Tutorial: Calibrating Your Monitor with an i1D2

Working on a calibrated monitor is critical for color-conscious photographers. I calibrate my NEC 3090WQXi and Wacom Cintiq 21UX (I highly recommend both of these monitors!) with an X-Rite i1D2. Here’s how I do it:

Before you begin, make sure you have
* Installed the driver for your Eye-One Display.
* Installed the software for the X-Rite Match Program

Have you done that? Then we’re ready to move on. You may wish to print this out to guide you as you work within the Match software.

1) Launch the Match software. In Windows, you do this by clicking on your Start Menu and going to All Programs>GretagMacbeth>Eye-One Match 3.

2) Plug in your Eye-One device.

3) Select Advanced for your profiling mode, then press the Next Arrow.


4) Select your Monitor type (I’m selecting LCD for my desktop monitor), then press the Next Arrow.


5) Define your Target Settings on the dropdown menus in the next screen. I recommend White Point 6500K, Gamma 2.2, and Luminance 100 cd/m2. Acceptable luminance levels are anywhere from 90-120 cd/m2. If you are working in a very dark room, you may wish to choose 90; if you are working in a very bright or well lit room, choose 120. I typically work in a reasonably dark room at night, so I have my monitor set at 100 cd/m2. If your lighting conditions vary wildly, you may wish to create more than one profile (I’ll explain more about this at the end). You may also wish to choose brighter or darker settings once you have calibrated and compare your monitor output to prints from a pro lab that you trust.

Do not choose different values for White Point or Gamma unless you really know what you are doing and have a good reason for departing from the aforementioned recommendations. (NOTE: If you are concerned whether your current environment will allow the device to take a good reading, you may wish to take an ambient light measurement. If you want to do this, click the box to “Perform ambient light check.” Taking these measurements does not affect the monitor profile – it only alerts you as to whether your conditions are appropriate for accurately calibrating the monitor. The on-screen instructions for taking the reading are self explanatory, and I’m not going to get into this step in this tutorial. ) Press the Next Arrow.

6) Press one of the hardware buttons on your monitor to bring up the monitor’s OSD (on screen display). If you are able to move the OSD to one of the corners of the screen, do that; then place your Eye-One device in the center of the monitor, laying evenly against the screen (do NOT try to suction the device to the screen). If you can’t move the OSD, Place your Eye-One device on the monitor off to the side – somewhere where it doesn’t touch the OSD when it’s on the screen. Once you’ve placed your device, press the Next Arrow.


7) Use your monitor buttons to set your contrast to 100%. Then press START (in the Match software window).


8) If you get the message below, press YES to continue anyway.


9) Adjust the +/- (or up/down) buttons on your monitor to adjust your monitor’s contrast. Wait a few seconds for the device to take readings each time you make an adjustment with your monitor buttons. When the black bar on the Contrast Indicator is well within the green zone (middle is ideal), wait 5-10 seconds to make sure the reading has stabilized, then press STOP. Then press the Next Arrow on the Match software screen.


10) Select the kind of white point controls your monitor supports (you’ll have to pull up the OSD again to see what options you have). Some monitors only allow you to select certain color temperature presets (typically 5000K, 6500K, 9300K). Other monitors allow you to directly adjust the R, G, and B channels. If you have the option for adjusting color temp presets OR RGB controls, you’ll want to work with the RGB Controls, which allow you to best refine your white point. Most laptop screens won’t allow you to adjust the white point settings at all (if this is true for you, just press the Next Arrow, and skip to step 12). After you’ve determined what white point controls you can control, choose the correct option, then press START.


11) If you are working with color temp presets, choose the color temp that brings the black bar closest to the green zone (usually 6500K). If you are working with RGB controls, this step is a LOT of trial and error, so be patient. Adjust the +/- (or up/down) buttons on your monitor to adjust your monitor’s RGB controls. Your goal is to have all three black bars in the green zone and the “Current” color temp listed at your chosen color temp (should be 6500K). You will find that as you adjust one channel, it makes the other channels jump around. This is especially frustrating when, say, you get the R and G channels within the green zone, but when you go to adjust the B, it makes the R and G channels jump out of the correct area. Stick with it. When the black bars on the R, G, and B Indicator are well within the green zone (middle is ideal), wait 5-10 seconds to make sure the reading has stabilized, then press STOP. Then press the Next Arrow on the Match software screen.


12) Now you are going to adjust your monitor’s brightness (THIS OPTION IS NOT AVAILABLE if you are working with an i1D LT; I consider it critical, so I highly recommend the i1D2 if you can swing it). Press START.


13) Adjust the +/- (or up/down) buttons on your monitor to adjust your monitor’s brightness. Wait a few seconds for the device to take readings each time you make an adjustment with your monitor buttons. When the black bar on the Luminance Indicator is well within the green zone (middle is ideal), wait 5-10 seconds to make sure the reading has stabilized, then press STOP. Then press the Next Arrow on the Match software screen.


14) Now the calibration software is going to take a bunch of readings. Your screen will flash different colors as measurements are made and your ICC profile is created. Be patient. This process usually takes 3-5 minutes.

15) Congrats! You’ve profiled your monitor. This last page tells you how good of a job you have done.


On the summary screen, there are a few things to make note of…

Target vs. Current: How well do your target color temp/gamma/luminance measurements match your current measurements? Ideally, they’ll be dead on, but I would calibrate again IF
• Your color temp is more than 100K from your target (if you’re between 6400K and 6600K, you’re probably fine)
• Your Gamma is not dead on at 2.2. 2.1-2.3 may be acceptable, but I’m a snob about my Gamma; I’d recalibrate if that is off.
• Your Luminance is less than 90 cd/m2 or greater than 120 cd/m2. I’m not a real stickler for a precise luminance, because there is such a range of opinions on what is best.

