- What Is Color Correction?
- How to Control Color Correction In-Camera
- Controlling Color Correction Post-Processing Tips
- What Is Color Correction’s Importance?
- Benefits of Color Correction
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photo by humonia via iStock
Color correction is an important concept in photography. We can control color through photo post-processing, lighting, filters, and by in-camera settings.
But, what is color correction in the first place, and why is it needed? Just how vital is it for serious photographers to understand what is color correction?
This is what we’ll discuss in the article ahead.
Table of Contents
What Is Color Correction?
Before we venture into any in-camera or post-processing tips, we need a good understanding of just what is color correction?
As can be seen in the diagram above, color correction involves the color temperature of light (among other things). It can be described and controlled by different processes and applications, such as sRGB, AdobeRGB, and CMYK.
It may not show on your monitor or device exactly as it does on mine because of the differences in how screens show color. But we can get close by adhering to a set of standards. In much the same way as we can discuss exposure concepts across brands of digital cameras and film stock by using the same standards as a baseline, we can also “correct” how colors should show in most applications from computer monitors to printed wall art by using the proper standards.
What makes color correction a little more difficult than exposure for photographers is that there are several different standards that can be used. They’re all related, though, so we can still have a relatable discussion of “what is color correction” and why it’s important to know and control.
A term which is also involved in this understanding is color balance, sometimes also called white balance. So, we have color correction, color temperature, color balance, and white balance. This all has to do with light, its wavelengths, and variations. An object can have a color, but that color may change based on the color qualities of the light.
photo by Anton Payvin via iStock
You may find discussions of warm body and back body radiation along with ideas of additive color vs subtractive color, but you can simplify it all in your thoughts by simply thinking along the lines of whether a light source is warm or cool, which is basically the color temperature of the light.
Daylight has a wide range of color temperatures depending on time of year, time of day, clouds or no clouds, and air pollution or cleanliness, but a standard temperature most often pointed to is 5600 degrees Kelvin. Higher numbers are cooler, which will be visualized as bluer, with lower temperature numbers being warmer or leaning to yellow, orange, or reddish.
Okay, with all of that wordage under our belt helping us to understand that colors can vary based on lighting and other factors, we can now talk about correcting color rendition in our images.
If we wanted a subject to print on canvas, metal, wood, or paper and have it appear to have the colors that our eyes and brain automatically compensated for when taking the photos, then we may need to correct the colors so that they appear as expected in the final rendition.
How to Control Color Correction In-Camera
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What is color correction in-camera, and how does it work?
Color correction in-camera means that we are correcting the color of the light being recorded before it actually gets recorded. Multiple methods can be used to accomplish this; filtering the light source, filtering the light path, adjusting the color balance or white balance of the digital sensor, or changing the type of film in non-digital cameras.
For most of us as digital photographers, we’ll be using the color balance controls to adjust how the sensor reads and records the light. If we record in RAW format, we can assign a color profile later in post-processing.
That’s the sRGB and Adobe RGB I mentioned earlier. A color profile assigns values that can be manipulated and reproduced by any other application able to read those profiles. When you send your finished files out as a TIFF or JPEG to a professional printing company, it uses the assigned color profile to read the file so that the physical print appears as intended. This is also how any other monitor on anything from an iPhone to a large professional widescreen curved computer monitor reads and displays the image file.
When using color negative film or chromes (color slide film), the film has a built-in sensitivity to a certain color profile of its own, a color balance. They are predominantly either daylight balanced at 5600K or tuned to tungsten light at either 3200K or 3400K. Even in the digital age, this is still a useful tool for cinematography or advanced videography.
What if you had film balanced for 3400K tungsten in your camera but were shooting under daylight or you were loaded with daylight film under studio HMI lights? Well, other than changing film, you could use a filter on the lens to change the color balance of what’s going through the lens to the film. It was very common for photographers and filmmakers to have tons of color correction filters in their bag all the time.
Which is what makes digital photography so wonderful. We can make these types of adjustments all throughout our shooting sessions. If we’re ever unsure about our colors because of the lighting conditions or for other reasons, a simple way to get accurate color is to capture some exposures of the same scene under the same light but with an 18 percent gray card in the frame. A MacBeth Color Checker could also be used.
Some cameras will let you shoot a frame of the other side of an 18 percent gray card, the side that is 90 percent white, and then use the camera electronics to tell the processing engine that this is what we want to be white under these lighting conditions. That’s a super simple method that works well in the field and on the go.
We could still use lens filters if we want, or we could alter the light itself, either by dialing in the color desired, such as we could on an LED panel light or by using gel filters on the light. Combining any or all of these is also a valid approach, and these all count as a form of in-camera color correction since it is before any post-processing is done.
Controlling Color Correction Post-Processing Tips
Post-processing is the step needed to take great images and make them absolutely outstanding. One of my top video and photo post-processing tips is that you gotta be able to see what you’re doing. One part of that is upgrading to a separate, larger monitor than what is on your laptop, the other part is learning to use it properly.
The monitor is the easy part. Use our own monitor buying guides and fine-tune the recommendations to your specific needs. Using to learn the monitors with a view towards what is color correction is the part that isn’t exactly intuitive for many of us.
Color calibration is an important step in color management of our image files after all of the in-camera color correction tools and methods are used. There are numerous programs and calibration tools that we can make use of, the trick is actually get the color calibration done.
The instructions included with each program or device are pretty straightforward, though they can be kind of tedious and time-consuming. It’s well worth it, though, a fact you will notice once you complete your calibration.
Another helpful post-processing tip is what we started during our in-camera color correction. If we included an 18 percent gray card, the 90 percent white side of one, or a MacBeth Color Checker in a frame or two of our image files, then we can use those items to judge our post-processing work. This works especially well once we’ve done our monitor color calibration.
Another thing we have is built into our programs. RAW image files can be assigned a color profile during post-processing, which fixes almost any lingering question of what is color correction and how much is needed.
What Is Color Correction’s Importance?
Another question many may have is just what is color correction’s importance?
Well, one of the primary considerations is so that the images look right in accordance with what we want to do with our images. If we’re only going to display our images on view screens such as an iPhone or a computer monitor, then we can only have so much control since the final display depends on whether that screen is properly calibrated or not.
If we’re making physical prints, though, it’s our image file color information and the materials used, along with the skill of the printer and the quality of their equipment, that makes the difference.
When it’s all top-quality (our work and theirs), then the final product will look amazing. This should hold true with all processes used in photographic printing: printing on paper, canvas prints, metal prints, wood prints, acrylic prints, and other materials.
Which is why choosing a high-quality printing company is an important choice as we learn more about what is color correction. We may be tempted to say to ourselves that we should simply print everything on our own, but few of us could afford the time, space, and cost involved in printing on all of those materials and in a wide variety of sizes.
I have found a wonderful professional printing company, Printique. Printique makes prints on all of the materials I just mentioned, and in so many sizes that I lost count!
Part of what makes Printique a good choice for me is that they understand the importance of what is color correction in the first place.
Trust me, if you’ve made an effort to have good color in your image files by adjusting the controls either in-camera, during post-processing, or both, you really don’t want a poorly trained technician working with substandard materials and machines when it’s your images being printed.
Benefits of Color Correction
photo by Stephen Harker via iStock
Primarily, the benefits of color correction are similar to understanding and using other techniques and methods in our photography.
Namely, we can be the master of our art and craft from the very beginning part of capturing the images all the way through to the final display of our art.
Being familiar with the concept of what is color correction is an important part of how we can constantly make beautiful images. And finding a printing partner that has the expertise to deliver prints that reflect your color choices will certainly help, too!