Calibrate Your Digital Camera

Maintain the quality of your images across your other devices

An image manually white balanced.
Evi Abeler Photography

Consistent color across monitors, printers, and scanners is achieved with color profiles, targets, and calibration tools. However, calibrating your digital camera also contributes to reliable color matching.

Digital photographs can be color corrected one at a time in Adobe Photoshop, Corel Photo-Paint, or another image editor of your choice. However, if you make the same types of corrections repeatedly — the images are consistently too dark or have a reddish cast to them, for example — calibrating your digital camera reduces the time you spend adjusting images in photo editing software.

Basic Visual Calibration

To visually adjust the color for your camera, calibrate your monitor. The first step is to use the default or neutral settings of your digital camera to take a photograph of a target image in RAW format. This target image can be one that you bought or downloaded online or a digital test image that was printed on a color-calibrated printer. Target images contain squares of different colors and shades of grey.

A RAW file is uncompressed and must be processed in PhotoShop or a similar program before it can be used. RAW files capture the maximum amount of information and have a wide dynamic range.

The next step is to print the photograph you took and open it in an image editor. Then, compare the on-screen image and printed image (from your camera) with the original target image.

The last step is to adjust the settings for your digital camera (these settings vary by camera model) and repeat this process until your digital camera photos are a good visual match to the target image.

Make a note of the settings and use these to get the best color match from your camera. These basic adjustments are sufficient for getting good color from a digital camera.

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

Color Calibration With ICC Profiles

Professional photographers, commercial printers, and graphic designers, in particular, benefit from consistent color output across all their devices. ICC profiles provide a way to ensure consistent color across different platforms.

ICC profiles are specific to each device and contain information about how that device produces color. If your digital camera comes with a generic color profile for the camera model (and many high-end models do), it may give good enough results using automatic color correction.

Calibration or profiling software usually comes with a target image. This target image is a printed piece that includes photographic images, grayscale bars, and color bars. Various manufacturers have their own test images, but these images conform to the same standard for color representation.

The target image requires a digital reference file specific to that image. Calibration software compares a digital photograph of the test image to the color information in the reference file to create an ICC profile specific to the camera.

Targets and Test Images

Whether you use them visually or with color management software, target images provide a range of color and grayscale swatches that are used to calibrate monitors, printers, scanners, and digital cameras. Look for free or commercial scanner targets, their reference files, and other test images online.

Calibration Tools

A Color Management System is a group of software and hardware tools that calibrate monitors, scanners, printers, and digital cameras so that these devices use the same color. These tools often include a variety of generic profiles as well as the means to customize profiles for any device.

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

Color calibration ensures that color is accurate on your devices. You can't control how someone else's device displays color.