Monday, February 7, 2011

How To Get More Accurate Color in Your Images, Part 2

This is Part 2 of this blog post which is geared more towards serious amateurs and photographers who want to improve their color management. Go here for Part 1.

Ok photographers and wanna-be photographers: after the last post on the benefits of having the tools for a good color management workflow, I'm just going to jump right in with you.

I'm assuming you've bought a "nice" digital camera, perhaps the one with the most number of pixels for your budgeted price range, and maybe you threw a "kit lens" on that expensive camera. This will not be earth-shattering for most of you, and some of you may disagree with me, but here's how I feel about the importance of your camera equipment (in order of least to most important):

1. SLR Camera body (if you're only going for the number of pixels as your basis for "good", you need to read this or this) - only buy what you're going to use. There are a number of point and shoots now that can produce amazing photographs. Go ahead and buy what you think you'll need for the size & quality of work you plan to produce, but read the manual.

2. Lens - When I mentioned the "kit" lens, that's the lens that often comes with a it's a kit that allows you to immediately start photographing with the camera right of out of the box. However, to me, the lens (or "glass" as many pros call it) is MORE important than the camera body. The lens is at the start of being able to produce crisp images with accurate color.

3. COLOR MANAGEMENT TOOLS/ WORKFLOW! - Ok, so maybe this is equally as important as the lens, or maybe slightly less than, but either's an integral part to taking your images to the next level.

What do I mean by "color management workflow"? I mean that you begin to think about the color of your images from the moment you click the shutter all the way until you send it off to print. Here's my process:

1. Set the white balance on my camera for the lighting conditions.
2. Photograph the X-Rite Color Checker Passport with the correct exposure, filling at least the center of the screen with the passport.
3. Import that image into my photo editing software of choice (I use Lightroom 3 although this can also be done in Photoshop by a different process). 
4. In Lightroom, go to the Development module, click on the white balance eye dropper under the "Basic" menu, the click on the bottom right white square on the passport. This will not work well if you have over or underexposed the image.
4. Select the image of the passport, select File - Export with Preset - Color Checker Passport.
5. Make sure the image is still selected, scroll down to "Camera Calibration" on the right side of the module, and select the profile you created for the Passport and lighting conditions you used. 
6. Once all of the images are in Lightroom, you can sync them all by selecting all the images, clicking "Sync" at the bottom right of the Development module, and clicking "white balance" and "calibration".

For a video tutorial on this method, including how to use Photoshop instead of Lightroom, go here. This video is just under an hour long and the first half is about using Lightroom and the second half goes into using Photoshop. After watching, let me know if you're not convinced that you should start using the Color Checker Passport.

As professionals, or "emerging professionals", part of our job description should be to educate our clients about what we can offer compared to Joe Friend who has a nice camera. Having unparalleled management and control over the color in our images is one way to do that.

Did I miss anything? What things do you include in your color management workflow?

What things do you do to set yourself apart as a professional and how do you educate your clients about those things?

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