Friday, December 12, 2014

Monitor Calibration and Color Correcting Your Images

One of the first steps, and the most important step in color correcting your images, is to first calibrate your monitor. There are several methods and tools at your disposal.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to use a monitor calibration tool. Several companies make all kinds of versions but there are only a few out there I trust and use.

Datacolor Spyder 4 Elite is a great tool to use to calibrate your monitor. It is easy to use and does a decent job at displaying accurate color. This is the one I use and you can purchase it for around $200.00. If you print your own photographs, they also sell another tool that goes with the Spyder that calibrates your monitor and your printer. So what you see is what you get.

X-rite also makes several monitor calibration tools such as the X-Rite ColorMunki. It is also easy to use and does a decent job at displaying accurate colors.

There is software that you can use to try and zone in on a decent monitor calibration, but if you are a professional photographer than this wouldn’t really benefit you.

Now that you have your monitor calibrated and know you can accurately display colors, your next step is to buy a gray card or color checker to help aid you in capturing the correct colors on set or on location. Yes you can use these for portrait work along with landscape and wildlife shoots.

Now that you have done everything to accurately display the colors on your screen, it is time to import and work on your images.

In the following sections I will show you different ways to go about processing your images to use the above tools and what to do if you do not have all the fancy gadgets to help you make sure you have perfect colors.


Whether you’re outdoors or within a studio, you can use a grey card or color checker to help color correct your photographs. Both of these tools do the same thing but with a color checker you get a bonus. They have certain color swatches, usually a neutral grey, pure white and pure black. The color picker has several different swatches to better correct your images and it comes with software to create a color profile based off of the color checker used in your sample image. You can then apply this to your photographs to display the correct colors.


1. When placing your grey card within your scene, make sure that it has the same angle of light falling on it as your subject and the same camera angle. Normally, if it is a person I am photographing I will have them hold the card in front of their face.
2. After you have taken your grey card image, you are okay to photograph the rest of your shoot. I like to do this as my first shot after I have everything setup so I don’t forget at the end of the shoot.

3. Import your images into Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or the program of your choice.

4. Now create a curves adjustment layer. You will see three eyedroppers. The top one is for setting your shadow details, the middle one for midtones, and the bottom one for setting the highlights.

5. Select the top Black Point Eyedropper and click on the black swatch to set the shadows.
6. Now select the Gray Point Eyedropper and click on the dark grey swatch to set the midtones.

7. Now select the White Point Eyedropper to set the highlights. This will basically correct itself.
Your image is now color corrected.

If you shot in JPG mode or opened your images in Photoshop without using the Adobe Raw Convertor, this is how you would apply your settings to multiple photographs.



1. In your curves dialog box, click on the arrow pointing down with the lines next to it. Click on save curves preset. This will save your settings to use in other images with the same lighting.
2. Now open an image that you want to apply the same setting too.
3. Create a new curves adjustment layer.
4. Click the same arrow that you used to save the curves preset but this time click load preset.
5. Click on the curves preset you created and click load.
6. You have now color corrected your image.



1. Select all the images, including your grey card image, and open those in Adobe Camera Raw. If you’re using Bridge, you can select them all, press Command-R (PC: Ctrl-R), and you’ll see all the images appear in a filmstrip on the left side of the Camera Raw window.
2. Select the White Balance tool (I) from the Toolbar (it is the eyedropper half-filled with grey), and click it directly on the grey swatch.
3. Your White Balance is now set.
1. Either click the select all or press and hold the Command (PC: Ctrl) key and click on any images in the filmstrip on the left that you want to have this exact same white balance setting.
2. Next click on the Synchronize button at the top of the filmstrip. This brings up a dialog box with several setting that you can copy. Either select all to apply all changed or just check the White balance option.
3. You have now applied and color corrected all of your images.

This is a really useful and cool trick to help you find middle grey within a scene if you do not have a grey card. It works most of the time but not always.
1. Open the image you want color corrected.
2. Create a new layer.
3. Click on Edit>Fill (Shift-F5)
4. When the dialog box comes up, under Contents use the drop down box to select 50% grey and click apply.
5. Change the blend mode to difference.
6. Now create a threshold adjustment layer.
7. Now drag the slider under the histogram all the way to the left (your photo will turn completely white). Now, slowly drag the slider back to the right, and the first areas that appear in black are the neutral midtones.
8. To help you remember where those areas are, use the Color Sampler Tool. Use this tool to select a few different areas that have a good density of black. I do this because sometimes you can get a less than desirable result or you may find you like one area over another.
9. Once you have done this you can delete the two layers you created and return to your original image layer.
10. Create a Curves Adjustment layer.
11. Select the Midtone Eyedropper (the one in the middle of the three) and click the areas that you sample with the Color Sampler Tool. Decide which one you like the best.
12. You have now color corrected your image.

Using a levels adjustment layer is a quick and simple way to adjust your images. It is great for beginners and works across most of the editing programs. Keep in mind that it doesn’t always produce the best results.
1. Create a Levels Adjustment layer.
2. You will see a drop down named RGB. You will select each level, Red, Green, and Blue to color correct your image.
3. Now you will be adjusting your histogram. In each channel, slide the right slider all the way to the left until it reaches the start of the peak.
4. Your image will look extremely messed up until you finish each channel.
5. Once you finish, observe your image and make sure there is not a blue, green or red cast. If there is, go back to the channel with the color cast and adjust it to the left or right to adjust.
I hope these tips have been helpful and you are on your way to correctly displaying photographs with accurate color. Do keep in mind there are situations where you may not want to have properly color corrected images. If you are a fine art photographer or landscape photographer that wants to boost the vibrance or saturation of the sky and so on. This technices work great as a starting point.
When I work on any of my images my first steps are to color correct the images I will be using, whether it be a landscape or portrait, and then I start my creative edits, adjusting vibrance etc.

