Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Camera Calibration in Lightroom 3

If you've been following the Lightroom posts you probably already have a good appreciation for the benefits of shooting in RAW format.  If not, you might want to check out "File Formats...Which One Do I Use?".

One important consideration not covered in that post, however, is that when you import RAW images into Lightroom, that's exactly what you get. The "RAW" image.  No added contrast or sharpening. No applied picture styles like "Vivid" or "Black & White".  You simply get the RAW, unmodified image which in most cases looks rather flat and dull when compared to the preview you saw on your LCD screen which included those types of adjustments. So why would you ever want to shoot in RAW if it doesn't apply those in-camera adjustments?

In a word, flexibility.  As mentioned in the linked post above, a RAW image contains MUCH more detailed information to allow you a greater amount of latitude in post processing which you simply cannot achieve with JPEG images.  Luckily, Lightroom provides a way to "fast track" your development process by helping you get your RAW images to more closely match the image you saw in your camera LCD.  It's called the Camera Calibration Panel.

Camera Calibration is camera specific meaning you can have different default settings here for each camera in your arsenal and Lightroom will automatically apply the correct default after reading the image metadata to determine which camera took the photo.  Let's take a closer look at the panel options:
  • Process - Lightroom 3 introduced a new processing engine (2010) used to apply changes to your image.  The "old" engine (2003) also appears in this list.  If you have images in your catalog which were processed with the non-current engine, a small "!" symbol will appear in the lower right corner of your image to inform you the image has not been processed by the latest engine.  Click the icon if you'd like to reprocess the image using the most current processing method.
  • Profile - Adobe has provided a series of profiles you can select from to attempt to match the picture style options you have in your camera.  These profiles are then applied to your RAW images to give you a "head start" in your development process.  You can even create and save your own profile if you wish.  Just search Adobe's web site for "DNG Profile" for additional information.  As you can see from the screen shot, I've settled on the "Camera Vivid" profile as I tend to like the extra color saturation.  You cannot change this option on JPEG images.
  • Sliders - The remainder of the sliders give you control over adjusting the tint in the shadows and/or the hue or saturation of the primary colors.  If you always seem to be toning down the reds, you can make those adjustments in this panel.
Now that you know what it does, here's a little advice on how to make it work for you.
  1. The next time you set out to shoot your favorite subject matter, set your camera to record both RAW+JPEG.  Whatever in-camera adjustment settings you've configured (picture styles, contrast, sharpeness, etc.) will be applied to the JPEG images, but not the RAW images.
  2. Import both the RAW and JPEG images into Lightroom.
  3. BEFORE applying any other adjustments to your RAW image, jump over to the Camera Calibration panel in the Develop Module.  Take a few minutes to analyze the results of each of the Profile settings on your image.
  4. When you find the profile setting that you like, compare the adjusted RAW image to the original JPEG.  How do they stack up against one another?  If the RAW image still shows some hue or saturation differences from the original JPEG which you'd prefer not to have, take the RAW image back into the Develop Module and adjust those settings in the Camera Calibration panel.
  5. When you're satisfied with the adjustments, make another comparison against the JPEG image.  Repeat this process until you're satisfied with the RAW image adjustments.
Lastly, we need to apply these changes as the default for your camera so they are "automagically" applied each time you import images. 

While viewing your adjusted RAW image in the Develop Module, hold down the Alt key on your keyboard and click the Reset button at the bottom right of the panel.  This will present you with the "Set Default Develop Settings"  dialog for you to click the "Update to Current Settings" button.  That's it.  Now every time you import images from that particular camera, these adjustments will automatically be applied to get you started in the right direction.  You can now effectively forget about the Camera Calibration panel (until maybe you buy a new camera ;).

WARNING! (or bonus depending how you look at it).  If you made any other adjustments in the Develop Module (exposure, contrast, white balance, etc) before clicking "Update to Current Settings", they also just became part of your default.  Generally speaking, you would only want to default the settings in the Camera Calibration panel, but if you always find yourself making the same adjustments (exposure, brightness, clarity, etc) on every image, there's nothing to stop you from setting those defaults too.

If you've been afraid of RAW because it "messes up your photo" when you import your images, give these instructions a try and let me know how it goes.  It will help you to open a whole new world of possibilities in your post processing.  If you're interested in getting more information on the subject or any other Lightroom topic, consider Scott Kelby's book, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book for Digital Photographers (Voices That Matter).  It's my one stop source for all Lightroom information.

Until next time, keep click'n.


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