How to Use the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport to Obtain Perfect Color

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There are two ways you can approach color reproduction in photography. The first is to try and reproduce the colors of the subject as accurately as you can. If you take a photo of someone wearing a red sweater, then you want the photo of that sweater to have exactly the same shade of red as the real thing. The other way is to produce colors that are pleasing to the eye, rather than accurate.

The key point to understand here is that your camera isn’t designed to produce accurate colors, it is biased towards the second approach. The reason behind this is probably quite simple. Camera manufacturers want you to be happy with the photos that your camera produces, and that means tweaking colors so that they look more attractive.

ColorChecker Passport & Lightroom

The way your camera records color is determined by the color and white balance settings selected when you take the photo. This is especially true for JPEG files – if you use the Raw format you have the freedom to change those color settings when you process the file.

Each manufacturer has a different name for the setting used to control color. Canon calls it Picture Styles, Nikon – Picture Control, Sony – Creative Style, Pentax – Custom Image, Olympus – Picture Mode and Fujifilm – Film Simulation.

Let’s look at Canon’s Picture Styles as an example (I’m familiar with these as a long time Canon user). Their neutral and faithful Picture Styles are designed to give reasonably accurate colors, but the others aren’t. Portrait is designed to give good skin tones, landscape for strong greens and blues, and standard to make good reds. You will not achieve accurate color with the portrait, landscape or standard Picture Styles, but you may well end up with pleasing colors.

But what if you simply want accurate color? There are a number of reasons why you might want to do this.

  • When photographing something that needs to be recorded accurately, such as product shots for a commercial client.
  • When photographing flowers, where it is very difficult to tell if the colors are accurate.
  • To make sure that photos taken with two different cameras match as closely as possible.
  • To simply start with a photo that has accurate colors as the first step in post-processing, so you can decide in which direction to go, from a neutral starting point.

The X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

The truth is that if you want accurate color, then for the reasons mentioned above, you can’t rely on your camera’s settings – you need some outside assistance. That’s where the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport comes in. This relatively inexpensive device is simple to use, and just as importantly from the point of view of a Lightroom user, integrates neatly with Lightroom.

The X-Rite ColorChecker Passport itself is made of grey plastic, and opens up to display the color patches shown here.

ColorChecker Passport & Lightroom

The ColorChecker Passport is easy to use. Simply take a photo of the Passport in daylight (using the Raw format), convert it to DNG (use the Export option in Lightroom to do so) and drag the DNG file to the ColorChecker Passport software.

ColorChecker Passport & Lightroom

The software creates a profile, calibrated for your camera, and stores it along with the other profiles found in Lightroom’s Camera Calibration panel. You’ll need to restart Lightroom to see it, but once you have done so, you can apply that profile to any photo taken in daylight with that camera. The profile is also available in Photoshop’s ACR if you need it.

Note: The software also installs a Lightroom plug-in that you can use to create the profile by selecting the photo containing the ColorChecker Passport, going to File > Export and selecting the ColorChecker Passport preset.

ColorChecker Passport & Lightroom

The next two photos show the difference that using the calibrated profile can make. Both were created from the same Raw file. The first uses the Velvia camera profile specific to Fujifilm cameras. The second uses the Camera profile that I created using the ColorChecker Passport. This photo has the most accurate color, although it may not be as pleasing to the eye as the first, which uses a profile designed to make the photo look good.

ColorChecker Passport & Lightroom

ColorChecker Passport & Lightroom

Dual Illuminant Profile

You can also create a different type of profile called a Dual Illuminant Profile. To do so, you need two photos of the ColorChecker Passport taken with the same camera at the same ISO setting, but under different light sources. One should be daylight, and the best light source for the second one is probably tungsten. A Dual Illuminant Profile is more accurate as it takes into account the way sensors record light differently, under different light sources.

Using the ColorChecker Passport for White Balance

The final part of the color accuracy equation is white balance. You really shouldn’t rely on your camera’s auto white balance setting, as it can be misled by scenes that have more than average amounts of colors like red or blue in them.

The ColorChecker Passport is small enough to carry around with you just about everywhere. That means you can use it on location, to record colors accurately, and set white balance. The Passport also has another panel that you can use to take a white balance reading, and create a custom white balance setting on location.

ColorChecker Passport & Lightroom

Alternatively, you can take a photo of the Passport’s color swatches in the same light as the subject, and use it to create a new profile. Then, in Lightroom’s Develop module, you can use the White Balance Selector to click on the 18% grey swatch second from left on the bottom row (indicated below). This method ensures both accurate color (from the profile) and accurate white balance (from the 18% grey swatch).

ColorChecker Passport & Lightroom

Have you use a Color Checker before? Please share your experiences and comments below.


