Achieving the right colour

Packshot on 09/04/2013

When we are working for an advertising agency or direct client, one of the most important factors is to ensure faithful colour reproduction. Most clients will have corporate colours that they use to distinguish their brand, so it is essential to match those colours in every image we produce. Some of our larger clients including; Aviva, Barclays and Virgin will provide comprehensive guidelines often arriving in the form of a book.

Here’s an example from a range of “Tropic” cosmetic packshots we did recently, photographed in the studio against a white background and lit with flash. In the first example (Fig 1) we have used the camera’s auto white balance setting. As you will see it has a colour “cast”, the background colour has been adversely affected by the colour of the reflected light bouncing off the packaging creating a yellowish colour hue to the image.

To overcome this problem we use a colour calibration chart, essentially a series of industry standard colour references patches including black white and grey. Most colour charts come with software to enable photographers to create a colour profile for a group of images shot under specific lighting conditions, for example Adobe® Lightroom can create colour profiles using the X-Rite software.

Figure 2 is the same shot with the colour chart in position and the camera’s white balance set to flash. As you will see, the background and foreground are more pale grey in colour and the greens in the packaging look less yellow, more saturated. But there is another problem to consider… Because we all perceive colour slightly differently we need to make sure what we see on screen is accurate. The only way to do this is by colour calibrating all our monitors. This ensures that whichever computer is used during the shoot or while editing the images the colours reproduced on screen remain consistent.

In the studio and whenever possible on location we work with the camera “tethered” to a computer. The camera is connected using either a USB or firewire cable depending on the type of camera used. We use a software programme called Capture One Pro from PhaseOne that can import images directly from the camera during shooting.

Why do we do this?
There are a number of reasons why this is beneficial, it enables the photographer to see the images on a larger screen, on location usually a laptop and in the studio a 21” or larger monitor. Because we are working to exacting standards it is important to be able to examine every detail of the shot during the shooting process. It’s also good for clients, if in attendance, to be able to see the images we are producing. The second reason… by including the
colour calibration chart in the first shot we take it is possible to set a white balance in CaptureOne so that all subsequent images have the same white balance. This will result in a consistent colour tone and clean white images. Another reason is that we can store the images as they are shot directly on the computer’s hard drive so rather than be restricted by the size of the card in the camera our limit is the available space on the hard drive.

The last shot (Fig 3) is a correctly colour balanced image.

To calibrate our monitors we use another product, the Datacolor Spyder, this clever device analyses the colour of the monitor screen using it’s built in software and adjusts the settings in the computer to match CIE colour standards. The latest models take into consideration ambient light levels to facilitate accurate display luminance.

As you can see from the three sample images, managing colour accurately produces better and more faithful renditions of colour.

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