There's a tool in Lightroom you have likely never touched or maybe just don't understand its purpose. The calibration panel is something I use in nearly every single photo I edit; let me show you why.
Last week I went over Lightroom's new color grading module and the week before that I took an in-depth look at using tone curves for more than just contrast. This time around we are going to be using a panel many of you have likely never touched, "Calibration". If you're like me a few years ago you simply just never touched the setting because of its name. Why would I need to calibrate the image out of my camera? And if I did need to, how do I even do that?
Well, the truth is I’ve never used it to actually calibrate the color coming from my camera using a color chart or anything of that nature but I continually use it to add a bit of magic to my images. It's hard to describe in words what it does to your images so I'm going to use three different examples in this article and even more in the video above to show just how versatile it can be. With that said, let's get started!
I'm going to start by using a blank canvas: a photo I have not touched and I will go through how I use this tool 95% of the time. One of the first things ill do when I edit an image is set its white balance and then scroll all the way to the bottom to adjust my calibration.
The majority of the time I simply boost my "Blue Primary" saturation to 100. I do this for basically every photo I publish. Above I've made that change and zoomed in to show exactly why I do this. Notice those golden highlights in the grass but also pay attention to the shadow areas in the bottom left of the frame, see how it almost brings that area to life in such a subtle yet beautiful way? This is without any other edits.
You might be asking why I'm using the blue saturation slider rather than the green or red. In the image above you'll see on the left the image with blue saturation set to 100 and on the right, you see the red saturation set to 100. Notice how crunchy and just a tad overdone the red handles the sun's colors. Green acts in the same way but is slightly less intense. What you can do is only increase your red or green values to a comfortable amount like +40 for this image, however in my experience simply using the blue saturation slider yields the best results for these types of scenes. If it's hard to see in these images you can jump to around 4:50 in the video to see it in more detail.
It gives me the most punch and enhancements to the colors I want while still having a nice roll-off in the majority of the colors in my scene. The one problem you will run into is that it pushes your blues into oversaturated territory. To fix this simply go into your HSL panel and decrease your blue saturation by about 20. This will vary based on how much blue is in your scene and how much editing you push your final image.
Above is a photo with very light editing that wouldn't be possible without using the calibration setting directly in Lightroom. If it didn't exist I would have to go into Photoshop and use masking techniques to get the vibrance and light that it creates in this image. Sometimes that is something I will do but on many photos not only does it save me time, but it also creates great results. It's that simple. As I said before, this is something I use on the majority of the photos I publish and I absolutely love the results. However, we can use this for much more.
Next up I'm going to start with an image I've already edited. My recommendation when editing is to adjust your calibration settings before you do basically anything else but white balance or basic adjustments. However, for example's sake I wanted to show just how powerful this tool can be and it honestly might enhance images you've already edited as well. Take note in the above image how dull the red hut looks yet the grass in the foreground looks brighter and more saturated which isn't a balanced look.
Sometimes I want the greens in my image to be less yellow and more of a muted green, to do this I'll adjust the calibration hue of green to the right which will remove yellow and add more blue into the image.
Last I want to make the image, especially the hut, pop just a bit more. By simply pushing the green saturation slider up not only do we add a little life into the image, the red in the hut comes alive. Also, interestingly enough, the intensity in the green areas doesn't change all the much if you compare the before and after. I love this tool! Again if it's hard to see the color shifts in the pictures jump to around 8:40 in the video for an even more detailed look.
Last but not least let's talk about stylizing your image. Long ago I wrote an article about posting to Instagram everyday for a month using a very stylized type of image throughout those posts. While my feelings on Instagram are far different than they were then, I actually used the calibration tool to make the stylization I used for every image. Coincidentally when I opened my catalog to find this next image, I noticed Lightroom's new loading screen is using an image taken with an infrared filter applied, which looks vaguely close to our image.
A classic look in cinematography is orange and teal. This might not be quite that but it's in the same ballpark and it's really simple to do with calibration. In nearly every photo if you push the blue hue to the left you'll result in that style. Now I'm not saying to rush out and turn all your photos teal and orange, it's definitely very specific and can be quite extreme. It might not even be to your taste but there is no harm in learning just what a tool can do for you, even if you don't plan on using it. As I just learned while writing this article, it could even replicate an infrared look!
I hope after three completely different styles of images you'll go out and try this on some of your photos or future edits. As I said before I typically stick with using this to put a bit of life into my images, but it can also come in quite handy to get creative with your images as well. As I mentioned a few times throughout the article if it's hard to see the color differences through the pictures within this article be sure to check out the video as it should do a better job showing those differences. The calibration on your monitor or phone while looking at the images through a web browser will vary.
As always I would love to hear what you think below, if you've ever used this tool before or if this is your first time even knowing it exists. Thanks for reading and watching!