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Professional Color with Lightroom’s Camera Calibration

I started photography by shooting film in high school just before the turn of the century, and I don’t miss film one bit. Its so wonderful to see a photograph on the back of the camera and see how the composition and the highlights are working, and then make changes.

I don’t know what I learned in school, but I learned it all again the first day I shot with a DSLR by looking at the LCD and making a change and trying again. Its powerful, but if you shoot RAW it may be frustrating, too. The camera shows a JPEG preview, and that just doesn’t often look the same as the RAW image that shows up initially in Lightroom. Let me show you how to make your RAW images look like the previews on your camera, and then well see a powerful way to make your colors really pop.

This article is adapted from our book, Develop Great Images Adobe Photoshop Lightroom available on iTunes and PDF for all devices.

Camera Profiles

First of all, you have a lot of control over what your image looks like on the cameras LCD. There are picture styles or picture controls built into the camera that determine color saturation, color interpretation, contrast, and sharpness, and they are saved into jpegs automatically. You can choose from things like Neutral, Portrait, Faithful, Standard, Vivid, Landscape, and Monochrome, and there are different options for each camera brand and model. Your camera shows a jpeg preview on the back including the style setting youve chosen, but those settings are not saved in RAW images. Lightroom also applies a completely different profile by default to all RAW images called Adobe Standard. Fortunately, Lightroom lets us choose from any of these profiles.

In the Camera Calibration tab you’ll see at the top a Profiles option. Click on the drop down menu where it says Adobe Standard. For most cameras there are about six options, but for older Nikon images Ive seen many more that included some grandfathered formats that are no longer used. Simply choose an option and see if you like it. Choose the one your camera was set to and you’ll see that you picture now looks just like the preview on your camera. Click on one of these pictures to compare each setting on the same image.

Personally, I like to set my camera to Neutral and turn off all the highlight and shadow recovery options (see the caveats below) so that I can apply contrast and color changes myself. Since I leave my camera on this setting, and I always start here in Lightroom, Ive created a preset called Neutral and I use the Apply During Import tab in the Import dialogue to make all my images have the neutral profile. If you find yourself continually using the same settings, make a preset and make them happen at import.

Profile Caveats

There are three caveats. Only RAW images will have options to change the profile; all other formats will say, “Embedded”, and you can’t change that. Second, the camera is also capable of applying shadow and highlight recovery, but those settings are only applied to jpegs or tiffs. Since this is variable, Lightroom doesn’t have it included in the presets, but using the sliders in the Basic tab will quickly bring the same results. Also, Monochrome will not be an option, which is a real tragedy for me since I think the black and white settings in the camera are very fine, but they can only be applied to jpegs. If you want the great black and white jpegs and RAW files, set the camera to RAW+JPG and get the best of both worlds.

Color Controls

After setting the Profile I like, I usually set the White Balance and then I come right back here to make the colors just right with the other sliders.

Shadows

Lightroom understands which camera and what ISO settings your photograph comes from and it adjusts the image to make sure that blacks are truly black. However, sometimes (rarely) the shadow areas may have a color cast, and the Shadows Tint slider can help fix it. Ive never used it for that.

The Shadows slider has saved my bacon more than once for portraits, though. This doesn’t brighten or darken shadows, but rather adds a little green or pink to only the shadow areas. This is great for portraits because I often make shoot outside with green grass or trees nearby and light reflecting off those green plants throws green at the people, too. On the face, this green light is overpowered by the sunlight, but under the chin and in the shadow areas you’ll often find an insalubrious green tint. Just slide to the right and watch that green tint disappear. But be gentle because a little goes a long way; I rarely go as high as 10.

Red, Green, and Blue Primaries

Landscape photographers who shoot film love to use Fujifilm Velvia for its rich saturated colors, and I love to use these sliders to get similar color from digital images.

Start with the Blue Primary and bump it to the right. Every image I shoot gets some increase in the Blue Saturation, sometimes as much as 100, but usually something more moderate between 30 and 70. this not only makes the blues more saturated, but it also brightens the reds and gives the greens a little boost. Denim jeans, skin tones, red mountains, and green trees all look better with a bump in the Blues. If you start making the Blue slider a regular part of your workflow, I think you’ll enjoy the richer colors.

The Red and Green Primaries are also nice, but use a light hand with them because the colors can quickly become over saturated and unnaturally distinct. Saturation sometimes serves to remove the range of color in your image, taking a scene with a range from red to red-orange to orange to orange-yellow to yellow and leaving only red, orange, and yellow. Whereas I always use the Blue slider, I rarely use the Red or Green sliders.

Also, I rarely move the Hue sliders. They change the fundamental colors of your image, and it could be a cool effect, but doesn’t often fit my needs. Still, this one ended up with a lot more punch just using the Camera Calibration sliders.

Conclusion

Your camera makes a terrific looking image, and Lightroom’s Camera Calibration tab restores your RAW image to that same look with a single click. If you’ve got a Fuji Camera you’re in for a real treat: Fuji has worked with Adobe to provide even the excellent black and white settings from the camera with a single click. I wish Lumix would do the same–there are no profiles for my GH4 or GX7. Even so, I’ve made my own presets, and you can tweak the built profiles and save your own new presets, too. Professional color in your photos is only a click away.

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