Improving Your Photography Workflow for the Best Images Possible With Color Management

Improving Your Photography Workflow for the Best Images Possible With Color Management

No matter if you’re creating your own portfolio or taking photos for paying clients one thing you need to be able to do is create consistent and repeatable results. When looking at images next to one another you will immediately notice if there is a color shift or inconsistent lighting between photographs which can be a detriment to you developing your style or landing the perfect client. Let’s talk about the fastest and easiest way to help elevate your photography and fix those color and exposure issues quickly. 

When looking at other photographers' portfolios and imagery there tends to be themes of color or exposure that are a part of their style and keeping those themes between projects and clients can be tough unless you create a system that you can follow through with which is consistent and repeatable. With a system your imagery becomes unique through a style that emulates what you are striving to create but with a macro look at the overall work you’re creating. What systems can you employ that will allow you to take the reins in your creative journey that are also fast, quick, and easy? Let’s talk about color and calibration and see if you're missing one of the easiest ways to elevate your art and take your imagery to the next level.

To begin let’s walk through color and how we can inadvertently create inconsistencies in our imagery, but with one simple step in the field and two minutes added to your total post processing time you can fix these issues each and every time you photograph no matter the area or the lighting. Photographers shoot using light in many different ways, whether you’re a natural light photographer or a strobist using six lights, having a color calibration tool is a must when photographing people, commercial, architecture, products, as well as landscapes.

Photographers are always working through color inconsistencies either due to bounced and indirect lighting from the environments we are using, the timeframes we are photographing a scene, or when using artificial lighting with more than one light with the possibility those lights are not consistent to each other. This is when we should be using a simple calibration tool before we begin our imaging sessions so we can very easily fix these issues in post.

SpyderCheckr

SpyderCheckr

A Datacolor SpyderCheckr allows you to address your color calibration with a known target easily and efficiently by photographing the tool in the same lighting scenario you’re using for your photography session. The SpyderCheckr is large enough to be zoomed in on in post with even wider lenses and has gray cards on the opposite side of the color swatches that are easily flipped to when needed for reference. There is also a 1/4-20 thread at the center base spine of the SpyderCheckr if you are photographing alone and would like to use a tripod or light stand to hold the color chart while you photograph the tool for later. There is also a 3D tool called a SpyderCube that attaches to a slide-away 1/4-20 thread at the top of the SpyderCheckr which works incredibly well for exposure calibration no matter the direction of the light. Datacolor has made it very easy to use the SpyderCheckr in a multitude of shooting situations whether for stills or for video. 

SpyderCheckr and SpyderCube

SpyderCheckr and SpyderCube

When you head back to your computer to post process your imagery it only takes a few moments to take your reference image of the SpyderCheckr, crop the image to the chart, correct any color casts, fix exposure, and color correct your chart to the reference image. With this new image profile you can set exposure and color correction for all the imagery from your session. This way you can start with the same standard starting point for your images before you process each of your photographs so they match your personal aesthetic. If you’re working with clients that need exact tonal values as with product photography, then having consistent and accurate color and exposure makes having a color calibration tool a necessity in your workflow. Adding color calibration to your photography process is a simple but incredibly valuable part of any photographer’s capture and processing system. 

SpyderCheckr in Lightroom

SpyderCheckr in Lightroom

On a similar note to fixing your imagery through some simple calibration is to make sure your photographs are coming out as sharp as possible. For those of us who are using DSLR cameras, these use an auto focus chip separate from the main sensor, or if using mount adapters to attach lenses that are not made directly for your cameras mounting system, it’s a great idea to check your auto focus accuracy with a Datacolor SpyderLensCal. A SpyderLensCal will help DSLR cameras adjust, through the AF fine tuning micro adjustment setting, the primary auto focus sensor that is used through the lens.  This sensor uses phase detection auto focus to provide proper focus for the camera. Individual lenses can be fine tuned to optimize its performance with a specific camera and lens combination.

Simply attach the target to a 1/4-20 thread screw on a light stand or tripod and take an image using auto focus from your camera and lens combination. Aiming at the center of the target and looking at the subsequent photograph will let you know if your camera and lens are perfectly accurate when using auto-focus or if they may need some micro-adjustment in the camera settings either front of or behind the current plane of focus. Zoom lenses can be calibrated using the telephoto end of the zoom range, then confirming accurate focus through multiple points in the zoom range.

SpyderLensCal

SpyderLensCal

The SpyderLensCal is a simple tool that can be invaluable especially when photographing wildlife from a distance, headshots in studio, or athletes in competition where having tack sharp images of maybe once-in-a-lifetime moments and events is critical. It makes perfect sense to correct and calibrate what you can so issues as simple as missed focus don’t affect your images in the future.

Datacolor is offering a Flash Sale on December 9th and 10th, 2019 with huge savings on the SpyderCheckr and SpyderLensCal! You can find those sales for the SpyderCheckr here and for the SpyderLensCal here.

If you’re already using Datacolor in your photography tell us about your workflow and how calibration works for you.

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7 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

I am a fan of the X-Rite Passport, it's compact, lightweight and under $90.

Daris Fox's picture

Same here, been using it for years just a shame it's a pain to use with CaptureOne.

Mike Ditz's picture

I have a vintage Macbeth color checker. I use it very, very rarely. Sometimes when product colors or lighting are "iffy" and sometimes just for show. Like when I dig out an exposure meter...

Yin Ze's picture

I have the small one that is several years old. Can anyone confirm if the color swatches "fade" after a couple of years? I think the manufacturer recommends replacing these after a 2-3 years? Would be great if someone could do a side-by-side test of new vs. 4 year old color checker passport. possible future fstopper article entitled "10 things capture one can do that lightroom can't(plus the shocking one thing lightroom can do)"

Mike Ditz's picture

Of course the manufacturers recommend that you replace after 2-3 years.

Yin Ze's picture

something to do with the dyes on the color swatch? maybe exposure to sun/light?

Jan Holler's picture

That is all true. But on stage I ran more and more into the situation of LED illuminated scenes where, to make matters worse, the light changes often. LED light has a very narrow spectrum. The blue LED light is horrible. Most of the time it is very very bright because our eyes are not very sensitive to blue light. The histogram of such a photo looks very weird. Before LED light the spectrum of red, green or blue (or whatever colour) was much wider.
In general, LED light is making things much more difficult for photographers.
Maybe check out the affordable IT 8.7 colour calibration charts of http://www.targets.coloraid.de/ to calibrate your camera first.