When we buy cameras, typically they are not calibrated to the base line colour ICC profiles. This means that the colour that the camera records may or may not be the same colour as you saw when you took the photo. This may not bother you too much, if you are not using a colour managed workflow. However, when you are using a colour managed workflow, every stage in the editing process where you see colours and pictures are important.
What is an ICC profile? The ICC profile is a base line standard for the representation of colour. It is the only way to truly represent real world colour across the range of devices that are available in the world today. If for example you take a picture of an object that is red in colour, the way that an un calibrated device would see this is by matching it to what it thinks is the same colour, but unless the device is calibrated, the red it shows may not be the same red as the original colour. The ICC profile ensures that the red that the device displays, is the same red every time it is displayed across all calibrated devices. You can learn more about ICC profiles by following this link.
When we say colour managed workflow, what do we actually mean? There at least thee components to the colour managed workflow, The input device (in this case the camera), the editing devices (Screens) and the output device (could be anything from printers, tablets, phones, projectors or just the usual web browser). At each point the colours that are displayed may or may not be calibrated against the standard ICC profile, and can result in potentially strange looking images with funny colours.
Probably the most common and simplest device that people calibrate is the screen and there are various ways to do this. One is using a hardware devices (like an X-Rite Colour Monkey, or a Data Color Spyder (there are others of course)) the other is using software, however, the hardware way is the most accurate. All hardware devices sit in some form on your screen, and look at a range of colours that are displayed when you start the calibration process. The hardware device is able to look at the native colour for red, blue, white, black etc and based upon the colour it sees, can compare against the colour that it expects to see. If there is a difference, an adjustment can be made, this is done in the way of creating a custom ICC profile for the device, which records the differences between your screen and the actual base ICC profile. The hardware device is the best way to ensure that the colours that the screen shows are the actual colours in the image.
You can see in the picture above the Datacolor Spyder 4 Pro and how it sits on the screen.
One device that is always left out is the camera, which happens to be the most important in the process (“Garbage In, Garbage Out”), unless you know that your camera is calibrated correctly, then the colour that the image that is created when you press the shutter, may not show the correct colour, and, in turn the colour that the screen shows is also incorrect (regardless of the screen colour profile).
You can see these test shots that have been created out of three cameras. Each camera has it’s own colour characteristic, and even though they all look ok individually, when compared to each other, you can clearly see that each image is completely different, so it’s challenging to know which one is correct. It is also important to notice, that each camera and lens combination may produce different colours with different saturation and contrast. The calibration process should be done for each camera /lens combination. Also, some photographers will do this calibration for each white balance source (i.e. Tungsten lighting, daylight, flash etc), however, this is up to you on how far you go with it.
The piece of hardware that i have used in this post, is the Datacolor checkr (more information here). You will see the colour squares, these squares are created to each represent the ICC profile colour that we talked about earlier. Having this information means that we are able to then compare each colour square in the picture to the standard ICC profile (i.e. work out the difference between the picture to the actual ICC colour).
The checkr, is supplied with software that can be installed into both Lightroom / Adobe Camera RAW and works the same way for each.
It’s best to always shoot in RAW when working with image enhancement and calibration, because you want to keep the best quality throughout the process, however, you can shoot JPG’s if you prefer. The picture is then imported into Lightroom or opened into Adobe Camera RAW.
Once inside Lightroom we need to prepare the chart for calibration, this will be based on using the standard tools under the Development module. Move Lightroom into the Development module for the image, tightly crop the calibration grid and follow the settings below.
Set the White Balance
The white balance of the scene needs to be set, take the White Balance Eye Dropper tool
Click on the grid number E2. Doing this may or may not change the Temp and Tint (it will depend on how far out the original white balance is). The change below is not that significant, but will change the look of the picture and how the colours are represented.
Set the correct exposure.
Next take the same tool and hover over the grid number E1 and look under the loupe that is displayed there
Using the Exposure slider Aim to get the numbers in the loupe (2 pictures above) to around 90% (you are able to see that 90.1, 90.0,90.2 are the ones used in this example, these only needs to be close enough, you may not be able to get it exact). You may need to alter this a few times at getting the values correct.
Set the Black point
Using the same white balance tool hover over the colour grid E6, and then using the Blacks slider, try to get the values to around 4%. You may need to alter this a few times at getting the values correct.
Once the initial image enhancement has taken place, and assuming that the Spyder Checker software has been installed, you should have access to the menu option, Photo / Edit In / Edit in SpyderCheckr, or right click on the image and Edit In / Edit in SpyderCheckr.
A dialog will appear asking for you to work a copy with Lightroom adjustments,
click Edit, Lightroom will create a TIFF for you to work on.
The SpyderCheckr will open and place a colour grid over the picture. The overlaid grid colours are the ICC profile colours, which are the same as on the hardware colour squares. The SpyderCheckr is looking for the difference in colour between the overlaid grid and the way the colour of the grid looks out of the camera. When the mouse pointer is moved over the image edges the pointer will change to an arrow with two heads. This pointer is used to change the shape of the overlay grid, and enable it to align up and cover the coloured squares.
Next, choose the most preferable option
The mode is the way that the profile is created inline with the subject, i.e.
- Colorimetric mode should offer the most literal results, and is best when attempting to reproduce artwork or product colours.
- Saturation mode offers results which are generally more pleasing for many types of images.
- Portrait mode selectively reduces the colour saturation of the skin tone components to make portrait processing easier.
either “Save to Lightroom” or “Save to ACR” should be selected (right hand side of the image above).
Click the “Save Calibration” to create the profile for Lightroom, if you choose ACR, then it will create a profile which can be used in Camera Raw with Photoshop. As each profile is for the camera/lens combination you will need to create one for each, also, you may also decide to use multiple modes, therefore need to create the appropriate profiles for each one of these as well (potentially 9 profiles). I would recommend that you use a name that is recognisable for later use and will depending on how many bodies/lenses that you use.
The next screen informs that the profile has been saved under the user presets folder in Lightroom/Camera RAW, but in this case Lightroom needs to restart for the profile to become available for use.
Press Ok and re-start Lightroom.
Once restarted, make sure Lightroom is in Development mode and then open the “Presets” panel, on the left hand side.
You can see above that the Preset has been created and is now available. Any picture that is now taken with this camera body and lens combination will be able corrected to show the correct colours. The only caution i will make is that the white balance is corrected before you apply the preset.
I have been through all of the test cameras and created profiles for them all.
And hopefully you are able to see the consistency across all cameras, even though some of the cameras have much more natural contrast (the Leica M240 particularly).