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Photography

How to Create a Custom Color Profile for Your Camera

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:ShortLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Creating a color profile for your camera is the single best way to ensure color accuracy and consistency under differing light sources and between multiple camera bodies. Having this level of uniformity and precision will help save you from color correcting individual images. It may sound technical and time-consuming, but a short and simple procedure will provide you with a camera profile that will greatly improve your camera’s color accuracy.

You will need to:

Photograph the ColorChecker Target

The first step in profiling your camera is to create an image of a ColorChecker chart. This can be any 24-patch ColorChecker chart. I am using the ColorChecker Passport from X-Rite. 

Set up your light and place your ColorChecker chart under your light source. It is a good idea to have a profile created under natural daylight at the very least. Then, check to make certain that the chart is evenly illuminated. I like to use a light meter and check the exposure values at each of the four corners. 

Next, set your camera’s White Balance setting to Custom White Balance and adjust it using the white balance target on the reverse side of the ColorChecker.

Checking the ColorChecker for even illumination

Once the target is evenly lit, go ahead and take a photo of the chart. Make sure that your exposure is accurate. If any square is too bright or too dark, the profiling software will not be able to create a profile. 

It is a good idea to slightly bracket your exposures. That way one from the group should work. Create a ColorChecker chart image with any other cameras you use. Once you have your target images, download them to your computer.

Profile Your Camera With Adobe DNG Editor

Adobe’s DNG Editor is a free, stand-alone piece of software that will allow you to create and edit DNG camera profiles. It is great for creating a general purpose profile that will improve your camera’s color response under any light source just by creating a profile using natural daylight.

If your camera does not create Raw images in the DNG file format, you will have to convert your Raw files to the DNG format to use the Adobe DNG Editor. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do this step once you have your profile created.

Converting a RAW image to a DNG in Adobe Camera RAW

Open your Raw image in Adobe Camera Raw and click on the Save Image button in the lower left corner. A Save Options dialog box will open, and you will have to choose the Digital Negative (DNG) from the format options. Choose your desktop as a save location so it is easy to find later and click the Save button.

Start the profiling process by opening Adobe DNG Editor, and then click on the Chart tab.

Chart tab in Adobe DNG Profile Editor

Next, you need to open the DNG image of the ColorChecker chart by opening the File menu and selecting Open DNG Image.

Opening a DNG image

When the chart loads, you should see four color chips that correspond to the corner color squares on the ColorChecker chart. Click on those color chips and drag them to the centers of their matching swatches.

Placing color chips onto their swatches

Once the color chips have been placed on the color swatches, you are ready to create your profile. Under the Chart tab, make sure the option for Both Color Tables is selected and click Create Profile.

A box should pop up with a message telling you that you have successfully created a profile. At this point, you may get a warning indicating that the exposure is off or that there is a strong color cast. Either of these will prevent a profile from being created. Don’t worry if this happens. It just means you need to retake the ColorChecker target image, carefully checking your exposure and color balance.

After you have successfully created a profile, you will need to export it. Open the File menu and select Export Profile.

Exporting  a camera profile

In the Export dialog box, give the profile a name. I like to include the camera name, light source, and date in the file name so I can easily distinguish between profiles later. Make sure that you are saving the profile to the correct folder for Adobe Camera Raw. It should default to the correct folder. The exact file path depends on whether you use a Windows PC or Mac. Once you have double checked your save location, click Save. Now your profile is ready to use.

Naming a camera profile in Adobe DNG Editor

Back in Adobe DNG Profile Editor, it is a good idea to save the recipe for your profile so you can adjust it later if needed. Open the File menu and select Save Recipe As. Then name your recipe to match your profile’s name and save it in the same location as you did the profile. 

Once you have a saved recipe, you can fine-tune your profile and export it as a separate profile. You can edit a profile with the sliders in the Color Matrices and Color Chart tabs. For example, if you constantly find yourself desaturating the reds in your images, create a profile that has the red channel desaturated. Then export that profile as an alternate version of your previous profile.

Profile Your Camera With ColorChecker Software

ColorChecker targets from X-Rite ship with a stand-alone piece of software that will allow you to create camera profiles. It is a bit more automated and simpler to use than Adobe DNG Profile Editor because it doesn’t have the capability to edit profiles. It is great for creating profiles for specific light sources. This way you can get highly accurate profiles for each of your lighting setups. You could have one for your tungsten lights, studio strobes, and speedlight or any other lights you use.

Install and open the ColorChecker software. Next, drag and drop your image of the ColorChecker target into the program. It will take a moment or two to open and automatically find the swatches on the target.

Dragging a ColorChecker chart image into profiling software

Once the chart image is open and the swatches highlighted with green boxes, click on the Create Profile button in the bottom right corner. The ColorChecker program will take a moment to compute the values it sees in the target. It will give you a warning if any of the swatches are out of gamut. Don’t worry if this happens. It just means you need to retake the ColorChecker target image, carefully checking your exposure.

Ready to create a profile with ColorCheckers software

Give your profile a name. I like to include the camera name, light source, and date in the file name so I can easily distinguish between profiles later. Save your profile in the Camera Raw Profiles folder. Your profile is ready to use.

Using Your Profile

Now that you've created a camera profile, it is time to put it to use. Luckily, it is quick and easy to use in Adobe Camera Raw and it does not add any extra steps while you are taking photos. Whenever you edit a photo taken with a profiled camera, you will want to apply that profile when you process the camera’s Raw files.

An image ready for adjusting in Adobe Camera Raw

Open your photo in Adobe Camera Raw and navigate to the Camera Calibration tab on the right. It is indicated by the camera icon. 

Once the Camera Calibration tab is open, all you have to do is select the appropriate profile from the Profile drop-down menu. I am going to use the profile that I created for daylight use. When you select your profile, you should see the color shift. The change can sometimes be dramatic, but more often it is subtle.

Selecting a profile for an image in Adobe Camera Raw

Once you have your profile selected, you can go about adjusting the image as normal. That’s it. Your images now have accurate color that will be consistent even if you use more than one camera or change your light source.

A final image from a camera calibrated with a camera profile
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