Corrections curves (the graph with the lines):
• If your lines converge, HOORAY! You did most of your calibration accurately by hand, which means that your LUTs (look up tables) didn’t have to correct as much to compensate for bad hardware settings. What does that mean? Well, when you are in non-color aware applications that do not apply your monitor’s ICC profile, you are not going to see an enormous color departure – the hardware settings themselves are already giving you good color.
• If your lines are bowed or otherwise not overlapping, that means that the LUTs had to do more “work” to compensate for your hardware settings in order to give you correct color. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s something to watch for. Try a little harder to get your black bars within the middle of the green zone when you calibrate.
• Worth noting: If you do “Easy” calibration (not the advanced route), your LUTs will do all the work; you don’t do any hardware calibration at all, so the lines are likely to be pretty bowed.

Color space chart: This large, rainbow colored area shows you your monitor’s color space. The triangle shows you the sRGB color space. I have a wide gamut monitor, so my monitor’s color space exceeds the sRGB color space (and covers more than 90% of the Adobe RGB color space, which you can’t see here). Most monitors’ color spaces should cover the entire sRGB triangle; if the chart indicates that your monitor isn’t covering the entire sRGB color space, I’d think about saving up for a monitor with a wider gamut.

Before & After: Click this button to see how your monitor profile has changed. Click “Calibration OFF” to see your monitor without the new ICC profile. Remember that this can’t show you exactly what the monitor looked like before you got going, because it doesn’t revert all of your hardware settings back to where they were originally. Still, it’s kind of fun to see that you’ve made some progress!


16) IMPORTANT. You need to save your monitor profile. Review the following:

• Text box with ICC profile name: The default filename is “Monitor_M-DD-YYYY.icc” If you can’t remember that, rename it something you can remember (you may need to locate that file later). I do recommend including the date in the filename, as it makes it easy to locate the file you need if you ever want to revert to an earlier/different profile for some reason.
• Activate reminder for the monitor calibration: I recommend setting this at “4 weeks.”

When you’re ready, press the NEXT menu button (or hit “Finish Calibration”). Your new ICC profile should be set as the default profile for your monitor. That’s it!

You may wish to double check whether your computer is indeed applying your new profile as the monitor default. You can do this within ColorSync (on a Mac) or Color Management (on a PC).

17) If you regularly work in very different lighting conditions, you can create multiple profiles to optimize your monitor’s display for those conditions. Once you’ve created one satisfactory profile, calibrate again for a different luminance (lower number if lighting condition #2 is darker; higher number if lighting condition #2 is brighter) using the “Easy” (not “Advanced” calibration). This way, you won’t mess with the hardware settings that you’ve worked so hard to fine tune; instead, in this case, you WANT to let your LUTs do the work – this makes it easy to swap out your ICC profiles for your given lighting conditions.

Let me know if you have questions or a better way to do any of this!

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Golden Hour Calculator

Okay, this isn’t a Photoshop tip … but as we all know, Photoshop can make a good shot great and a great shot amazing; if you nail your shot in camera, it’s that much more fun to play around with in post.

Thought some of you (especially natural light photogs) would appreciate this:

The Golden Hour Calculator

From the site:
The Golden Hour (sometimes referred to as the Magic Hour) is often defined as the first and last hour of sunlight in the day when the special quality of light yields particularly beautiful photographs.

For this Golden Hour calculator website, I have used a more precise definition of the Golden Hour. I have chosen to define the Golden Hour as that period when the sun lies between 6 degrees below the horizon and 6 degrees above. This definition of the Golden Hour more accurately accounts for the speed of the transition from day to night around the world at different times of year.

According to the Calculator, optimum shooting time for my location this evening is from 7:06pm to 8:09pm. I’ll probably start shooting about 30 minutes earlier, but this is a fantastic reference … and one that you can use to plan photo shoots several weeks or months out! Lovin’ it!

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“Lightroom” Adjustment Actions for Photoshop

I have Lightroom, but I often find myself wanting to make small White Balance, Clarity, Fill Light, and other adjustments on pictures that I’m working on in Photoshop, and I think it’s kind of a pain to take those images back into Lightroom or ACR to tweak them in the middle of my PS processing, so ………..

I’ve developed a collection of basic color and tonal adjustment tools modeled after the basic adjustments in Adobe Lightroom. It was developed in Photoshop CS4, but there is a CS3 version (without the Vibrance action) available as well. I have been advised that all but Vibrance and Clarity work in earlier versions of Photoshop as well.

I have set up actions so that you can easily use to make slider-like adjustments as follows:

* White Balance (Color Temp and Tint) Action
* Exposure Action
* Highlight Recovery Action
* Fill Light Action
* Brightness Action
* Contrast Action
* Blacks (Shadows) Action
* Saturation Action
* Vibrance Action
* Clarity Action

You can play individual actions for each of the above adjustments or play all (“Darkroom – Full Set”) to create an entire set of “sliders.” Please note that the Clarity, Fill Light, and Highlight Recovery actions will only work well on high-res images of 6MB or greater.

After running an action, increase the opacity of the adjustment layers to implement your chosen correction(s). By default, all layers are set at 0% opacity, so you will not see any changes until you increase the opacity as desired.

Download this free action set for CS4 here (Mac users: Option + Click “Download”).

Download the CS3 version here.

Something not working well?  Have a better approach to one or more of these adjustments? Other questions or suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

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Color Correcting when there is no Neutral Gray – Part 1 of 2

8/12 UPDATE: In June 2012,  I released a full seminar that refines and builds significantly upon the tutorials outlined in 2009’s Skinny Wednesday series. The entire program is now available in the CMstore and includes a 193 page PDF, high-res images for follow-along editing, collection of editing videos, editing tools for Photoshop and Lightroom, skin correction flowcharts, recorded Q&A, and more. Check out more details here!

