Color perception is a very tricky thing and you might be surprised to learn that your camera’s manufacturer and/or your photo processing software has a “color personality”. Where I’ve noticed it most prominently with my equipment (I shoot with Canon cameras and process the images with Adobe Lightroom) is with the yellow response. (Just to be clear, what follows is true for any color image. I’m just zeroing in on yellow as an example.)
Before I go any further I have to note that if you are concerned about color fidelity (and it’s just fine if you are not) then you need to have your monitor calibrated with a colorimeter gizmo like ColorVision Spyder or some similar device. After you do this you can decide if you want to be obsessive about color or just concerned. Obsessives (or people whose livelihood depends on accurate color) will have very special lighting, neutral gray walls in their room, etc. I’m not one of those people.
This image of Black-Eyed Susans provides a great demonstration of when faced with an unexpected color response from your equipment and workflow, Lightroom has some interesting tools for you. (I guess I should mention that we’re talking about RAW files here. If you shoot JPEG you can pretty much skip this article.)
The first thing you want to check is your white balance. You should have it set to the temperature you’d expect to have at that time (or, if you happen to have a neutral test target with you, image that and use it as the reference). I’m speaking generally here, but the biggest thing the white balance control is “fighting” is the blue cast of the sky. Because yellow’s complementary color is blue, the white balance has a significant impact on what kind of yellow tone you are going to end up with.
The camera’s response to yellow, and your software’s interpretation of it is subject to a mathematical color response profile. Different profiles = different color for the same object. In Lightroom’s Develop module you will find the Camera Calibration panel. I wrote about this some time ago and it’s something I head to whenever the image Lightroom throws up on the screen doesn’t match my, ahem, perfect memory of the scene. By selecting different profiles I can usually find one that comes much closer to what I feel the colors should be.
By default, Lightroom uses an “Adobe Standard” color profile – but there are other profiles you can use that have been developed to mimic equipment manufacturer profiles. (If you shoot JPEG, it is these settings in the camera you can tweak to get the color closer to what you want – but you have to make the change BEFORE you take the image.)
When I imported the flower photo, this is what Lightroom gave me:
More orange than yellow. Canon’s idea of yellow wasn’t that much better. This is the Canon Camera Standard profile’s view:
Pushing into pumpkin territory (on my monitor).
I finally settled for the “Camera Neutral” profile, which provided me with a satisfying yellow for this image.
The purpose of this article wasn’t to find the scientifically faithful color match. There are all sorts of ways of bending colors in digital images to do your bidding. But if you find yourself looking at an image and thinking that it “isn’t quite right”, remember the Calibration panel and try experimenting with the profiles that are provided by Adobe (and I’m sure some folks out there have developed custom ones as well). You might be two or three clicks away from having an image you are much happier with color-wise.