Color Perfect: Xrite ColorChecker Passport

The XRite ColorChecker Passport allows you to create custom DNG Camera Profiles to capture real life colors as they were exactly when captured!

The XRite ColorChecker Passport allows you to create custom DNG Camera Profiles to capture real life colors as they were exactly when captured!

Xrite ColorChecker Passport: Your search for perfect color ends here!

You have probably been around digital photography long enough to have heard how vital it is to have a properly calibrated display. But just how accurate are your colors from your camera?

There are no set standards for what actually is RED, GREEN, BLUE, YELLOW, PURPLE, etc in modern digital photography. Each camera manufacturer has their own idea of what colors are. To make matters worse, even the individual make and model from a specific manufacturer have slight variations as to what the true colors are. As if that isn’t complicated enough, we must also take into consideration the extensive list of lenses we have to choose from which may also alter color slightly.

Imagine these typical scenarios:

  • You have an event to shoot. You have a second shooter, maybe even a third. You are all using different cameras. When it comes to editing these images, you realize it is a HUGE headache getting all the colors to match with each other.
  • You have a product shoot. Accurate color is vital; there is no other option other than 100% accurate colors. You have your white balance right but is that enough?
  • Maybe you are just someone who is interested in getting the proper color from the start. Whatever the case may be, the Xrite ColorChecker Passport is a tool that will help you create a custom color profile for YOUR camera and will allow you to edit with repeatable results over and over with extreme ease.

What is the Xrite Color Checker Passport?

The ColorChecker Passport is a pocket sized photographic tool that has three targets housed in one plastic case. Equally important is the software that comes with the ColorChecker (DVD or Download) which allows creation of DNG profiles for your specific camera. Since Xrite uses DNG profiles with their color checker, the included software will only work with Adobe Products.

GREY CARD

A grey card that is manufactured to be spectrally flat provides us with a great way to get IN CAMERA white balance correct. As always, with RAW files, White Balance can be fully altered in post without penalty. When shooting JPEG, you must get the WB correct IN CAMERA.

A grey card that is manufactured to be spectrally flat provides us with a great way to get IN CAMERA white balance correct. As always, with RAW files, White Balance can be fully altered in post without penalty. When shooting JPEG, you must get the WB correct IN CAMERA.

The device itself  includes a White Balance Gray Card  that is spectrally neutral for in camera white balancing for RAW and JPEG Photography. Some use a white sheet of paper when setting their white balance but this isn’t the best practice for proper white balance. A grey card,  such as the one included within, is much more balanced than a simple sheet of paper. Many papers today also contain whiteners which only makes things worse.

This isn’t of great importance when shooting in RAW since the WB (White Balance) can be altered in post production without any loss of quality whatsoever. It is one of the greatest reason why you should be shooting in RAW. In JPEG, however, it is very important to get the WB right IN CAMERA since this cannot be altered properly in post production. Of course when shooting RAW, the LCD we look at is showing us a JPEG preview so if getting the preview right is important to you, then an in camera WB setting is essential.

ColorChecker Classic20160815-220914-3

Next in this handy fold up device is the ColorChecker Classic. It is an industry standard 24 patch color checker target for super fine tuning critical color and building custom DNG profiles. This is of great importance because the Lightroom Plug In or the Color Checker Application will scan these tiles and make sure that these colors are what they are supposed to be in the camera profile which you will assign in either Lightroom or Photoshop’s Camera Raw. These color are produced by the Munsell Color Services Lab – a company with over 75 years experience in the creation of physical color targets and standards. The manufacturing process is very strict to assure exacting color references.

 

Creative Enhancement Target

This section contains all the colors in the HSL sliders wishing LR and PS. The middle tiles are for portraits (Top middle) and Landscape (Bottom middle). The circles represent the neutral settings. The little (+) near the tiles allow for fine control and warming while the (-) allow for cooling. These are useful because they allow for repeatable output time after time. The bottom row can be used for WB or to watch for tonal issues from highlights to shadows. Each tile should be visibly different tonally than the next to assure tonal detail. Clipping in highs and shadows is also monitored here.

