Camera Calibration in Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop

In this episode, I explain you why when importing your RAW format images into Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, your image(s) can appear faded and blend and how to prevent it. This was a the scenario mentioned by one of my students last weekend:

  • Take the shot in RAW format
  • Check the resulting image on the LCD screen on the back of my camera
  • Import in Adobe Lightroom
  • See the same resulting image
  • After a few second the image changes, the colours have faded away and some of the contrast as well

My Student was wondering whether there was anything wrong with Lightroom. The answer is NO.

What happens then?

To understand what happens one need to comprehend what the RAW format is. It is a digital negative which contains a lot of information besides the image data itself. Among the information one has the focus point location, whether or not the Noise Reduction mode was used, the lens correction if exist and also a JPEG. Yes a JPEG even if one selected the RAW only as the output format. That JPEG is there so you can preview the resulting photograph on your camera LCD screen. That JPEG is an interpretation by your camera of the image data following a specific algorithm and the Picture Style (as called by Canon) setting in your camera. That setting is a profile which affects the colours saturation, contrast and sharpness.

When importing a RAW file into Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop (they share the same RAW interpretation engine: Camera Raw), the engine will only care for the image data, the camera & lens settings as well as the copyright details.

Metadata panel in Adobe Lightroom
Metadata panel in Adobe Lightroom

The rest is discarded and requires the camera manufacturer’s edition software to read them. During the import, CameraRaw, the engine, will show you the JPEG included in the RAW, which matches the image you could see at the back of your camera. After a few second, once the engine has finished interpreting the image data, the preview in Lightroom will change, and the Adobe Camera Raw’s interpretation of the image data will be shown instead. That result can appear with faded colours and less contrast.

It is all a matter of interpretation, your camera vs. Adobe Camera RAW. There is no right or wrong since all the data remains.

How to retrieve the camera’s interpretation of the image data?

In Adobe Lightroom in the Develop module, there is a Camera Calibration panel (last panel on the right) which a drop down list which shows the camera (picture style) profile.

Camera Calibration panel in Adobe Lightroom
Camera Calibration panel in Adobe Lightroom

By default, Adobe Lightroom chooses the Adobe Standard profile.

Select the profile in the camera Calibration panel in Adobe Lightroom
Select the profile in the Camera Calibration panel in Adobe Lightroom

If you select the one matching the one used by your camera you will end up with a re-interpretation of the image data according to your camera’s profile. You can see the difference in the colours and contrast when changing the profile. :

Raw rendition using the default Adobe profile
Raw rendition using the default Adobe profile
Raw rendition using the right camera profile
Raw rendition using the right camera profile

How to automatise this upon import?

The trick is the same way as you would automatise any development setting. All you need is to create a preset:

Preset panel in Lightroom
Preset panel in Lightroom

Then when you import your photographs all you need to do is select that preset in the Apply During Import panel on the right of the Import window:

Apply the camera calibration preset on import in Lightroom
Apply the camera calibration preset on import in Lightroom

You can see the two interpretation of the same image data (left by Adobe Camera RAW, right by Canon Landscape profile):

compare the two renditions in Adobe Lightroom
compare the two renditions in Adobe Lightroom

What about Photoshop?

When you open a Raw file in Photoshop or more precisely Camera RAW, the profile used by default is Adobe Standard (like for Lightroom). There is also a Camera Calibration panel on the right:

Camera calibration panel in Photoshop
Camera calibration panel in Photoshop

As you can see there is the same difference when changing the profile used for the image data interpretation (Left by Adobe, right by Canon Landscape profile):

Raw rendition using the default Adobe camera profile in Photoshop
Raw rendition using the default Adobe Camera profile in Photoshop
Raw rendition using the right camera profile in Photoshop
Raw rendition using the right camera profile in Photoshop

Why bother?

I bother as I like the rendition by Canon and while I may alter things according to my creative mind, I’d rather start my edition from a rendition I know (the one shown at the back of my camera) than the rather flat Adobe Standard interpretation. The choice is yours.

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