Basic Color Correction: Black, White, and Gray Points

Many people already know that there are three basic steps for achieving accurate white balance / overall color in a photo:
1) Set black point
2) Set white point
3) Set gray point

The quickest (and easiest) way to do this is by opening up a curves (or levels) adjustment layer in Photoshop. On the left hand side of the adjustment layer panel, you’ll see three eyedroppers: black, white, and gray.

1) Click the black eyedropper on the most significant black point (the darkest “black” spot in the image that should hold detail).*
2) Click the white eyedropper on the most significant white point (the lightest “white” spot in the image that should hold detail).*
3) Click the gray eyedropper on a neutral gray area of the image. There are a number of approaches to finding and using the black and white points.

*NOTE: Remember that your dynamic range is limited to 255 values from 0 (black) to 255 (light).  You can maximize the your photo’s detail (especially in the midtones) by choosing endpoints that represent the lightest and darkest areas in which you need to see detail (which may or may not have been the lightest or darkest areas in the scene).

Some people use threshold layers to identify the points, other people use a difference blend mode, and still others just eyeball it (the more you do it, the better you get!).

It’s important that you understand how to evaluate areas that should be neutral black, white, and gray. Every spot on the gradient between true black and true white is a neutral gray, which – by definition – is comprised of equal parts Red, Green, and Blue. When you click your white eyedropper over your chosen white point, Photoshop assigns the RGB values for that spot to 255, 255, 255 (by default; you can change these values); when you click your black eyedropper over your chosen black point, Photoshop assigns that spot to 0, 0, 0 (again, these are default values for black).  When you click the gray eyedropper over an area that should be gray, Photoshop takes the R value + G value + B value and averages them, then assigns that average to R, G, and B.  For example, imagine that an area that should be gray turns up as R= 57, B =42, G = 51.  The sum of the values is 150; divide that by three to get an average of 50. Consequently, to turn the given area gray, Photoshop reassigns that area to RGB values of R=50, G=50, B=50.

I find that selecting the black and white points accurately corrects my white balance 50% of the time or better. Sometimes, however, the darkest point in the image is not neutral black, or the lightest point in the image is not neutral white (perhaps it is a light cream or an extremely light blue part of the sky). Sometimes there simply is no black point or (more often) no white point.

Finding a Neutral Gray

Almost everyone knows that you can use a neutral gray to set the white balance in your photograph … but do you know why it’s so useful? Neutral Gray is considered a “known” color because it exhibits a predictable relationship between points on the R, G, and B curves.  We may not know the numerical values for any given gray, but we do know that a neutral gray will always illustrate the same relationship: R=G=B.  If the RGB values are not equal in an area that we know to be gray (such as a gray card), we know that the image is contaminated with color.

Unless you use a gray card in your photograph (which we all know is a superior method for correcting white balance), finding a neutral gray in your surroundings can be challenging. Common areas of neutral gray include concrete, gray clothing (or a shadow on white clothing), and rocks or stone.  Many people also use the whites of the eyes (which should actually favor red ever so slightly) as the gray point with excellent results. It’s not unusual, however, to find an image totally lacking in neutral gray objects. What to do? Read on….

What if there is no Neutral Gray? Other “Known” Colors

As it turns out, neutral gray (where R=G=B) is not the only “known” color. There are also predictable color relationships for at least three other subjects commonly found in photographs: skin, foliage, and sky. Here are the “rules” for these subjects, which you can evaluate in both RGB and CMYK (with more accurate results in CMYK as a general rule).

Known Color Subject #1: Skin
Skin can best be described as a yellowish red.  You already know the color relationships for skin.

1) RGB: When it comes to skin – regardless of the ethnicity, R>G>B
2) CMYK: Y>M>C

As you know, we can oftenget more specific in the CMYK color space. Unless the face is flushed/blushed/sunburned, skin tends to conform to the following:
* Y is greater than (by 0-15 points) or equal to M
* C is 1/3-1/6 the value of Y
I use my own shorthand for this equation: Y>M>c. This tells me that Yellow is greater than Magenta, but Magenta is closer to Yellow than to Cyan. In short, Yellow and Magenta are high and close; Cyan is low and further from the other two.


Known Color Subject #2: Foliage
With very few exceptions, healthy foliage is a yellowish green and is occasionally a greenish yellow.  Foliage exhibits a very predictable color pattern, as follows:

1) RGB: G<R<B
2) CMYK: Y<C<M

Again, we can get a little more specific in CMYK. Yellow is the dominant color, but green is also prominent (so magenta is low). The relationship can be expressed as:
* C is midway between Y and M, usually closer to closer to Y – especially with deeper greens.
I remember the equation as Y>C>m, which, signifies that Yellow is greater than Cyan, and Cyan is somewhat closer to Yellow than to Magenta.


Known Color Subject #3: Sky
During the day, skies usually manifest as a bluish cyan or cyanish blue. We express that as follows:

1) RGB: B<G<R
2) CMYK: C<M<Y

Once again, we can narrow down these guidelines a little more in CMYK.  On sunny days in particular, yellow should be absent (or close to it), and magenta will be about 1/2 the value of cyan. The relationship can be expressed as:
* M is approximately 1/2 (sometimes slightly less) the value of C
* Y is extremely low (often 0)

My shorthand version of the equation is C>m>y. Cyan is high and further from the other two. Magenta and Yellow are low and closer to each other than to Cyan.


I’ve Got the “Rules.” Now What?

Check your image’s overall color by checking these “known values.”  If you know that a gray should be neutral, but you’re seeing R>G=B, then you know there is too much red (or not enough green and blue).  Take a look at the grass. Are you seeing Y<C<M? Let’s say instead you’re seeing C<Y<M.  If cyan is greater than yellow, you know that you need to bring down the cyan or increase the yellow. In short, I check skin, sky, foliage, and neutrals (or as many of these as are available) every time I correct an image. I may use the evaluations to correct the image globally (say, bringing down the cyan overall to get the grass “correct”), or I may – as with skin color corrections – use these evaluations along with a mask (perhaps I only need to correct the sky, but the rest of the image looks fine).