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  • andrew b

    I’ve been on the fence about buying this for a few months but a lot of criticism I’ve read is that it can’t create camera profiles from high megapixel source pics (like 40mp taken from a a7rm2). Additionally, some users complain that it incorrectly interprets colors even if the user shoots in aps-c even from a FF source to get the file small enough for Passport to interpret. If anyone does or doesn’t have this issue, I’d really like to hear direct feedback. My post-processing skills are lacking and was hoping this would be an effective tool for me. Thanks in advance.

  • James Bong

    I use the color checker passport with both my Canon cameras and couldn’t be happier with the results. I just wish there was a way to make an in-camera Picture Style with it. I plan to make a dual-illuminant profile for low ISO and another for high ISO to see what changes.

  • the colorchecker was my tool for correct colors for a few years. I don’t accept the CC principle for Lightroom and I switched to Capture One – but now I can not use the colorchekcer any more, only for white balance :-((

  • James P

    If using for the profile and white balance, which do you do first?

  • Profile first, white balance second.

  • That’s a shame…maybe someone will make something similar for Capture One one day.

  • Yes, a Picture Style using the profile would be handy, especially if you shoot JPEGs.

  • Hi Andrew, I’ve just read up on this and you are correct, there is an error in the software that comes with the ColorChecker Passport that means it can’t create profiles from Raw files larger than 40MB.

    It seems there are several possible solutions.

    a. Use a smaller Raw file size if this feature is available for your camera.

    b. Import the Raw file into Lightroom, then export as a smaller DNG file.

    c. Download Adobe’s free DNG converter software and convert the Raw file to a smaller DNG file.

    You can read more about it at this thread: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1371178/1

    Hope that helps.

  • that will not be useful, as Capture One does not support plug ins (today) :-((

  • cute angel

    Which do I do 1st ?

  • there is a way, just shoot the color checker, fill the entire frame with it, import into C1 and then auto adjust the frame with the checker (Ctrl+L), and presto, almost perfect images. Then sync the desired images.

  • Michael_in_TO

    Andrew…thanks for taking the time to create this post! I typically use a grey card (and/or white card as well as other devices) to get proper white balance and almost always shoot custom white balance. Results are accurate and if I want to tweak to pleasing levels, I can…but as a pro, I need the consistency between shoots to ensure everyone/everything is neutral.

    Meantime…I am wondering about the process to use the colour checker. You said “shoot the passport in daylight”. What is that? 5000K? 5500K? Somewhere in between?…and the same question for tungsten. I am certain my Nikons have built in profiles for these temps, but I have never been in a situation to get accuracy from ANY of these presets due to the variation in tungsten light sources and the broad expression “daylight”. So I am wondering what profiles Passport is using for these expressions. Even if I set my WB to what they’re using to calibrate…how can I ensure the light source temperature is equivalent? How do the two marry up? or is this “calibration” a kind of estimate? Do I enter the degrees Kelvin at which the Passport was shot and the software does the rest?

    Again Andrew..it is terrific of you to take the time to post and to respond. Many thanks.

  • andrew b

    Believe this will answer a bunch of your questions – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d5xSdin2GM

    From watching, it looks like its ideal to take a picture with your passport checker in each scenario (indoors, outdoors, direct sun, sunrise) and you will then run the Passport program on each of those shots to create a profile for your camera for each environment. You’re not limited to creating just one profile to uniformly apply across all your pictures.

  • andrew b

    So if you were an owner of the a7rm2, would you pull the trigger on this product based on your experience? I’m an amateur photographer who loves taking pics and am hoping to get the best product. Just not sure what else is comparable and I’m terrible at changing H/S/L

  • Tony Burns

    If you happen to have one of X-Rite’s higher end display calibrators, starting with the i1 Display Pro, you can use the i1 Profiler tool to create ICC profiles for C1 with a ColorChecker: http://www.colourspace.xyz/creating-camera-profiles-for-capture-one/

  • Arnold Loli

    Colorchecker sucks at skin. It’s so good to get the right color to products and stuffs, but when you shoot people always looks so magenta and oversaturated. I turn to CaptureOne that doesn’t accept third party profiles but skin, color and sharpness is f**kng insane. Actually, CaptureOne has the “right” profile according to your camera model. I sold my colorchecker with 2 months of use and I’m happy with C1. The only thing I miss is the multiple options to white balance. D;

  • You’ll want this, as it makes postprocessing so much easier. You can work around the file size limitations pretty easily. This is a regular part of my workflow now and I’ve been using it for nearly four years. It saves me so much time!

  • I hate to say this, but there are a few important details to know here. First, while we all like to think every electronic component comes off a production line exactly the same as it was designed, the truth is that nearly everything in electronics has unique physical properties and the process is designed to manufacture components that are within tolerances, and therefore are not always perfect. This means that if I shoot with two camera bodies that are of the exact same model, both cameras have unique sensors. Sensors are precision instruments but the tolerances still come into play because of how sensitive they are and how precise they record light. This means you need a color profile for EACH camera body, even if they’re the same. It’s also important to note that lenses can add a factor that effects color reproduction…so you need a camera profile for each camera/lens/lighting condition combination. This means you will be building a library of camera profiles as you use the ColorChecker Passport.

