How to Achieve Color Accuracy in your Photos

How to Achieve Color Accuracy in your Photos

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Next to light, color accuracy is another important element in photography. Color temperature is annoying enough to deal with in terms of camera settings and editing. You spend all this time and effort on editing your photos and making sure they match your photography style. But sometimes the final product can be off if viewed on an uncalibrated screen. While having an accurately calibrated screen is ideal, there are still some things you can do to ensure that the colors are as close to the real deal as possible.

1. Photographing in raw

Karthika Gupta Photography - Memorable Jaunts DPS Article Color Accuracy in Images

Completely overexposed sunset in the Grand Cayman. I love the little sailboat in the distance and tried to correct the image in post.

Karthika Gupta Photography - Memorable Jaunts DPS Article Color Accuracy in Images

The sun is still overexposed and not perfect, but because I photograph in Raw 100% of the time, I could put down the exposure, highlights, contrast and my other normal editing steps. I was able to get some of the details back.

This really is key and I am a huge proponent of photographing in RAW 100% of the time. The colors can be adjusted easily on raw files in editing software like Lightroom, Photoshop, and others. But with jpegs, they’re already baked in. It is not impossible just harder to achieve the exact match.

In Raw files, all the original image data is preserved. In fact, when RAW files are opened in post-production software like Lightroom, a virtual copy is made and used. Edits are made in a non-destructive format so the original RAW file is always available for changes at a later stage. This is very useful when you want to edit images in different ways at different times in your photographic career.

Since a JPEG image is essentially a RAW image compressed in-camera, the camera’s computer makes decisions on what data to retain and which to toss out when compressing the file. JPEG files tend to have a smaller dynamic range of information that is stored and this often means less ability to preserve both highlights and shadow details in the image.

2. Use Kelvin WB mode on your camera

If photographing RAW is not something you can do, or don’t have space for on your flash drives (RAW files tend to be really huge), try photographing using Kelvin White Balance mode instead of Auto White Balance. Not all cameras may have this function, so check your camera manual to figure out the exact menu option and also how to adjust the value. Kelvin lets you adjust the white balance in camera rather than in post. In general, in your camera manual are the ranges of Kelvin values for the various lighting setups. You will have to tweak the values depending on your style and how you want the final image to look.

3. Use a good display screen/monitor

Cheaper screens have smaller color ranges, so the better your screen, the more colors that can be displayed. This is where you’ll be looking at the photos, so you don’t want your image to be limited in that way. At the very minimum, if you’re editing photos, you need a 99% sRGB screen. 100% Adobe RGB capable screens (which is generally better) are also relatively affordable now. That said, most media on the web generally uses sRGB format, so sRGB is perfectly adequate. People generally recommend editing in that color space anyway. In general, for built-in displays like laptops, most modern Mac screens have really good color accuracy and distribution.

Karthika Gupta Photography - Memorable Jaunts DPS Article Color Accuracy in Images

This outdoor space was very hazy when we visited because of many forest fires in the area. That haze and overall air quality and temperature gave a very pink glow to all my images, one that I missed the first time I edited my images on my computer. But then I went back and edited to a more accurate representation of what the scene actually looked like.

4. Calibrate your monitor

Not enough people realize how big a difference calibrating your monitor makes. If your entire computer screen is shifted to be purple, when you look at your final images in a color-calibrated medium, it’s going to end up green. There are several in the market that do a good job like Datacolor Spyder 5 or X-Rite ColorMunki. At the end of the day, they all essentially have the same functionality. Plug in the color sensor, put it against your screen, run the software, and it will automatically install the color profile for you.

5. Edit in a color neutral workspace

Where you sit and work can also make a difference to how you edit. As funny as it may sound, it is true. If you have bright warm sunlight flooding your computer screen, you will likely edit cooler. The eye is automatically going to compensate for the warmth by gravitating towards cooler tones. If you have cool indoor lighting flooding your editing room, that might not work either. Believe it or not, the ideal editing environment is actually a totally dark room, so you don’t pollute any of the colors. I know I cannot edit in a dark room because starting at the screen for too long in that space gives me a headache. If you must edit somewhere with another light source, do your color calibration in that room. The Spyder and ColorMunki can both accommodate the ambient light in your environment.

Karthika Gupta Photography - Memorable Jaunts DPS Article Color Accuracy in Images

The image was shot and edited in the same room with side lighting. Had I not seen this in another room and on another computer, I would have missed the uneven lighting and tonality from the left to the right side of the image, giving it a look of almost photographing with a flash, which was not my intention.

Karthika Gupta Photography - Memorable Jaunts DPS Article Color Accuracy in Images

6. Use multiple devices to spot check color

If you are really doubting your color tones and edits, double check them on another device. Most people have iPhones these days, and iPhones are surprisingly well-calibrated. Unfortunately, you can’t use the calibrators on most phones, to the best of my knowledge, so just send your photos over to your phone, and you should get an idea of how most people are seeing your images.

Karthika Gupta Photography - Memorable Jaunts DPS Article Color Accuracy in Images

The blueish tone in the image here would have been completely missed had I not seen the image on an iPad and an iPhone prior to sending out to a client. I prefer true to form white backgrounds when working with stock photos.

Unfortunately, most people, including myself, don’t pay too much attention to color accuracy in their photos. Most of the color matching stops at editing. Sometimes we even call it ‘photography style’ and leave it at that. But if you really want to understand color and how images can actually look versus relying on a specific style or edit, try one or all these steps. It is actually fairly simple once it clicks.

What techniques do you use for maintaining your color? Share with us in the comments below.

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Karthika Gupta is a culture, people and travel photographer, based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural, and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course, a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.