This section can be used for fine control over WB (There are tiles with – and + for cooling and warming. The color tiles match the colors that are within LR and PS HSL Slider panel. The bottom row contains grey scale values for WB or to monitor highlight or shadow clipping.

Lastly in this device is the creative enhancment target. Here you have all the color tiles that are in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw HSL sliders as well as white balance tiles. You can warm or cool using the little + or – tiles with a simple click of the white balance tool in LR and since these are always the same on the card, you will be able to repeat these adjustments easily at any time.

Since there are also black and white tiles at the far ends of the grey tone line of tiles, you can also monitor highlight clipping as well as shadows.

Why color management?

You have probably heard how important it is to get your display color calibrated. This is essential in getting your prints to look as they did on your display. Why not start off with proper colors from the point of import all the way through to output? Anyone with color critical work can really benefit from color calibration from capture to print. This article is only addressing proper calibration of your camera and creating a custom profile.

How To Create A Custom DNG Profile

Creating a custom DNG profile using the ColorChecker Passport is VERY simple. You must install the software that is included with the package or download it from Xrite (http://xritephoto.com/).

Before using the software, we need to take a reference photo with the ColorChecker in the same lighting situation that the other photos during this shoot will be taken under. The ColorChecker should be placed so that the light is falling on the face of the tiles and none of them can be obscured or blocked in anyway. The entire frame does not have to be filled by the ColorChecker. Xrite recommends 10% of the image or larger. The software does a very good job at picking up on the color tiles. Fisheye lenses and those with major distortion can cause a little problem since the software is looking for straight lines.

It is important to note that the image used to create this DNG profile must be properly exposed. Images that are over exposed or under exposed (clipping in color channels) will not be useable in creating Profiles.

Choose Image

It isn't pretty - but it isn't supposed to be! This is just a starting point to get our WB and Calibration Profile created.

It isn’t pretty – but it isn’t supposed to be! This is just a starting point to get our WB and Calibration Profile created.

This is the target image. I purposely used the incorrect white balance setting to give this RAW file a terrible color cast. This can be fixed in one simple click within Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW.

Go into the FILE menu and choose Export With Preset. You will see the ColorCheck Passport option since we have installed the software. You can then name your profile. It can be named for the lighting in which you are shooting under for this shoot if you want to be specific and have many profiles which is the best workflow for MAXIMUM color accuracy. In this example, I named it for the lighting and my camera used for the shoot.

In case you are using multiple cameras, this isn’t needed since the profiles shot with that camera will only show up with images from that specific camera. There is a desktop utility application that allows you to manage your profiles, however. Naming these different profiles with the camera type will aid in managing these profiles if you wish to do so.

Exporting the file with the ColorChecker Export option is where the DNG Profile is created.

Exporting the file with the ColorChecker Export option is where the DNG Profile is created.

Once you name the profile, it will be created (takes a few seconds depending on your machine) and you must restart lightroom (You will be told this on screen) in order to apply the new profile. A note here is that once you create a profile in Lightroom or using Photoshop ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), the profile can be used by both applications since they are stored in the same location.

Restart Lightroom.

By using the White Balance Selector (W – Shortcut), simply click on any of the grey tone tiles shown. It really shouldn’t matter in a proper exposure which tile you choose here but using the second or third in from the white tile is a great point to set your white balance with. That is it! You’re perfect white balance is now set!

Once back into LR, use the WB picker tool and select a neutral tile in the grey tone area.

Once back into LR, use the WB picker tool and select a neutral tile in the grey tone area.

