Color reproduction, loading color profiles and calibrating monitors & printers can become an endless tangled mess that leads to frustrating headaches.
Proper use of a color chart can get you a lot closer to actual colors and save you a lot of time dialing in your post production work by adding a simple step to your workflow.
A couple years back I pickup the X-Rite ColorChecker Card and by doing so I have saved a ton of post processing time. During each and every shoot I take one frame before we begin, as a measure of the light temperature and proper exposure with a color checker chart. By doing so, I have saved countless hours of not having to wrestle with white balancing when sitting down at the computer to process after the shoot. It really is stupid simple how taking one photograph of the color chart at the beginning of the shoot will save you time in post. Once the photograph is captured on camera, the file can be loaded in Photoshop or Lightroom along with the rest of the batch and in a few clicks, your white balance is nailed down and can be synced to your other files.
Color charts come in all sizes, personally I prefer the larger card that measures out at 8.5 x 11" and since I primarily work with people, I like to have the larger squares in the frame. There are color charts that are smaller and some pack up which might be better for table top or on-location shooter to save space. There are also grey cards that will help with the same things being discussed here in the post but the added colors are helpful for video/motion (will discuss in another post.)
The two main things that this post will cover are Proper Exposure and White Balance using the color checker chart.
White Balance can be read across the entire board but for this post lets stick with the bottom grey squares. All that is needed to do to give your photographs a collective white balance is to load of the test shot in in your editor, select the white balance tool and click either one of the middle grey squares. The two squares are close in tone but vary from your light source so I typically bounce between the two looking at which represents the correct color. From here you can copy that setting to your photographs and head off to your next step of processing.
Proper exposure can be read all across the card, but more specifically (or what I aim to look at when doing a test shot) is a nice tonal range of all of the squares at the bottom of the chart. The grey squares represent white to black in the greyscale spectrum and details can be seen in either the highlight or shadow when in your preferred editor. The range of highlights and shadows can be tweaked to your specific need of lighter or darker, more contrast etc.
These color checkers have a lot more potential for color representation than what has been presented in this blog post, regardless of your level, picking one of these up and keeping it in your bag will save you a lot of time when balancing out your photographs.