Instructables
Get better color accuracy in every photo using this little device.

The trick to accurate color capture is to always have and use a color reference each time you start shooting in different lighting... but carrying a color reference card big enough to focus on is a pain. As I disclosed back in 2003 (more information at http://aggregate.org/DIT/LENSCAP/ ), the color reference need not be in focus to work -- so you can use a tiny, easy-to-carry, reference. For example, got lenscap?

It should be noted that technically accurate color imaging is very difficult. Photons can have any of a wide range of wavelengths, but most sensors just measure approximately how many photons hit each pixel after passing through the corresponding Red, Green, or Blue filter. Further, human vision employs a mechanism of color consistency which makes the relationship between spectral properties and apparent color quite complex. In short, some very nonlinear things can happen in these transformations, the discussion of which is well beyond this Instructable.

You also should keep in mind that color accuracy doesn't necessarily make good art. People like sunsets, and many other things, in less accurate but more intense "Kodachrome" colors.
 
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Step 1: Making Your Reference

Serious photographers often carry a gray card or a color checker chart with them. Lots of people argue about things like what reflectance the gray card should have (anywhere from 12% to 18%), but it doesn't matter much unless you're using it for exposure metering, which we aren't. All you need is one or more known colors that you can use for calibrating color correction, and it is easiest if one of them is neutral. Gray works better than white because digital cameras can clip color channels when overexposed, and gray works better than black because sensor noise is less significant. So, make yourself something gray that you'll always carry with your camera.

Although cutting-up a color reference card works great, those cards are expensive. Many laser printers produce very neutral blacks which, when printed on a neutral white paper, produce an acceptable reference. For example, just scale the circle shown below to fit within your lenscap, laser print it, trim it, and tape or glue it inside your lenscap.

You can fit at least 4 color reference patches inside a typical lenscap before the area of each color becomes too small to be effective. The colors can be anything, but avoid colors that, as seen by your unaided eyes, appear to change dramatically when you move the reference to different lighting (i.e., try to avoid metamerism). Colors matching your printer's inks are probably not a bad choice. More reference colors allow fancier non-linear corrections of color, whereas a single gray reference really only allows correction of the average color temperature.

No space on the lenscap? Ok. How about a little paint on something? Or perhaps a piece of cloth or duct tape on your camera bag or strap? I used to have a neutral gray pair of sneakers....
ProfHankD (author) 2 months ago

Geetings! I'm well aware of metamerism, and that is the primary issue -- avoiding it is discussed in step 1. The paper white-point isn't mentioned and should be. Back when I first did this, there were still papers (I usually used Bristol board) that were quite good whites, but since then the world has gone nuts with brighteners....

To make your own good reference (as opposed to using part of a commercial one), there is some trial and error involved. I haven't had much difficulty getting pretty good gray references within a few tries; in fact, I've even found that well-chosen gray PLA plastic can be close enough to be useful. As long as metamerism is minimal, you can correct for (known) minor color biases in postprocessing. That said, to make your own accurate reference for lots of colors is very hard, arguably not worth even trying; I use a mini ColorChecker for that.

In any case, the main point of this Instructable (and my 2003 disclosure) was that you don't need a color reference that is big enough to focus on -- a tiny reference photographed out-of-focus works fine, so there's no excuse for not having one with you. Using a little piece of a commercial gray card should ensure accuracy if available printers and papers don't allow you to make a good enough one from scratch, and you cut, mount, and use either reference card the same way.

studiogrynn2 months ago

Greetings Professor! Thanks for putting this ible up and contributing to the community. While the idea behind the workflow is sound, the actual practice of making the target is shaky. There are two things working against us in this process; metamerisms and white-point.

Metamerism occurs when an object does not reflect wavelengths of light equally. This is always an issue with inkjet printing. Inks and pigments for inkjet/giclee are manufactured to appear neutral under 5000k light-sources, but will unevenly drift out of balance as color temperatures deviate away from this "daylight" norm. This is to say that the target may perform properly under 5000k illumination, but will fail under other sources such as halogen, incandescent, open shade, mercury vapor, etc. The end result is a reflective target that exhibits non-linear variations in spectral power. In layman's terms; the user's color balance will be inaccurate with differing levels of error depending on the light-source used.

Now let's address the white-point concern. Printer papers deviate wildly from blue cast to warm casts such as yellow, and often contain optical brighteners that fluoresce, and/or additional bluing agents. These additives also contribute to metamerism. It is extremely rare that "white" printer paper is actually a neutral white. Since this non-neutral/non-linear paper is a significant contributor to the reflectance of your target, additional color temperature errors are introduced.

Good targets, and I would like to put emphasis on "good", are manufactured to be as close to free from metamerism as technological and economical conditions will allow. I realize that this goes against the spirit of DIY here, however, I feel it important to address this potential issue for anyone who may be depending on, or merely hopeful for, critical white balance.

Ghost Wolf3 years ago
Love your 'ible and your camera