Dealing With A Case of the Blues (Your Camera Is Sensitive)

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"Crooked Crow, 6/19/2010" by D. Travis North (click to learn about the band)

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but your camera is not perfect when it comes to color sensitivity.  It doesn’t matter what brand or what model.  The amount of money you spent on your camera is not a factor.  Your camera will not detect colors the exact way the human eye does.  I wish I could tell you your monitor was perfect as well.  But this is not the case. Of course, that doesn’t mean your photos have to suffer.

The human eye and your camera’s sensor are both sensitive to red, green and blue light.  The other colors are developed by mixing different ratios of the three light colors together.  Your computer’s monitor renders your photographs the same way, by casting red, green and blue light.  But there are distinct differences between the receptors in your eye and the receptors in your camera’s receptors.  The camera is much more sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum – the shorter wavelengths.  Accordingly, many of the photos you take will result in a slightly bluish cast.  The first step to correcting the problem is being aware.  Any pro photographer will tell you not to trust your gear.

So how do we deal with our case of the blues?  The following practices are recommended at a minimum to make sure your photos look color perfect:

  • Profile Your Monitor – Very first on this list – before any other method – is to profile your monitor.  Think your monitor renders color pretty well?  It’s a trick of the human eye, which adapts easily – too easily.  You shouldn’t trust them in this case, you cannot effectively color-correct your monitor without hardware.  There are a number of great products available – hardware – that is designed for this specific purpose.  For entry level, I’d suggest the Spyder 3 Express (less than $90) system from ColorVision – but there are tons of options available.  Regardless of the system you use, each system consists of some optic sensor that gets placed on your monitor to profile it and calibrate it to match very precise color spectrum.  It will be about as perfect as you can get.  You can fix your color balance in post-processing at the very least.  If you follow no other suggestion from this list – at least follow this one.  Daresay I feel this is more important than your next lens.
  • White Balance Preset – We reviewed a product called ExpoDisc that serves as a tool that presets your white-balance before taking the shot.  There are many other products as well, from lens filters to gray cards to color profiling kits.  Having one of these tools in your kit while you’re shooting will save you a ton of headaches in post-processing, especially for those of you who shoot in JPEG.  But even for you RAW shooters, getting things right in camera will make your workflow and post-processing a lot easier and faster.  Besides, that’s not the fun part of photography – so why not eliminate it?
  • Warming Filters – Software or hardware, it doesn’t matter…using a warming filter will certainly bring back the warm earth tones that get lost by the hyper-blue depths of your camera’s sensor.  This is not a perfect fix, but will certainly make fast time if necessary.  But again, don’t go about it blindly.  Profile your monitor.
  • Flash Gels – When shooting flash, you will often be faced with different light sources rendering different kinds (colors) of light.  Using the right gels for your flash can help to balance different light sources.  There are two colors that you’ll want to have:  Color Temperature Orange and Window Green.  The green gel can be used to match your flash to fluorescent light; the orange is used to match tungsten light sources.  The trick is that you want all of your light in the same color range so that at post-processing, your photo has the same color of light throughout.  This makes for easier color balancing in the end.
  • Profile Your Monitor – Yes, I’m being redundant – because this is THAT important.  As a photographer, there is no reason you should not have a color-corrected monitor.  It’s that simple.

Let me assure you that I learned about all of these things – especially the monitor profiling – from my own mistakes.  There’s nothing worse than taking what you feel is the perfect photo only to have to fix it in post processing.  It’s time consuming, and you may never get some of that data back.  Your camera is not evil, and it’s not likely to cut off its own ear, but it has a permanent case of the blues.  Only you can help.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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