Try putting the principles into action on your own.  In Part 2 of this tutorial, I’ll do a walk-through that puts them into action.

PS – Anyone familiar with Dan Margulis knows that we can refine the rules a little further by evaluating the values in LAB mode – but that’s a topic for another week.

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Correcting Skin Color / Skin Tones in Lightroom

8/12 UPDATE: In June 2012,  I released a full seminar that refines and builds significantly upon the tutorials outlined in 2009’s Skinny Wednesday series. The entire program is now available in the CMstore and includes a 193 page PDF, high-res images for follow-along editing, collection of editing videos, editing tools for Photoshop and Lightroom, skin correction flowcharts, recorded Q&A, and more. Check out more details here!

This tutorial is directed primarily at those who use Lightroom in lieu of Photoshop. There’s really no substitute for the power of curves, masks, and CMYK number evaluations — none of which are available to those who do all of their processing in Lightroom. With that said, reasonably accurate skin color corrections can be performed with Lightroom alone, and I think it’s worthwhile for all Lightroom users (even if you have Photoshop) to improve their understanding of color evaluation. Now that I’ve taken the time to figure this out, I do find myself achieving more pleasing color in Lightroom prior to export, as skin evaluations are a great way to determine proper white balance if no neutral gray exists. Let’s get into it …

Color Readouts in Lightroom vs. Photoshop

Lightroom’s color space is called “Melissa RGB” (also referred to as “bastard RGB” or “lovechild RGB,” depending on who you ask). It’s based on ProPhoto RGB with an sRGB gamma curve. It’s not really important that you understand the intricacies of the color space; what’s important is understanding that RGB numbers mean different things depending on the RGB color space in which you are working. RGB numbers applied in the Adobe RGB color space, for example, look significantly different than applying the same numbers in the sRGB color space. We’ve all seen what happens when our browsers interprets the numbers of an Adobe RGB image in the sRGB color space: we get dull, muddy colors.

Not only is Lightroom using a unique RGB color space, however — it’s also displaying RGB values in percentages … so rather than seeing R, G, B expressed as values from 0-255, they are expressed as values ranging from 0-100%. In short, anything you knew about specific RGB values in Photoshop will not translate well into Lightroom.

Let’s look at a quick example. If I sample the same point on an image in both Lightroom and in Photoshop, here’s what I get:

capture1 capture2

In this case,

79.7% R, 70.5% G, 63.0% B (in Melissa RGB)
228 R , 172 G, 155 B (in sRGB)
11% C, 36% M, 36% Y,0% K (CMYK)

Skin Color in Terms of Lightroom’s “Melissa RGB” – General Rules

There are no CMYK readouts in Lightroom, but as we discussed two weeks ago, you already know that when skin is “correct,” R>G>B (red is the highest; blue is the lowest). While values may vary from color space to color space, this relationship – Red the highest / Blue the lowest – will always hold true.

Therefore, the first thing you can do to see if your skin color is correct is to ensure that your values are coming up in the correct order:
R: highest %
G: middle %
B: lowest %

We can get a little more specific. In general,
R: Y + (15-20)
G: average of R and B
B: R – (15-20)

For example, the following values represent common Caucasian skin tones using the rules above:
* R: 80%; G: 70%; B: 60%. R is 20 points higher than B, and G is midway between R and B. That’s perfect.
* R: 86%, G: 78%; B: 70% also reflects a nicely balanced skin tone. Again, G is midway between R and B, and R is 16 points higher than B. This, too, illustrates a great relationship among the colors.

Skin Color Evaluations for Different Ages and Ethnicities

General Rules are all well and good, but not everyone’s skin is the same. How do the rules above apply to non-Caucasian skin (which is often darker and/or yellower than adult Caucasian skin) or babies (which is often pinker than adult Caucasian skin)?

You need to take what you know from past tutorials and apply it here. Reduce your blue value to create a yellower tint for Asian or Hispanic skin. Reduce your green value to create a pinker (more magenta) tint for an infant’s skin. African American skin is both darker (with more cyan) and pinker (with more magenta), so you’ll need to reduce BOTH your red and your green. If there’s interest in this, we can cover different ethnicities in more detail in the coming weeks, but you should be able to apply your knowledge of CMYK “rules” here.

Correcting Skin Color in Lightroom

Here’s a basic workflow for skin color correction in Lightroom. This is a suggested workflow only; you do NOT have to follow the steps in this order (and sometimes it makes sense to do it another way — such as when you only have to make one small adjustment). We’ll apply it in a sample picture shortly.

1) Enter Develop Module
Select your image (or set of images), and enter the Develop module.

2) Select Eyedropper Tool
Press “W” to select your white balance eyedropper. You’re not going to click anything; you’re just using it to take RGB measurements.

3) Take measurements
(As in Photoshop skin color evaluations), hover over a representative skin midtone — neither a highlight or shadow, not on the cheeks (which ought to be pinker), and not where a color cast exists (unless the entire photo has a cast due to poor white balance) Make note of your RGB numbers.

4) Move Green to Midway Point
Move the tint slider until G is midway between R&B.
* If G is too close to R, move the slider to the left (towards green)
* If G is too close to B, move the slider to the right (towards magenta)

5) Adjust Blue Value
Adjust your color temperature until R is about 15 points higher than B. In general, this means moving the slider to the right (towards yellow) to warm up the pic; if the skin is already too warm, you’ll want to move the slider to the left (towards blue).

6) Correct Brightness if Necessary
If you’ve had to move your temperature significantly towards the yellow, you may notice that the entire image has become to bright; conversely, if you’ve moved your temperature significantly towards the blue, you may have darkened the image too much. Adjust the exposure and/or brightness sliders to correct the image as desired.

