Color – As Captured in the Camera, Part 1

Accurate image color can  be a problem in several areas –

  1. As captured in the camera
  2. As viewed on a computer monitor or other electronic display (TV, projector, etc.)
  3. Prints

It is important to recognize that the above three issues must be addressed and solved in the order presented

  • As always, life is easier if we get everything right in the camera to begin with; fixing everything in Photoshop benefits only Adobe!
  • Getting correct image color on your monitor is difficult if the color is wrong from the camera; post processing can do only so much
  • Ignoring 1 & 2 and then expecting good print color is wishful thinking

Our goal is –

  • To have identical image color at each of the three stages (camera, monitor, printer)
  • Without any “fiddling” which will simply cause the color errors to cascade further down the line
  • This goal is achieved when –

For a simple overview of color related matter read the Primer at the start of this section on Color.
The photography “discipline” that addresses this full range of image color considerations is called Color Management (CM) – a lengthy and complex subject. In our exploration we’ll consider CM’s essential highlights and provide links to the details for those who want them. Here is an excellent Color Management article (detailed/thorough/lengthy – NOTE: the link is to the 1st of 4 parts; when you get to part 1 you’ll see links to the other parts the top of the page).
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This next section examines item #1 (very briefly) – color as captured in the camera. As with all other aspects of photography – Get it right in the camera! Getting it right in the camera (or not) affects color later for both monitors & prints. All that follows can be summarized as follows –

  • Shoot in RAW, and
  • When Outdoors
    • Set your white balance (WB) to Cloudy (a warm version of cloudy if your camera has the option; test several)
    • It makes no difference that it may be sunny
    • Stay away from Auto outdoors because its use can result in slightly different color cast for each image
      • Light Temperature (what auto-WB is estimating) varies constantly outdoors
      • A different temperature estimate results in a different color correction in the camera
      • A nightmare to have to perform multiple different corrections in post processing
  • When Indoors
    • Create a custom WB setting and/or make a reference image containing a color reference card, else
    • If the light is mixed (combination of natural, tungsten, fluorescent, …) go with Auto
    • If the light is not mixed, choose the fixed WB setting (e.g., tungsten) that matches the light

The above is not to say that if you shoot JPEG (instead of RAW) and set your WB to Auto, you will get bad color. No – most of the time the color will be fine. What I am saying is that it won’t always be fine and, when it’s not, on occasion it will be somewhere between difficult and impossible to fix if you did not shoot in RAW.

First things first

  • Shooting in RAW gives you the best chance of getting the in-camera color correct (in post processing if not in camera)
  • Shooting in JPEG or TIFF (or any other non-RAW) opens the doors to color problems that may be difficult or impossible to make right
  • I will assume that you shoot in RAW and, thus, won’t explain how to solve unnecessary problems caused by shooting otherwise

Second things second; about White Balance –

  • Using Auto-White Balance will complicate your life much of the time
  • For outdoor photography use Cloudy
    • Cloudy is closest to “reality” – even on a sunny day
    • Trust me on this or read this article (it is slow loading)
  • Indoor can be the trickiest
    • The lighting is often “mixed”
      • Some combination of natural, incandescent, fluorescent & flash
      • The mixture will vary from spot to spot within the indoor setting
    • Including a white balance reference in a capture will help a lot
      • A reference is needed in order to correct color casts in post processing
        • You need to be able to “point” at something that is “neutral”
      • Anything that’s a true neutral shade (white, gray, black) will do – like the bride’s gown
      • The best bet is to use a true calibrated reference like the WhiBal Card (I use this one)
      • A reference card is useful outdoors as well if absolute color accuracy is critical
  • Indoors & Out – If accurate color is critical, consider using your camera’s ability to measure and create a custom white balance (as always, read your manual). I’ll say more in Part 2.

Examples of in-camera color balance problems and alternative solutions are covered in Part 2. For a preview >>>>

Who painted my white bath orange???

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