The Internet is a wonderful thing. Earlier I posted a short piece about creating more accurate color from the RAW images of my Panasonic Lumix LX3. I admit it wasn’t really that great a post. But it gets more hits than anything else I’ve written. That means that wherever you are, whoever you are, you can help others by just writing something and throwing it up on the Internet’s collective wall. People who are looking for that info will find it.
Still searching for accurate color from the LX3, and feeling bad about the previous post not really solving the problem, I’m back with more info.
I recently purchased the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. (pictured below) For under a hundred dollars, it’s an easy-to-carry color chart for creating custom camera profiles for use in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. Camera profiles provide a baseline understanding for the RAW conversion software to make accurate conversions. It’s the translation device between the value of the color recorded and the value it should be output at. Since two seemingly identical cameras will produce different colors because of slight differences in manufacturing or alignment, only a custom profile will allow the two cameras to match. Custom profiles can even get two completely different cameras, a Nikon and a Canon for instance, to agree on the colors they’re seeing.
The bottom portion of the color chart pictured is a Macbeth Color chart. That’s a standardized collection of colors with specific values of hue and saturation, used to calibrate color reproduction systems in photography, television, film and image scanning devices. If you need to know whether your color is correct you need a shot of some colors that can be identified as having specific values. The Macbeth color chart provides that reference. The top portion of the Passport Color Checker is used for determining exposure and for white-balancing during the processing of RAW files. The patches in the center are used for “warming” or “cooling” portraits or landscapes. White balancing on a cooler patch will yield a warmer picture. Inside its plastic case there’s a neutral card for white balancing to the light you’re shooting in.
There are two parts to the ColorChecker system. The color chart and software for creating custom profiles. There is a plug-in for use within Lightroom. Also a stand-alone profile generator for use with RAW files first converted to DNG. The software “knows” what the specific color values are on the chart, it then creates a profile that alters the values accordingly to reproduce those colors in in your image.
Alright, so if this will provide me a reference point for interpreting the colors in a scene, do I need to pull it out every time I take pictures? That’s up to you. If a specific shade of purple is important, such as in a product shot or a reproduction of another image or artwork then yes. If you achieve the feeling and composition in an image that you intended through normal editing then by all means forget this system. No one will ever know what that flower looked like when you took the image, compared to the image you’re presenting. They’re never going to be side by side.
I was having difficulty processing images of red cars. Matching the red in my memory with my Lightroom output was very difficult. Also difficult was maintaining detail in the richly saturated areas of those cars. Other colors seemed off to me as well. Getting the grass at a car show in the park to feel natural was difficult at times. So I’m thinking that when I attend a car show I’ll white-balance to the passport neutral card and shoot the color chart to create a DNG color profile for that event. I’ll pull it out when traveling as well. I learned that color in a photograph can be influenced by many different factors. The amount of moisture in the air will alter colors differently in say, Phoenix versus San Diego. Particulate pollution, smog, haze, even latitude on the globe and the time of year will influence what colors are absorbed and which will get excited in any environment. I realize this can be what gives photos from any place their flavor, but I also realize that Ferrari red doesn’t change. So hopefully this tool will at least give me options.
Now for better-than-average color you could just create a few profiles for your camera that cover the basics: overcast, daylight, and flash. That should give you a much better starting point for any picture than the Adobe Standard profile available in Lightroom. Now here’s the truly helpful part of this post. I’ve created these basic profiles and I’m going to share them here. These are only for the Lumix LX3. They’ll work in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. They were made under an overcast sky and bright sun (in Los Angeles, in April), I never did the flash profile, as I realized I’d never use it. They were also created with my camera, not yours, so at best they can only be considered mostly right. Try them and see if they help your situation. Download them, un-compress the zip file and follow the path below on your Mac, substituting your home directory for mine. If your still using a PC, you’ll need to figure out where it keeps the user created camera profiles.
I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone reading this the virtues of shooting RAW vs Jpeg. So lets just agree that the camera’s Jpeg will suck compared to a processed RAW version even using the Adobe Standard profile. So what about a comparison of the X-Rite Color Checker custom profile to the Adobe profile? Here ya go.
Using a few shots hastily gathered outside my home here’s a taste of what a custom profile can do you for you. These shots are a processed RAW file using the Adobe standard profile that comes with Lightroom and ACR. Then an example of the same RAW processed file using the custom X-Rite profile created from the color chart. The biggest differences are in the blues and reds. Here’s a shot of Adobe’s DNG profile editor application in action to show how much some of the color samples are modified in order to match the color chart. In the image below, the purple color is selected to to show how far it was shifted.
The profile editor above is not a normal part of using the X-Rite Color Checker Passport system. I’m using it to show what’s happening for you behind the scenes when a custom DNG profile is created. This is the translation process between what was recorded and what is reproduced that I mentioned earlier. Without the intervention of the custom profile, the Adobe profile missed several of the color targets by significant amounts.
Hopefully you realize that accurate color in the processed image is contingent upon a properly calibrated monitor. I use the Pantone Huey calibration tool on my monitors. Accurate prints require you to have the profile of the printing device being used. This is a huge subject that may require more research on your behalf. My concern here is in getting the color in my processed RAW images to better match what I saw when I took the picture.