How to use a colour checker card

There is a lot of information, and a lot of misinformation, about colour checker cards, or colour checker passports, and it’s something that seems to confuse a lot of photographers.

In this class Karl clears up some of the confusion, explaining what colour checkers are and how to use a colour checker.

You’ll see different types of colour checkers and grey cards as Karl explains the pros and cons of each as well as how to use them. Taking an image into different softwares, Karl also shows how to neutralise an image using colour checkers.

Colour checkers are a useful piece of equipment for achieving colour-accurate imagery, which is essential when photography items such as paintings or products.

Class objectives:

  • Understand what is a colour checker
  • Understand different types of colour checkers
  • Demonstrate how to use a colour checker
  • How to remove colour cast in an image
  • How to neutralise images
  • How to create a colour profile

If you have any questions about this class, please post in the comment section below.

Comments

  1. Hi Karl, thank you for the tutorial.

    Do you not suggest setting up the camera white balance to manual mode and take the photo of one of the grey areas rather than setting the WB to “flash” or “5500-5600K” under studio lighting conditions?

    Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Masa, when shooting RAW the colour balance is adjustable but it is already set in Kelvin at flash colour temperature. The ‘neutralise’ tool that you click on the grey parts of the colour checker just adjusts it further to make it perfectly neutral to account for any slight variances of colour temperature or tint that occur from the softbox material or diffussion material or reflectors etc.

  2. Hi Karl,

    Maybe you can help with my colour checker issue. Im not sure if IM doing something wrong or if Ive just been mis-sold the item.

    The company I work for shoots clothing. The clothing is hanging relatively flat.
    We shoot with the same lighting position and power on every shot. We then send the images to an outsource company to retouch the images.
    We have a lot of problems where the images coming back not matching the colour of the actual item, which results in more returns.

    We bought the colour checker passport as we were led to believe that this would adjust the colours to match what we see in the real world. The grey sets the white balance perfectly, no problem there, but when creating profiles using the colour squares we still get colours not matching.
    If we make the profile adjustments to make a yellow shirt looks perfect, then when we load that same profile onto a predominantly purple item (for example) then the colours aren’t matching.

    Are we using the card wrong do you think, or does this just not do what we thought it would?
    Are there any other ways to get matching colour, other than just having in-house staff to retouch for us?

    1. Hi Christopher, it’s difficult to say without knowing your lighting, room situation, retouchers, camera, monitors etc etc as there are many steps in the process that can have an effect. Generally speaking though, as explained in this video, most cameras have a pretty good starting point on colour and then usually it’s just the neutralising of Kelvin that is the most important thing. The other thing here is do the retouchers know what they are doing? And most importantly are you viewing and checking all of this with high quality colour calibrated monitors.

      1. Hi,

        Thanks for the reply. Yes we check all the images on regularly calibrated Eizo monitors. The retouchers are skilled, but because they don’t have the items with them while retouching (the items stay with us in the studio in the UK while the retouching agency is based in India) they wont know whether the colours have come out correctly ‘out of camera’ or whether further colour matching work in photoshop is required.
        Due to the number of products we need to get through in a day our stages are set up to a general, quite flat standard (2 back lights, 2 key lights with items against pure white backdrop) and the stylists don’t adjust these when shooting different items. They are for online sales so can be pretty basic, rather than anything more complicated that you’d use for advertising shots.

        My thoughts are that management want an un-aquirable result which is: perfect colour every time out of camera with the same lighting sett up for all items regardless of colour, brightness, material etc

        1. Hi Christopher, unfortunately I still can’t understand where the problem would arise. If you’re doing everything correct at your end and shooting a reference shot for the retouchers with a colour checker card then the workflow for them should be straight forwards. They could even save a profile from your colour checker card and lighting setup to revert to every time they work on your projects? If you’re set up is correct then there remains only a couple of options. Either the retouchers aren’t handling it properly or the materials you are photographing are out of the gamut capability of the camera?

  3. Hi Karl and Team

    I have a color checker passport already and will start using it for white balancing my images, could I just ask why there is a white balance full ‘page’ and a grey balance ‘page’ at the end of the passport? Is there a particular difference, I always thought it was neutral grey that was needed for white balance. I imagine they’re both neutral? But is there a particular reason why you would use one rather than the other?

    Thankyou for your help.

  4. Hi Karl, I mainly use my colour checker passport to correct the white balance in my photos in post production in Lightroom as you suggested in your video. However, I have a question, what white balance setting should I use to take the photo of the colour checker passport in first place? Custom or Auto or particular Temperature? Picture style selection wouldn’t affect I believe because we are going to use the RAW image anyway.. Please advise?

