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How to Calibrate Your Raw Files With Custom Profiles in Lightroom CC (Classic)

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Calibrating your cameras is particularly helpful when you shoot multiple cameras, particularly across systems and manufacturers. Reproducing a consistent look helps you streamline your workflow and reduce variability.

In this tutorial, you'll learn to create a custom camera profile to calibrate our RAW image. It's usable in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to automatically set the right starting point for your images.

Custom Camera Profiles

Camera profiles are a group of settings that change the way that RAW images are interpreted. Your camera likely has several profiles built-in, like portrait, landscape, vivid, and neutral. You can also set the profile manually while editing your image in apps like Lightroom.

Profiles on Develop module
In Lightroom, you can select from a list of camera profiles to apply to your image.

In this tutorial, we're going to create camera profiles that calibrate our images in Adobe Lightroom. We'll use a color card to capture a reference photo, then create a reference profile.

Wait, What About Develop Presets?

Setting a camera profile does change the look of an image by "re-interpreting" the way your camera captured the image. However, a camera profile is really just a starting point.

In contrast, Develop presets are stylistic adjustments. They're the one-click settings that change all of the sliders in the Develop module. Profiles are all about setting a general approach for interpreting the image, while presets are a set of style options.

Later on in this tutorial, you'll see a selection of Lightroom presets that make it easy to apply creative looks to an image. Leave the calibration step to camera profiles.

How to Create Calibration Profiles for Lightroom Classic CC

Let's learn how to create profiles that calibrate your RAW image files.

1. Get a Color Card

The key to calibration is to find a neutral target to calibrate to. In this tutorial, we'll use a 24-panel color card. The best-known version of this card is the X-Rite ColorChecker, but you can find other companies who print these cards.

24 panel color card
This 24 standard color calibration chart is what we'll use to calibrate our RAW images.

Make sure to check the reviews of your card before purchasing it. Remember, we're using this as the target to calibrate to, and quality makes a difference. We'll shoot a photo of this color card in the next step for our calibration software.

2. Shoot a Calibrated Photo of a Grey Card

Remember our color card? Another important part of this card is that the backside is an 18% grey card. This is a great way to calibrate our camera. 

Before you shoot the colorful side of the card, switch your camera to manual mode. Set your camera's metering mode to spot meter, focusing the settings only on the grey area of the card. Shoot a photo with neutral metering for a solid exposure.

Grey card
The grey card is used to set a neutral exposure for your color card.

Now, make sure you don't change your camera's settings. Flip the card to the reverse side (with the color blocks) and shoot a frame. Then, transfer the image to your computer. Export it to DNG format with the Adobe DNG converter, for example.

3. Download DNG Profile Editor

Okay, now we're ready to start creating a custom camera profile. We'll need another Adobe tool, the Adobe DNG Profile Editor. It's available for both Windows and macOS.

Once you open the utility, choose File > Open DNG Image. Point it to our reference photo, and you'll see it in the app.

4. Calibrate to Card

Now, let's switch to the Chart tab. We're creating a neutral profile that's color calibrated, so this tab is our focus. As you can see in the reference photo, the app is looking for a reference photo from the 24 color card.

There are four points to drag and place in the app. Place them in the corner color swatches on the preview image. This helps orient the app and gives it the information it needs to create a profile.

Calibrated color chart
In the DNG Profile Editor, switch to the Chart tab, then drag the points to the corner color panels to calibrate.

When you've set this up, choose Create Color Table. This sets up the color options you need for a profile.

5. Export and Load the Profile

Now, let's export the profile. While still working in the app, choose File > Export (camera name) Profile.

You'll create .dcp file. Save it somewhere safe, then jump over to Adobe Lightroom.

Browse to File > Import Develop Profiles and Presets, then browse to where you saved your .dcp camera profile.

Import Develop Profiles and Presets
Use File > Import Develop Profiles and Presets to load the .dcp file.

Now, make sure that you're working in the Develop module. Find the Profile option (it's near the top of the panels on the right side) and click on the four boxes to the right of the profile name.

Now, you'll see the list of available profiles. The custom one I created was found in the section labeled Profiles, and I selected it to apply it to the image.

Select calibrated camera profile
Select your newly-created profile in the Develop module using the Profile Browser.

That's it! You've created a calibrated profile, now you can apply it to your images. Repeat this process with any and all of your cameras to create a common reference point.

More Creative Options for Adobe Lightroom Styles

Calibration is all about bringing image files to a common look and feel. Calibrated image files are in control and even can be harmonized between camera systems.

After you've calibrated your image files, you might want to do more with your images. Calibrated and corrected are just a starting point for your images. After you've adjusted your images to a neutral norm, it's time to get creative.

The best way to do that is to use Lightroom presets. Envato Elements is the top choice for downloading Adobe Lightroom presets thanks to the quality control and simplicity of the all-you-can-download license.

Lightroom presets Elements
On Envato Elements, you'll find an all-you-can-download Lightroom preset library that's curated with the top choices.

Sure, you'll find free Lightroom presets across the web, but with Elements you can skip the hunt with a curated selection of high-quality presets.

Let's look at several of the preset packs included with a subscription to Envato Elements.

1. Tropical Photoshop Actions and Presets

My favorite thing about this preset package is the way that it recolors green tones. It's a great way to take an outdoor shoot, full of foliage, and restyle it. You can use this across several apps and completely restyle outdoorsy photographs.

2. 20 Moody Film Lightroom Presets & LUTs

Everything old is new again. More than ever, film photography styles are a great way to capture nostalgia in the digital darkroom. Unlike many film presets, these aren't overly desaturated and instead opt for a bit of grain in high contrast looks.

Moody film presets

3. Blogger Lightroom Presets

The world of influencers and content creators seems to have a signature colour look. Capture that look for your photos no matter the size of your audience with these presets. Use this package and the diverse range of looks to create poppy and memorable photos.

Blogger Lightroom presets

Keep Learning Adobe Lightroom

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