Tips for Getting the Best Color from Your Photographs


Getting the best color from your digital camera is an essential part of the photographic process. Though you may be tempted to use the automatic white balance setting of your camera or to let your editing software adjust color for you, neither may provide the best results.

Instead, it’s the making of conscious choices both in camera and in software that will really ensure that you are getting the best color. Here are some tips to help to achieve just such results.

Work with a Calibrated Monitor

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Pentax 645z first sample images (10 of 11)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 9.0

To reliably edit your images on your computer, you need a calibrated monitor. This ensures that any adjustments you make to exposure or white balance will accurately reflect the actual colors within the file. Invest in a colorimeter such as the Datacolor Spyder4Pro S4P100 Colorimeter to set up your monitor for a color-managed workflow.

Use Your Camera’s White Balance Presets

Though the auto white balance feature of your camera may seem convenient, it may not always provide you the most accurate and consistent color. Whenever possible, use the white balance preset that will provide you the most precise color possible.

Use a Color Chart

If you are photographing a subject where color accuracy is critical such as clothing or portraits, using an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport can help you nail color accuracy from the very first shot.

Use the Custom White Balance Preset

The custom white balance is best used when you face a complicated lighting situation such as a scene illuminated by mixed light sources or when you just have to nail the color such as when doing a fashion shoot.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phottix Mitros Images (3 of 3)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 1.4

Choose Adobe RGB over sRGB

Adobe RGB possesses a wider color gamut than sRGB, providing you more editing flexibility and thus more precise color editing. Set your camera’s preferences for Adobe RGB and when importing the images into Photoshop or Lightroom, make sure to important them as Adobe RGB files.

Shoot RAW over JPEG

Depending on your camera, your raw files will produce 12-bit or 14-bit files, rather than the 8-bit files delivered with jpegs. This increase in data means a much richer image file that will be beneficial when editing the images.

Adjust Levels Before the White Balance

If an image is underexposed, it can influence your perception of its color. So, a simple levels correction may eliminate what might be perceived as inaccurate color. It can often result in just minor tweaking of the white balance, rather than a major adjustment.

Look for Neutral Colors

When it comes time to editing your images look for neutral colors (white, gray or green). Neutral colors will provides you a better sense of whether an image’s white balance is too warm (yellow) or too cool (blue). Eyeball these colors as you make any adjustments to white balance.

Walk Away from the Screen

Once you’ve completed an edit on an image take a break and walk away from the computer. Because your eyes are constantly adjusting to the light and colors you are looking at, what you initially may have thought was a spot-on edit may not be. A brief respite will allow you to view the color with fresh eyes.

Convert Images to sRGB for Commercial Printing and Web Use

Image designated for the web will or most commercial print labs are displayed or printed using the sRGB color space. So to ensure that the images are reproduced to accurately reflect your edit convert your output file to sRGB.