    1. Hi, you should set your white balance as close to the light source you think is providing the key light. For example if shooting with studio flash or outdoors in the mid-day sun then 5600K-6500K. If you want your sunsets to look very warm then leave it at 5600K which is what I do, but if you prefer them more neutral then adjust to 3600K – See this chapter for more info – https://www.karltayloreducation.com/class/understanding-light/ and this one – https://www.karltayloreducation.com/class/introduction-and-understanding-light/

  5. Thanks Karl.

    I am not a professional but am very interested in photography. This Colour Checker Passport I have kept for years but never used it. A month ago, I tried to test it with Capture One PRO ICC files, Lightroom DNG profiles for my GFX50R, Nikon D850. To sum up, I didn’t see any difference in my 50R. Perhaps it may affect some red, blue colour. In D850, there is a lot of change in color which I may not like very much.

    Firstly, I totally agree with you about the lighting shining on the passport from different angles resulting in a variety of color tones. Which one is correct though when you create your profiles? Secondly, editing the photo, by adding anything onto it will also shift the color tone as well. So what is the point to do so. Someone said it creates a base profile for the starting point. Thirdly, I finally got the answer if I need to shoot a flat painting to use it. It makes sense to me.

    Spending a lot of hours to create some go-to profiles for Daylight, Overcast, Shade, and flash I think is a bit waste of time. Although it is a little bit different, no one realizes it.

    Overall, what I have learned from that is to create the profiles every time you keep shooting. One capture with one profile from the light source (main light) will work. However, keeping this pattern of shooting I no longer have any interest to hold my camera.

    I think I will stick with the default camera profiles provided by the software will do!!!

    Regards,

    Peter

  6. Hi Karl,
    Agree with everything that you said. My mistake was after watching the Phocus video 16 on the Reproduction Tool was trying to do it for every product session and not getting the right results. I discussed it with Les Walkling here in Australia. It only works in a studio situation on a flat subject. You can’t do it in the field. All you can do in the field is neutralise and check that the white is not 255 and the black is not 0.

    To do a camera calibration properly you first need to set up even lighting, do a white balance, then do a scene calibration and then do the Reproduction tool.

    1. Hi Bob, yes agreed. I can only see the benefit of calibrating the camera to a checker card if it is flat field stuff like paintings in a very controlled environment with equal lighting and staying with the exact same setup.

    2. Also the Hasselblad colour is so good it is hardly worth doing. I saw a colour test on 10 different Canon 5DMk2 and they were all over the place. If you want accurate colour, then Hasselblad is the answer.

      A big mistake you can make is doing Auto Levels. It changes the mix of the colours which changes the colour. You can only adjust levels with Luminance.

  7. Being a Hasselblad AND Color Checker Passport user, I fully agree with your assessment, and that much of the Passport’s use will be rarely or never used.
    However, there are some interesting “details” of the Passport which viewers might like to know about, and which are not too self-understood. Each row of squares has a purpose. Again, some very useful, and some quite esoteric. Starting at the top,and working down –

    Row 1 – The top row is actually a list of the same colors as you’ll find in the LR Develop section under HSL. Useful when you are trying to increase/decrease particular colors in your image.

    Row 2 – These are “neutral” squares meant for use when shooting PORTRAITS. Square 1 in the row is neutral. You’ll see a “tick” on the bottom of the square. The remaining squares in that row “warm” the color balance incrementally. You’ll notice little “x’s” growing in size as you move to the right. The fact that these squares adjust incrementally means that the same adjustment will be applied each use. And yes, you can certainly further refine manually, if you wish.

    Row 3 – This row is the same as row 2, but calibrated for use with natural light outdoors (Landscape, wildlife, and natural light portraits). Here, the neutral square is in the middle (notice the tick). The two squares to the right will warm the image, and the two squares to the left will cool the image. Notice the + or – sign on those squares. And again, these adjustments are always incremental.

    Row 4 – Neutral squares

    Rows 5&6 – According to x-Rite, these are random colors found in nature, and can be useful in determining white balance outdoors for particular areas.

    Row 7 – If you look closely, you’ll see these colors are CMY RGB (from right to left) – your primary & subtractive colors.

    Row 8 – Neutral colors. Clicking on ANY of these will provide you with a neutral color. However, this row is also useful for determining contrast range from white to black.

    1. PS – Also, on the back side of the Passport – One side is a standard gray card, but white side is actually for creating a custom balance within your camera for the particular light at hand. Most cameras offer this function, including the Hasselblad, where you take a shot of this white section, and the camera will adjust to a custom white balance for the light that you are currently shooting in. Now this only has ONE bearing for you, and that is so that your LCD screen on the back more closely represents what a neutral WB is.