7) Readjust the Green
The green may have left the midway point when you adjusted the temperature slider. Check it again, and adjust the tint slider until G is again midway between R&B.

8 ) Correct Cyan – SOME NOTES
This is the tricky part, and it’s the part where your eyes are probably the most important. To correct cyan, you adjust red, right? BUT THERE’S NO RED SLIDER. A little refresher from two weeks ago:

When a color is neutral (black, white, or neutral gray), R=G=B. Anytime you bring the R, G, and B values closer together, your color will approach gray.

When you reduce red (add cyan), you draw your red value closer to the green value, which brings the skin color closer to gray. We have no red slider here, but we do know how to increase or decrease “grayness,” right? The saturation slider, of course! When you increase saturation (or vibrance, for a lighter touch), what you are doing is effectively PULLING the RGB values farther apart from each other. In doing so, you also reduce cyan.

A little common sense will help you figure out another slider that might help here. We know that skin is primarily RED, but what color of the rainbow really comes to mind when you think of Caucasian skin? Think crayon box. Peach! And what is peach? Kind of a pinkish-yellow? Kind of a light … orange? Skin – any ethnicity’s skin – is primarily RED in terms of RGB/CMYK … but in practical terms, it’s really a combination of red and yellow, and red + yellow = orange. Therefore, you can also turn to the ORANGE slider (see the Hue/Saturation/Luminance panel in the Develop module) to fine tune your skin colors. Increase the orange saturation to widen the gap between Red, Green, and Blue; decrease the orange saturation to bring Red, Green, and Blue closer together.

With this in mind, let’s get back to the adjustments …

8 ) Correct Cyan
When we left off, R was about 15 points higher than B, and G was roughly midway between them. Next, you’re going to increase the gap between R and B to 20 points. Do that by moving up the sliders for one or more of the following (you may find that one is better than the others, or you may prefer to use a combination):
* Increase the saturation slider
* Increase the vibrance slider
* Increase the orange saturation slider (in the HSL panel)

You may find that the effect is too much. Go ahead and scale it back if you like. You do not necessarily need to use this step at all, but I recommend always testing it out to see if it improves the image. Having a 15 point gap between red and blue SHOULD result in a cyan value that is roughly 1/3 the value of yellow (in CMYK), but sometimes it leaves with you cyan that is a little high. If you increase the gap between red and blue to 18-20 points, you are almost certain have a cyan value well within the “correct” range in terms of CMYK. As always, however, you have to let your eyes be the judge.

Lightroom Color Correction in Action

Now you have all the principles and the workflow. Let’s put it into action. Here’s our original pic for today:


1-2) Enter Develop Module; Select Eyedropper Tool
I’m in the Develop Module and have the eyedropper tool selected.

3) Take measurements
I’m measuring right from the middle of his forehead, which looks like a great midtone to me. As usual, note that the color of the image is not correct – you just want to pay attention to the numbers in the screenshot (my screen capture software is not color managed):



4) Move Green to Midway Point

Okay, I have R at 74.7 and B at 65.6 … The average of those is about 70.5, which means there’s not quite enough green here. Looks like I need to move the tint slider towards green. I moved it down from +6 to 0, which gives me these values (note that R, G, and B all moved — but the important thing is that G is now almost exactly halfway between R and B now).slider2


5) Adjust Blue Value
We need R to be 15 points higher than B. Right now, it’s only about 11 points higher, so we need to decrease the blue. I’m moving the slider to the right (towards yellow), from 4250 to 4619:



6) Correct Brightness if Necessary
The brightness looks fine, but I want to bring it down just a smidge (moved the brightness slider from 29 to 21). How does that affect my values? Everything got lower, but the relationships are about the same:



7) Readjust the Green
Let’s see … green is 7 points lower than R and 8 points higher than B. That’s really fine, but just for fun, I’m going to fine tune it (pulling it towards magenta to +3):



8) Correct Cyan

Where are we now? Looks like R is 14.2 points higher than B, and G is almost exactly halfway between them (7.2 from R and 7.0 from B). We need to reduce the cyan by increasing the gap between R, G, and B until there is about a 20 point difference from R to B. As discussed above, we have three options:

* Increase the saturation slider
* Increase the vibrance slider
* Increase the orange saturation slider (in the HSL panel)

Let’s try each one. I’m not going to show you the numbers screenshots (especially since the color of the image is not accurate in those). Here’s where we are presently:


Increased saturation to +10. Numbers: R73.6, G 64,5, B 54.0


Increased vibrance to +76. Numbers: R 73.1, G 64.3, B 53.5


Increased orange saturation slider to +40 . Numbers: R 72.3, G 63.2, B 53.2


Personally, I think that all of these look fine, depending on what you prefer in terms of overall appearance. I like a saturated look, but the hair is a little too orangey for me in #1 and #2, so I’m going to stick with #3 (orange saturation increased by +40). If you think it’s too much, you can pull the saturation back, but I do recommend not reducing the R-B difference to less than 15 points (we’re at 19.1 points right now).

Final Check

If you ‘re working solely in Lightroom, that’s where your color correction would be complete. To show you how far we’ve come, however, I’m going to pull the original and finished images into Photoshop, where I can take CMYK measurements and gauge our adjustments against the known CMYK rules:

ORIGINAL (with color samplers):


CORRECTED (with color samplers):


ORIGINAL vs. CORRECTED – readouts (see color sampler placement, above):

lrshep-1-of-1binfo lrshep-1-of-1-5binfo

You should see a big improvement in the CMYK numbers for skin above. The original had excessive amounts of cyan (more than 1/2 the value of yellow across the board) and magenta (exceeded the yellow in every sample). In the corrected version, the numbers look perfect in samples 2 and 3 (yellow slightly higher than magenta; cyan 1/3 or less the value of yellow), and while the cyan is a little high (by about 4 points), it’s not ridiculously far off. We’re in a little bit of a tough situation, too, in that the shadows are starting to look a little yellowish orange, and we can’t mask in Lightroom — so if we were to increase the saturation even more (orange saturation or overall saturation) to reduce cyan in the midtones, I expect the shadows would look even worse.

