Getting Perfect Color for Your Images

young couple photographed by Mark Laurie in outdoor light setting

The mantra for photographers has always been perfect color. Once you have perfect color in your images, any changes become predictable, all your colors pop, the image looks sharper, the list of benefits goes on.

I know most just rely on the camera settings, flash, daylight, tungsten and so on. Those are not magical settings. They are set to a specific color wavelength that is average for those conditions. They don’t take into account contamination from reflective walls or mixed lighting. In general, they look not bad.

But close, as they say, only works well for horseshoes and hand grenades.

So why fudge when you can easily get it perfect, bang on every time? Especially with the tools today, it’s easy.

You have several devices to help you accomplish your perfect photo color. One of the most refined today is the Colorchecker Passport from x-rite. (Now I am not associated in any way with any of these products.) The Passport allows you to create a profile in Camera Raw for your camera as well. There is the long used http://www.whibalhost.com, http://www.babelcolor.com/main_level/White_Target.htm, Expodisc, Spyder cube and more if you do a search.

They are easy to work with. You set up your lights, put the neutral gray device in the image for your first exposure. Then in camera raw you take your color picker, click on that for the neutral gray, and all your colors fall in line. This is one of the huge advantages of shooting raw since you get no color pixel loss, and you can come back and change it again and again.

You can open a jpg in camera raw to do the same process but you are destroying pixels in the process.

If you don’t have that in your image, search for a neutral gray, white or black. It might be on your subject’s clothing, or a sidewalk slab, that will help fix your color. It’s not perfect and you have to judge it carefully.

You can also take a large white or neutral grey card, fill your camera frame with it. It does not need to be in focus, photograph that. Then in your camera settings go to custom white balance then select that frame. All future shots will be taken with that color balance, so remember to change it once your session is finished.

In the studio your lights will have a fairly constant color output. This is an advantage of the more expensive lights; their color output remains the same regardless of the power setting or the recycle time. Once you have taken the first shot with the color balance device, it won’t change unless you use different modifiers or other surfaces that could contaminate the color. Just shoot away.

Oh, it’s important to have your monitor calibrated too, so you see the right color on the monitor that will match your output.

Some of the devices like the Wibal will have a grey, black and white. You can use these to confirm your exposure range. The white should show up as a spike near the extreme right side of your histogram, while the black will be the same on the left. Your grey should be dead center. If you fill your frame with the device, all you should get is three spikes. They make a great poor man’s exposure meter.

Having the correct color is even more important in the digital world today than in the old film days. There is little room for error that we enjoyed with film. Critical color will instantly improve your images, add richness along with a subtle tonal range.

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