  8. I did a shoot for the ad agency I work with recently and, as I was looking for information on how to use a Colorchecker with Capture One, I shot it including the Colorchecker Passport. I then followed the instructions and created an ICC profile for this shoot.
    I was surprised with the results.
    I shot a shopping basket with, amongst other things, oranges, lemons, tangerines and orange bell peppers. Out of camera these were quite close in in colour. After creating the colourprofile, the difference in colour was really evident and much more realistic. The reds, yellows and blues on the Colourchecker were much more accurate using the ICC profile I made then the out of camera shot.
    I used to use the Colourchecker mainly for adjusting whitebalance, but this has really changed my mind about the Colorchecker.

    1. Hi John, yes it can be useful but for me the problem with what you described is that if you had to change the lighting setup part way through then you need to do the full profile thing again because it can only relevant with consistency of light and set. I’ve found this too time consuming generally and also depending on the shape of the product and which face is meant to be ‘accurate’ it can be difficult to ascertain where is best to place the card for using it in this way. That’s why for me I’m already happy with the colour from the camera and I just need to check the neutrality. If I find a red or a blue looks too strong in relatively later then I’ll adjust that colour in post but as mentioned in this video often for advertising/product images they often get enhanced and punched up a bit anyway.

      1. Hi Karl,

        Thanks for your reply. I will not use this on every shoot, even though I made a preset in CO to give the file the right settings to create an ICC profile. But it was really interesting to see how accurate the profile was in differentiating these colours.

        Thanks again and keep up the good work!

  9. Hi Karl,

    It would never occur to me to change anything in the original factory settings of my camera. However, I have calibrated my iMac computer display screen at least once a month with Datacolor Spyder 5 Pro colour checker sensor and software, for better colour production of my photos in the web as well as in inkjet prints (where the drying ink cartridges are an eternal source of frustration).

    Intuitively, it does make sense to think that if your display has bias in presenting colours, such bias will be transferred if not multiplied in the process after you view your photos for the first time in Lightroom and make any corrections to them. And each calibration usually does result as a minor visible improvement of the tones in the reference photos on the screen.

    Datacolor also has its similar colour checker cards as presented in your video above, but mostly I have not observed major changes in the hue, saturation, or luminance in my photos after a procedure of beginning a photoshoot by taking reference photos of the cards in the prevailing light conditions and then processing those afterwards in the respective software to get the right presets.

    – Now, they are announcing not to continue their support of previous versions, and are trying to sell newer versions of everything – I just wonder whether it would be worth it.

    Theoretically, if every step goes 100 % perfect, one should be able to take a photo of the colour card and print it, and keep iterating the process of photographing and printing the result, with each print reproducing the colours of the original card endlessly… I wonder if any brand has tried the challenge?

  10. This has cleared up a heap of questions I had about colour checker cards and the use of, really imformative, clear and precise as you would expect from Karl. Thanks

  11. Man, this is EXACTLY what I am trying to understand right now, you read thoughts literally. I need to calibrate my screen too and couple of weeks ago I also got a pretty cheap color checker card(Digital Kolor Kard, dgkcolor.tool), and I’ve spyderx colorimeter but what I’m completely missing is what.. should my monitor look like after proper calibration? I have two cheap displays I mainly and only ever intended to use for office work, calibrating both of them with DisplayCal(ArgyllCMS) produces visually completely different results. I’m yet to try windows/mac software that came with the colorimeter but I just don’t understand what should I expect of the display calibration as a result. Is there anything specific I can do to verify the calibration?.. Say, I have this color checker card, is it something I can visually use to reference anything on my display or… Do you explain this anywhere? Can you link to a particular chapter?
    I feel very lost here and I don’t really know where to start. This isn’t for anything professional, but who knows what I’ll be doing in 10 years. The knowledge would be useful. Besides I do want to improve my shots and I’m about to be scanning my filmwork later on so I’d love to have or be able to have more precise setup for photography purposes.
    Right now at this very moment I signed up because I needed to learn this stuff to try my best to take a nice maternity shots, resulting in a couple of pictures and one wall print, which is why I want to figure things out.

    My gear is nikon D700 and some older 50mm nikkor lenses, and a couple of softboxes with mounts for my three speedlites, all SB-700. Some diffusion paper and homemade reflectors like wallpaper, cardboard boxes from softboxes and whatever there is lying or hanging around. Due to shot being taken at home sometimes during day time there may be some light pollution which I also want to account for.

    I started my quest about a month ago and what I do lack is time to experiment, as I never shot with artificial light before, and I’m just trying to do the right thing within an hour or two per shot and it’s simply not enough and I’ve so far didn’t end up with an acceptable result that I’d be satisfied with.

    Thank you for these amazing videos, they did help a lot, it’s just my inexperience I need to deal with. I did learn a real lot here, reviewed my old pictures and figured out 99.98% of them is pure junk. Will strive to take better pics, even for my own sake. Maybe I’ll be taking part in your contests later when I’ll be able to take a shot that is worthy of submitting. Simply no time now.

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