Overall, Considering that we aren’t actually able to work with CMYK numbers in Lightroom, I think this came out looking pretty good. Furthermore, all we’ve done is to correct for skin — I think I took the brightness down a little too much, so I’d probably go bump that up with the adjustment brush (I think the face needs to be brightened more than the rest of the image), plus maybe deepen the blacks a bit, and increase the saturation of the greens and blues …. As for skin, though, I think we’re in pretty good shape.

I’m just beginning to explore skin color correction in Lightroom, so I’ll keep you updated as I discover more down the road, but this should get you started. Have questions? Find something that works better? Let me know in the comments!

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Using Multiple Anchor Points and Correcting “Gray” Skin

A Little Color Theory

Up to now, we’ve been pretty focused on skin the context of CMYK colors. Let’s switch it up for a minute and talk about skin as expressed in RGB values.

You already know that when skin is “correct,” Y>M>C (yellow is the highest; cyan is the lowest.).

How can you express that in RGB? You just turn everything on its head: swap each color for its opposite, and flip the mathematical terms. The opposite of yellow is blue; the opposite of magenta is green; and the opposite of cyan is red. Soooo …

Y>M>C or C<M<Y


B<G<R or R>G>B (red is the highest; blue is the lowest. ALWAYS.)

Why does that matter? Think about what else you know about RGB. Even if you’re not familiar with color theory, you should know that when a color is neutral (black, white, or neutral gray), R=G=B. Anytime you bring the R, G, and B values closer together, your color will approach gray. This is particularly important to understand in the context of skin. Since red will always be the highest value for skin, anytime you reduce red (add cyan), you are bringing the R value closer to the G and B values — which brings the skin closer to gray.* Sometimes this is necessary, especially when skin is in the shadows (shadows should always look a little more grayish than the rest of the skin, right?).

* Similarly, since blue is always the lowest value, anytime you increase blue, you are also bringing the values closer together (Blue closer to Red and Green) – this also has the effect of making skin more gray. Today, however, we’re going to stay focused on red/cyan.

With that in mind, let’s look at a couple of methods for correcting skin. One is tried-and-true: curves (groan). The other uses still curves but starts off a little differently.

Method #1: Correct Color Using Curves Only

Here we have a picture from photographer/blogger/instructor Jodi Friedman (of MCP Actions fame). The little girl is super cute, but the color here looks just a little off — the skin has a bit of a grayish quality, probably because she’s standing in the shade. Let’s take a few readings and see what we have:



Sample Point #1 (midtone: chin): These colors look fine. The cyan is a little less than 1/3 the value of the yellow. It could stand to be a bit lower, but it’s nothing to get worked up over.

Sample Point #2 (midtone: shoulder): Here the yellow and magenta are equal, which is fine, but the cyan is almost 1/2 their value. The cyan needs to be reduced here.

Sample Point #3 (shadow: neck): The yellow is 11 points higher than the magenta (which is too much), and the cyan is almost 1/2 the value of yellow. Cyan needs to be reduced, and magenta either needs to be increased, or yellow needs to be decreased.

The common thread in all three points is that the cyan is too high (it’s fine in point #1, but we’re likely to see an improvement by bringing it down to 1/5-1/4 the yellow value).In short, we’re seeing skin that is grayer than it should be.

Based on the tutorials of past weeks, you should know that a quick way to bring down cyan is to increase red, so let’s do that. I’m just pulling right up from the middle:


Well, the skin certainly doesn’t look gray, but now the whole photo has taken on a fairly heavy reddish tint (the hair especially looks awfully red). We’ll add a Red Channel layer mask (Image>Apply Image>Source:Red Channel).


Much better, I think. Let’s check the numbers:


Sample Point #1 (midtone: chin): These colors are close. The cyan is a little less than 1/6 the value of the yellow (a little low), and the magenta is 1 point higher than the yellow (a little high).

Sample Point #2 (midtone: shoulder): The cyan is 1/4 the value of the yellow, which is great. The magenta is 2 points higher than the yellow, though (a little too high).

Sample Point #3 (shadow: neck): The yellow looks better here — it’s 7 points higher than the magenta. The cyan is a little less than 1/3 the value of the yellow, which is fine for a shadow.

In short, the magenta is too high in the midtones, but it’s just right in the shadows. What to do? How can we fix the magenta on the chin and shoulder without messing it up on the neck? Simple: we add an anchor point to protect (to “anchor”) the color on the neck, and then we add additional anchor points to correct the color values on the chin and shoulder.

Take a look:


The anchor on this curve repersents the sample point on the neck. I added this point to the curve by hovering over the sample point with my eyedropper tool and then pressing CTRL+Shift+Click. This adds one point to every channel curve, and it represents the R, G, and B values for that color sample.

Now I’m going to add a second anchor point to the curve (again, pressing CTRL+Shift+Click with my eyedropper tool over the sample point):


Now, when I reduce the magenta at this point, it will not affect the magenta at Anchor Point #1 (Sample Point #1). Take a look:


I’m going to do the same thing on the red channel. The cyan looks good for Points #2 and #3, but it’s a little low on Point #1. We already have anchor points set on each curve to represent Points #2 and #3 (remember, when we added the points to the Green curve, we also added corresponding points on the Red and Blue curves). Let’s go add an anchor point to represent Point #1, and then we’ll pull that down a bit:


Here’s where we stand:


The numbers look good. What about the pic?


