photography (the others are lighting, exposure and being there…). There are many ways to go about getting a good color balance in camera. This saves an enormous amount of post-processing time, particularly when, as a wedding photographer, you have hundreds of images to process in Lightroom or Aperture.

There are a range of gadgets which help you get accurate colour. From the tried and true 18% grey card to a variety of neutral white plastics which fit over the camera lens to set a custom white balance. All have their plusses and minuses. The aim is to first set a base line for the camera in terms of color temperature. Once that is set, blacks and whites more easily managed without introducing unwanted color shifts and other colors are truer to what you saw through the viewfinder.

This week I took delivery of the CPL color balance lens. It is an unusual looking device made in Korea, with concentric rings on a white side and an 18% gray plastic on the other. However, the difference it makes to the image in-camera is great. The white side has a series of slots atop a silvered bottom layer; the grey side is simply 18% grey.

I tried it out immediately under fluorescent lighting and difference was very gratifying.  Skin colors in particular were great.The gray side is used for studio flash and daylight light conditions, while the white side is used for mixed light conditions, low light and cloudy conditions.

To use it, you hold it in front of your lens and fill 70% of the frame with the image of the CBL lens. You can leave the camera on autofocus. Set the camera for Custom White Balance, release the camera’s shutter and your white balance is good to go in that lighting condition. It takes me about 20 seconds to set up.

The results are very good with vibrant colours and sharpness. You can read the technical details about the gadget from the manufacturer’s website here.

To demonstrate the difference to an image a custom white balance can make, I took two shots in my back garden. The first was with the camera set to Auto WB (always a poor choice!!); the second with custom white balance using the CBL lens. Both images are JPEG files SOOC (straight out of camera).

If you look at the examples below, you will see that apart from the striking difference in colour rendition, the bottom image seems to have more “bite” in terms of local contrast. It also loses the cold tell-tale blue of the “without” image above it.

Does this mean that slip-over-the-lens products won’t get the same results? Well, I have a $2 slip-over-the-lens product which I will also use to color balance an image. More on the comparison in a later blog.

Do RAW shooters need in-camera white balance? Not unless you want to spend a lot of time in front of the computer going through each image and clicking with the eye-dropper tool. JPEG shooters on the other hand will be doing themselves a big favour by getting this right in-camera.

The CBL lens will save me a heap of time in post-processing in front of a camera and allow me to spend more time behind the camera.

More on color correction in-camera and in post-production soon.

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Cemons Models

Last week I did a photo shoot for Cemon Hair Salon.

The models were gorgeous and they were extremely patient and gracious. Thank you girls!!

Lighting: Alien Bee in softbox; reflector fill

Nikon D300; Nikkor 70-200f2.8; Tamron 90mm macro.

Developed in Lightroom 3.

Here are some of the images we shot.

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