    Also, while its perfectly fine to use whatever square to obtain a white balance reading, the square you have pointed out is not actually the one intended for determining white balance. The center squares on the upper part of the ColorChecker Passport are designed for reading your white balance. You use the leftmost square on the row for neutral portraits, while the squares to the right will allow you to evenly and progressively warm up the light in a portrait. The row below is the landscape row, with the center swatch being neutral and swatches to the left and right either cooling or warming the color evenly.

    What’s great about the ColorChecker is that it really offers a great deal of power and flexibility with a great deal of ease…even more than is mentioned in your article. I found that I understood how to use it so much better when I went to a tech session at my local camera shop’s semiannual trade show, where a representative demonstrated it and answered so many questions I had. It’s a critical piece of my workflow in shooting and processing, even for personal work, since it makes post soooo much easier!

  • I have actually had it do great for skin tones, especially in studio lighting when I use gels. I can completely change the background to a color that is more pleasing and still have my skin tones on the money. This has worked great for creating a unique look in my wedding photography, which helps my professional work stand out from anyone there with their DSLR, especially for the formal portraits.

    Also, you’ll want to know that the camera profiles used in C1 are just like those in Adobe products…they’re set to the spec for the sensor. In real life, each sensor is manufactured within a margin of tolerance and so your copy of your camera could perfectly match the spec or be a percentage point or few off in either direction…which makes calibration critical to reproducing accurate color. Now if pleasing color is your goal instead of accurate color and you’re not shooting under weird light (especially mixed lighting), then you won’t probably see much benefit from color calibration…but few photographers shoot exclusively under ideal lighting conditions.

  • Arnold Loli

    That’s cute, dude. Good for you. I hate the magenta on skin tones that you love, looks so digital. Recently I was on shooting with Alexander Neumann (Testino’s ex-assistant) a couple of times and I never saw him using any macbeth card, only grey card (obviously) and his colors at skin are amazing just using C1. Also I read a book from Joey L. and there he wrote that he never use any card unless grey card and don’t tell me that you don’t think that he is a real artist. Let me give you an advice: be more artist than technical because technical people are everyone and agencies, clients, magazines don’t give a f**k about your right color, they just want to see an amazing work to give you the work.

    And if you answer, I got my monitor calibrated, like everyone in the industry.

  • People must love working with artist types like you because of your friendly and humble personality. You know, it may be a bit beyond your technical cares, but when I have more than one camera going at a wedding shoot, it sure is nice to have a consistent look across everything…which is one of those little technical annoyances that can distract from good art and design. Not everyone gets to shoot for fine art like you and all your heroes. If that’s what you do, awesome…but if it’s not, then have a little respect for people who DO understand and care about the tech and LEARN stuff once in a while instead of insulting people so you can feel awesome and lose clients because they would rather not deal with your attitude.

  • And I’m pretty sure you don’t understand the science behind light here, otherwise you’d know that no software has the “right” camera profile…it just has the one that meets the manufacturer’s spec…and that spec is a ballpark figure, especially when you add in the color casts that you might be getting from lenses and lighting.

  • surya

    It is a wonderful process you done it

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  • Hi Michael, I think that any type of daylight will do, it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether you photograph the passport in shade or daylight. I haven’t watched the video linked to below but will do shortly to learn more about it.

  • Hi Lee, thanks for commenting. I checked the manual and you are right about the white balance square. I did read that you can use the one I indicated but can’t remember where. I’ll look into it and see what I can find.

  • You’re most certainly right that you can use the grey square you pointed out in the article…in fact, you can use just about anything that is a shade of true grey to get white balance set, as that is all that is needed to get white balance for a DSLR. It only matters if you’re at 18% grey if you’re setting exposure with the card using the camera’s light meter…which was to original intent for grey cards in film days. Color calibration is much more nuanced and wasn’t done much on film because of costs…but with digital, it’s a breeze with this software.

  • mepatri3

    The article states to use a gray card for white balance. This is incorrect. Gray cards are used for exposure settings (avg. reflectance) not color settings. There isn’t a camera made that says “Average Gray Balance” – so why use a gray card for color reference? Use the color checker to get correct color and white balance settings.

  • Tomas Sobek

    If you are a Linux user you probably want to use ArgyllCMS toolset with your ColorChecker target. My own process is based on following video (current Darktable version has slightly different layout of controls but the same principles still apply): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkBgFaSv1kE

    I use the above for specific lighting situations. It definitely helps when the light is difficult (e.g. mixed light sources). However for a more generic camera profile you probably want a target with many more colour patches. And you might want to follow a bit more rigorous procedure. I would suggest reading Elle’s article on creating well behaved camera profile for inspiration, even if you keep using proprietary software – http://ninedegreesbelow.com/photography/well-behaved-camera-profile.html

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