Camera Color Profiling


Today’s Question: My Nikon D810, good as it is, does not automatically determine the white balance correctly, much less taking care of the color profile. Gray Cards are nice for manually determining the white balance, but they cannot calibrate the color profile. I’ve been using [the X-Rite] ColorChecker for a while, and it has made a significant improvement in my photos: color-wise, they “snap into life.” How do you personally take care of these technical issues in your own photography?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I actually don’t tend to use any special tools for calibrating or adjusting color at the time of capture, since the vast majority of my photography employs natural light. I also know that I’ll always want to fine-tune the color in my photos to taste, so I’m not too worried about having the color absolutely “perfect” from the start.

More Detail: Naturally, in general we want accurate color in our photographs. However, in most cases I’m also trying to preserve the impact of the actual color of the light (such as at golden hour), not trying to make the photo appear that the light source was pure white.

For example, if you use a gray card to establish a more accurate white balance setting for the camera, you are essentially removing the color element of the light illuminating the scene. Suddenly a photo captured at golden hour would look more like it was captured in the middle of the day.

Therefore, solutions such as using a gray card or ColorChecker ( generally aren’t ideal for me, since I’m using available light and typically want to preserve the color of that light.

While selecting a specific White Balance preset in the camera can be helpful, I generally leave the White Balance setting at “Auto”. That’s because I’m always shooting in the raw capture mode, and so I can refine the White Balance adjustment in post-processing without any degradation in image quality.

To be sure, for something like product photography, using something like the ColorChecker Passport ( can be invaluable, as it will not only compensate for the general color of the light, but also specifically correct individual color ranges. For my personal needs, this isn’t something that generally applies. So for me, “Auto” White Balance combined with some post-capture adjustments work great. For many photographers though, more involved solutions can certainly be helpful.