You can download a PDF version of this here.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Firework Photography Guide

4th of July Fireworks Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Batteries
  • Memory Cards
  • Shutter Release Cable
  • Headlamp
  • Flashlight
  • Black Card
  • Lenses
  • Lens Cleaning Cloth
I try and find that perfect location that I think will have a beautiful backdrop to help tell a story. Your location is key to achieving successful photographs. Anyone can take pictures of fireworks, but telling a story and having the right cast members, foreground, middle ground, and background elements is what can set your images apart from everyone else. If you’re unfamiliar with a location, go out the day before and try and find the perfect spot to capture your fireworks.

Once a location is found, I try to get there early. This is to assure I can get a good seat and so I can setup my camera. If you know your location or it looks like a popular area you will want to arrive several hours early to make sure you can still get a good spot. It is easier to setup your gear while there is still light. Once the location is found and all your gear is setup, manually set the focus for your scene before it gets dark. Focus on an area of sky where the fireworks will be, or on an object the same distance away. Once the fireworks start, you’ll be ready to start shooting.
This is a general guideline for what you can do. You will find over time and with more experience your own style or tweaks that work best for you.
I tend to setup my camera at ISO 100 or 200. I do this so I can achieve the best quality of image I can. Some people say this is all you change while capturing fireworks. I don’t really follow this guideline because it doesn’t make sense to me. I tend to change my f-stop or shutter speed first because I do not want to lose any quality with added noise.
This can vary, but I usually stay between F/8 and F/16. The middle ranges will give you the sharpest images. When I am missing firework bursts because the camera isn’t recording them, I will adjust my f-stop by lowering it a few stops which will help record the light from the firework.

ISO 100 ƒ/8 to 16
ISO 200 ƒ/11 to 22
ISO 400 ƒ/16 to 22

When I photograph fireworks, I use my bulb setting with a shutter release cable. This lets me control how long the shutter stays open. I try and only keep the shutter open for one or two explosions. The longer you keep the shutter open the more there is a chance of washing out the color of the firework which is over exposing the scene. If your images are too dim, try and leave the shutter open longer. If you are not capturing any bursts of fireworks, you can also lower your f-stop to allow more light in to help expose the fireworks.

I leave this turned off while photographing fireworks. They do not always work best with tripods and can cause more harm than good. Image stabilization systems (IS/VR), looks for camera shake when hand holding your camera and adjusts for it. When it is not needed and is left on, the image stabilization system creates its own camera shake.

I turn this feature off because we won’t be doing long enough exposures to have to worry about a buildup of noise. Also, if you take a ten second exposure, it takes ten seconds before you can take another photograph. A ten minute exposure would take another ten minutes before you can take another exposure. This may not be true for all systems, but in my experience when I have used it this is what happens.

You can leave this on auto. Others may disagree but I have never had any issues setting the white balance to auto.
Avoid trying to get to many bursts in one exposure. The longer you leave the shutter open the faster you will over expose the image. Remember fireworks are bright. Yes you are shooting at night, but there is a lot of light from the fireworks.
Try and get the early fireworks. The longer the show goes the more smoke that will fill the air.
Avoid the finale, there is too much going on and it is almost impossible to get a correctly exposed image.

You can use a black card to create multiple exposures in one exposure on a digital camera like in the film days. Use a black card to recreate your shutter. While in bulb mode, use your shutter release and lock it. This will leave your shutter open. Place the black card over your lens. Once you hear the thump of the rocket taking off, remove the card to record the burst. Cover it back up and wait for another. By doing this you can create multiple bursts without over exposing the fireworks. This may take a few shots or years to master but you can create some amazing images this way. The only drawback to this is that you could end up with several bursts in the same location, overlapping each other. In my experience this is not usually a good thing. Sometimes you can see a trail from the firework which will allow you to gauge the height and which will help you decide if you should capture it or not.
Once you hear the thump of the rocket taking off you don’t always have to push the shutter. Sometimes you do not want a lot of trails from the rockets within your image; this can be distracting and take away from your scene. You can judge the average height of the fireworks and can guess when they might explode. Wait for the rocket to get to that average height then push the shutter. This can also help with getting more shots in your scene without over exposing.
Be creative and play. When I capture fireworks I tend to do it with one or two bursts in the scene. I then composite them together using Photoshop. Yes some will say it is cheating but we have the tools at our disposal so why not use them. Not all of my photographs are composites.
I sometimes tend to capture the scene before the fireworks begin. I will take some shots at various times during dusk. I then will composite the fireworks into the earlier scene. This can be fun and once again lets you be creative.

Everything I have talked about can be applied to your camera phones and point and shoot cameras. There are some slight differences.
Using your tripod, or something to keep your camera from moving, set your camera to manual mode. You will need to set your aperture to what was mentioned earlier. The difference is to set your shutter speed to different times, unless you can use a shutter release cable with your phone or point and shoot camera.
Try starting with two seconds and see if that works to capture the fireworks. If that doesn’t work try different times: 2, 5, 8, 10, 15, 20 seconds. You may also need to adjust your f-stop to a lower number to let more light in or a higher number to let less light in.
I hope this has helped you grasp a little bit better understanding of how to capture fireworks. If you have any question please feel free to email me.

You can download a PDF version of this here