Calibrate Your Digital Camera

An image manually white balanced.
Evi Abeler Photography

Calibrating monitors, printers, and scanners helps yield more consistent color between all these devices. However, it may never have occurred to you that calibrating your digital camera can also produce more reliable color matching.

Color correction of digital photographs can be done within Adobe Photoshop, Corel Photo-Paint, or your other image editor of choice. However, if you find yourself having to make the same types of corrections over and over — images that are consistently too dark or have a reddish cast to them, for example — calibrating your digital camera can save much image editing time and provide better pictures.

Basic Visual Calibration

In order to visually adjust the color for your camera you'll need to first calibrate your monitor. Using the default or neutral settings of your digital camera, take a photograph of a target image. This could be a printed scanner target used for scanner calibration (see below) or a digital test image that you've printed from your color calibrated printer. Print the image and display it on-screen.

Compare the on-screen image and printed image (from your camera) with your original target image. Adjust the settings for your digital camera and repeat this process until your digital camera photos are a good visual match to your test image. Make a note of the settings and use these to get the best color match from your camera. For many users, these basic adjustments may be sufficient for getting good color from your digital camera.

Color Calibration with ICC Profiles

ICC profiles provide a way to ensure consistent color. These files are specific to each device on your system and contain information about how that device produces color. If your digital camera or other software comes with a generic color profile for your camera model, it may give good enough results using automatic color correction.

Calibration or profiling software may come with a scanner or image target — a printed piece that includes photographic images, grayscale bars, and color bars. Various manufacturers have their own images but they all generally conform to the same standard for color representation. The target image requires a digital reference file specific to that image. Your calibration software can compare your digital photograph of the image to the color information in the reference file to create an ICC profile specific to your camera. (If you have a target image without its reference file, you can use it as your test image for visual calibration as described above.)

Targets and Test Images

Whether visually or with color management software, target images provide a range of color and grayscale for calibrating monitors, printers, scanners, and digital cameras. Find free and commercial scanner targets, their reference files, and other test images.

As your digital camera ages and depending on often you use it, it may be necessary to re-calibrate periodically. Additionally, when you change software or hardware, it's a good idea to re-calibrate your devices.

Calibration Tools

Color Management Systems include tools for calibrating monitors, scanners, printers, and digital cameras so they all "speak the same color." These tools often include a variety of generic profiles as well as the means to customize profiles for any or all of your devices.

Choose the calibration tools that match your pocketbook and your needs for accurate representation of color on screen and in print.