It looks fine. Not great, but an improvement. There’s still a bit of a cast coming onto her forearm from the skirt, and overall, it looks a little too red to me (even though the numbers are correct). We could keep tweaking, could use masking and multiple layers, or …

Sometimes — not always but sometimes — there’s an easier way.

Method #2: Correct Color Using an HSL Adjustment Layer to Reduce Cyan (Followed by Curves)

Remember when we talked about how high cyan levels means that skin tones are approaching gray (you were wondering when I was gonna get back to that, right?)? Well, turns out there’s another way to reduce the cyan OTHER than pulling up on your red curve. Think about what you would do if you wanted to pull your overall picture TOWARDS gray. You’d reduce saturation, right? Well if you want to move your image AWAY from gray, bumping up saturation can be an easy way to do it. There are many ways to increase your saturation (I’m sure you’ve read a dozen different ways to “pop” your color), but we’re just gonna stick with the simplest and crudest method here (though I recommend using a more advanced method, such as LAB mode, if you are familiar with that sort of thing).

Back to the original image:


All I’m gonna do is pull the saturation up to +27:


Already this is a big improvement. Compare this to the first step in Method #1, where we simply pulled up on the red curve — this looks MUCH better. Let’s check the numbers:


Look at what has happened — across the board, cyan has DECREASED, and both yellow and (to a slightly lesser extent) magenta have INCREASED.

Sample Point #1 (midtone: chin): The relationship between yellow and magenta looks great. The cyan is a little low here (nearly 1/8 the value of yellow), but overall, this looks pretty good.

Sample Point #2 (midtone: shoulder): These colors look great – yellow is just slightly higher than magenta, and cyan comes in at 1/3 the value of yellow. Cyan could go a little lower or stay as is.

Sample Point #3 (shadow: neck): Cyan is coming in at 1/3 the value of yellow – which is perfect. Magenta is 15 points lower than yellow, which is too low.

Here’s the plan:

1) I’m going to add three anchors – one representing each sample point – on the R, G, and B curves (do this by CTRL+Shift+Click on the sample points with the eyedropper tool).

2) Then I want to increase the cyan (pull down the red) for sample point #1 — without changing the cyan values for points #2 or #3.

3) Then I want to reduce the yellow (pull up the blue) for sample point #2 – without changing the yellow value for points #1 or #2.

Let’s get to work…

First I add all my sample points to the curves. Here’s the red curve (Sample Point #1 is selected):


I’m pulling down on Sample Point #1 just a bit, and …


My curve looks a little goofy, but the numbers look great! Let’s bump up the magenta (pull down green) at Sample Point #3:


And the result:


I’m not saying it’s perfect – there’s still that magenta cast coming off the skirt (on the forearm), and there’s some excess yellow in the shadows. That stuff can be fixed with a little extra time and some masking. But for THIS picture, bumping the saturation before starting with curves is quicker AND yields (I think) nicer results than working with curves alone.

Take a look (Top: Original; Middle: All Curves; Bottom: Saturation + Curves)




And some side by sides:

Original vs. All Curves Adjustment


Original vs. Saturation + Curves Adjustment


Don’t like the extra saturation in the rest of the pic? You can always mask it off …


Bear in mind that this is just one method to add to your arsenal. Sometimes it’s better to work all with curves. Sometimes it’s better to work with various other adjustment layers (we’ll get to those). Sometimes — particularly when the yellow/magenta ratios already look good — doing a saturation bump will solve all your skin color problems right off the bat.

Here’s the take away:

* Anytime you reduce the amount of red in skin, you bring the skin color closer to neutral gray.

* As far as skin is concerned, the saturation bump widens the gap between cyan and yellow/magenta. Thus, you should only use this method for images where the skin has an EXCESS of cyan. If the skin has too little cyan (too much red), the saturation bump will only make the skin look worse (because it takes the cyan even lower relative to the yellow/magenta).

* The saturation bump will NOT work if for some reason your skin color is so far off that Red is lower than Green and Blue (viewing skin color in terms of RGB) — this is almost never the case, but it’s something to consider.

That’s it for this week! Thanks again to Jodi for the sample picture.

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Creating a “JPEG” Profile for your RAW Photos (Lightroom Only)

Think RAW processing is a pain? Want the polished look of JPEGs with the flexibility of RAW’s uncompressed data and detail retention? You can have it all (or very close to it).

1) Create a custom Camera Calibration Profile

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you’ve created a Camera Calibration profile for your camera using a ColorChecker Color Rendition Chart. You can move ahead with this tutorial without creating a custom calibration profile, but I strongly recommend buying a ColorChecker card and creating a custom profile if you are concerned with getting accurate color.

Moving on …

2) Set your in-camera JPEG options (Contrast, Saturation, etc)

Set your Picture Control settings (or the Canon equivalent) to fine tune your in-camera JPEG processing. Set brightness, contrast, and saturation. Also select your desired sharpening and noise reduction settings if that’s something you normally do during RAW processing. Personally, I prefer to do my sharpening (presharpening and final sharpening) and noise reduction (using Noiseware) in Photoshop, so I’m setting sharpening to 0 and noise reduction to Low/Off.

3) Set your Camera to take JPEG (Fine) + RAW Images

You’re going to take a few sample shots, but first, make sure that your camera is going to be recording both RAW and the highest quality JPEG images.

4) Take two (or more) Unique Sample Images

Now it’s time for the sample shots. Try to compose a scene that includes most of the following:
1) Moderate dynamic range (a reasonably high contrast scene with both very light and very dark areas – try to strike a balance – this is a good time for matrix/evaluative metering!)
2) An array of colors, both saturated and neutral, including one or more of the following:
a) Skin tones (this is critical if you regularly shoot people)
b) Sky
c) Grass

You need your two sample shots to be completely different scenes (preferably different locations at different times of day — or perhaps one indoor shot and one outdoor shot).