In the Devlope Module, go to CAMERA CALIBRATION. By default, Adobe Standard is chosen. Go into this list and choose the Camera Profile you just created. Once you select this, there will be a shift in colors and now you have much richer, vibrant and lifelike colors and this is without touching any color adjustments or contrast of any kind. (See Slider below). You are starting out with true colors the way they look in reality and not on how your camera says they are. You have true colors that are based on a very precise reference that is correct. For products, fashion and anything where a true color is essential, this is a simple and very effective way to get correct colors quickly.

The beauty of using this system if you have multiple shooters at an event is you could do this with several cameras and as long as you do a target shot at the start of shooting in the same general lighting, you will produce perfect color profiles with ease and have all the images match exactly as if they were the same camera.

Please NOTE: The difference is much more noticeable than the above example in Lightroom and Camera Raw. These are LOW RES/QUALITY images here.

Much more information can be obtained below!

My intention for this article was to introduce the readers of this site information on a product that is really very simple to use and helps photographers get a solid starting point in their workflow where correct color is concerned. Below are some links to information including a video by Joe Brady who is considered by many in the photography world as the go to guy for color. Please feel free to comment below with any questions you may have!

Click here for the XRITE Website!

Click HERE FOR COLORCHECKER MANUAL and a TON more information on this product!

Click HERE FOR JOE BRADY’s AWESOME video on the XRite color checker!


About the Author

Brian Pex

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Brian is a 43 year old hobbyist photographer who only picked up his first REAL camera in March of 2015. He has been obsessed ever since. "I'll wake up at 3AM with a thought of a new post processing idea and I just have to try it out - then and there!" With today's technology and the overflowing wealth of knowledge available online, Brian says "If you have the passion and drive, you can go as far as you want to go!" When people ask Brian where to start when getting into photography, the answer is easy: "ImprovePhotography.com - it is really that simple. Jim Harmer makes it almost too easy - he even has a video course called Photography Start! How can you top that?" Feel free to inbox Brian on Facebook - he always replies :-)

Comments

  1. Am starting to really want to be more effective with my shoots. I have started to do some photography for a builder. Would you suggest using the checker and if I shoot from one end of the room and then the other take a sample each time as the light is changing? I seem spend a bit of time trying to get the right temp.

  2. Author

    Belinda, I would say that really would depend on how much the lighting has changed between shooting situation. Regardless of that happening, just by using the camera profile you create you’re able to start off with better colors from the get go. If you’re shooting with lots of natural lighting on the scene and then the other angle is all tungsten, it would be a good idea to take a quick shot with the target in both cases.

    One thing to note is to not use a grey card with sunrise or sunset photos where you want that golden light since using a nuetral target will correct and get rid of that nice hue that you’re after.

  3. Well that all depends. If capturing the scene as it was is your intention, it’s very useful. For example:

    In the Midwest the blue skies are much more blue than they are on the east coast, for example. The reason why is there is much less moisture in the air. If you’re from the east and you are used to shooting skies, the skies in west look almost too blue. Taking a shot of the target in the conditions you’re shooting in will assure you that the correct colors are displayed when you apply the profile. Remember: Setting a white balance during sunset or sunrise should not be done since you are trying to capture those golden hues as they were.

    Creative edits are always up to the photographer but the Xrite unit will get your colors right from the start.

  4. “You can warm or cool using the little + or – tiles with a simple click of the white balance tool in LR…”

    Can you explain this a bit more, please? I don’t follow. Thanks.

  5. Author

    I’m so sorry this wasn’t clearly stated. If you look at the image with the red circles around the patches, there are tiles that have little + and – signs near them. The + grey tiles are slightly cooler in tone and when you use the white balance tool and click on them, they warm up the image slightly. You can do this easily in Lr by just adjusting the slider but this gives you consistency and makes repeating the process simple. On this section the tiles that are circled in red in article are the neutral tiles which neither cool or warm the image. The top group is for portraits and the bottom for landscapes – so they explain. Since warming skin tones is usually more common, there are a few warming tiles you can click to make the image warmer.

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