Here are my two shots (these are SOOC JPEGs) — and they are only taken for this purpose, so ignore my lovely composition, underexposed face, etc:



5) Compare your JPEG and RAW images in Lightroom

Upload your images to Lightroom, and select the JPEG version of Sample #1. CTRL (Mac: Command) + Click on the RAW version of the same image. Now you want to view your images in “Compare” mode in the Library Module by pressing “C” (or go to View>Compare)


6) Zero Out Your Settings

Make sure that you have your RAW image active (don’t deselect the JPEG image, just click on the RAW thumbnail), and head over to the Develop Module. If you haven’t changed Lightroom’s default settings, you should be sitting at Brightness: +50; Contrast: +25, Blacks: +5. Everything else should (by default) be set at 0. You may or may not be able to see in the image above that Lightroom’s default settings (which are only applied to the RAW file) have resulted in a significantly brighter image than we see in the JPEG version; the RAW image also appears to be more contrasty and has lost a lot of detail in the highlights.

Click the Preset “General-Zeroed.”


I know, I know – it looks even worse (if you go back to the Library module, you can see the comparison side by side). Bear with me.

7) Adjust your Settings until the RAW Image looks like the JPEG Image

This is the fun part. It’s also the part where you’re kind of on your own.

If you have set up a Camera Calibration Profile, make sure you have applied it to your RAW Image.


Now start tinkering with the develop sliders. Start with Recovery (leave Exposure alone – trust me), and work your way down. FWIW, I recommend starting with Exposure and working your way down when you are tweaking your images in Lightroom generally.

Your goal is to make the tonal values of the RAW image look like the JPEG image.

To start off, you’ll be working with both the Basic and Tone Curve panels; I don’t recommend adjusting the HSL sliders, especially if you’re using a custom Calibration Profile. IGNORE any differences in sharpness and noise between your RAW and JPEG images. If you want to match your JPEG’s sharpness and noise settings, you’ll need to do that separately. We’ll get to it.

Give the sliders a workout; for me, this process is a lot of trial-and-error. If working on dual monitors, you can view both images in Compare mode on your second monitor to watch your progress as you adjust. Otherwise, click on the JPEG thumbnail intermittently to compare the changes as you go … just make sure you always have the RAW version selected when you’re moving the sliders — you don’t want to change anything about the JPEG version. For a side by side comparison, just switch back to the Library module. When you think the images start looking close, Zoom in to 100% and closely examine any contrast/shadow/highlight differences between the two images — the darkest and lightest areas are the most critical to match. After all, that’s really what determines if your RAW exposure matches your JPEG exposure (and exposure inconsistencies between what you see on your camera LCD and what you see when you upload your RAW file can be maddening!).

When your JPEG and RAW images look nearly identical, you’re ready to move on.*

* You may find as your tweaking that you are making your RAW image look BETTER than the JPEG. Don’t go there; it might work for this picture, but it won’t work for all of them. Your goal is to define a preset that makes the tonal values of your RAW files look like the JPEG, which represents the image you see on the back of your LCD. You’re still going to be adjusting images individually during post processing. You may find down the road that you like your contrast (for example) a little higher in ALL of your shots. You can make that change then. Right now, just keep your eye on the ball – you are trying to make your RAW image tones look consistent with your camera’s JPEGs.

8) Save your New Default

You’re almost there. Switch to the Develop module, and select Develop>Set Default Settings>Update to Current Settings


9) Test and Tweak Your New Default

Deselect the JPEG version of Sample #1 (just CTRL+click on it to deselect). Then hold down CTRL+click the RAW version of Sample #2. You should have the RAW versions of both Samples selected. Press “Sync” (in the Develop module) to sync Sample #2 with the settings in Sample #1.

When Sample #2 looks good, sync its settings to Sample #1, and check to make sure Sample #1 still looks consistent with the JPEG. Go back and forth between the two, tweaking until you find settings that make both images look consistent with their corresponding JPEG versions. This can be a frustrating process … just when you think you get one Sample to look perfectly in line with its corresponding JPEG, it makes the other one look way off. Stick with it — and don’t overlook the Tone Curve sliders … sometimes those are the key to finding settings that work for both images. It does not have to be perfect — it just has to be close. Again, pay special attention to the lightest and darkest parts of your image. You’ll get it!

If you’re working with a Custom Calibrated Camera profile, your colors may look very different between the JPEG and RAW versions. You have to look past it and focus on ensuring that the TONAL values – especially those at the extremes – are consistent.

10) Finalize your New Default

If you’ve made any changes, you’re going to need to Update your default settings again. Once again, in the Develop module, select Develop>Set Default Settings>Update to Current Settings

11) Optional: Create noise reduction and sharpening Presets*

If you are want to perfectly match your RAW files to your JPEGs in Lightroom, you need to take into account sharpness and noise in addition to brightness/contrast/etc.* However, you also need to be aware that sharpening and noise reduction will vary according to your ISO, so you’ll want to take Sample shots at various ISO intervals (Perhaps ISO 200, ISO 800, and ISO 1600/3200 — which can represent low, medium, and high ISO settings).

Compare your JPEG and Sample Images for each of the various ISOs, and adjust sharpness and noise reduction accordingly. When you find the correct setting for Low ISO (For example), do NOT update your Default Settings. Instead, Create a Preset called “Low ISO NR and Sharpening”; do the same for “Medium ISO” and “High ISO.” When you create the Preset, make sure you only have Sharpening and Noise Reduction checked.


* Again, I don’t do this; I like to do my presharpening and noise reduction in Photoshop – I prefer to perform each of these processes individually at particular points in my workflow.

12) Put your New Settings to Use!

Now, whenever you upload your RAW images to Lightroom, if will automatically apply your new default settings – which should bring your RAW images in line with the images that you see on the back of your LCD screen during shooting. If you created NR/Sharpening presets, just click the correct preset button (depending on the ISO at which you shot). That’s it!

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