Have you ever noticed that the colours in the JPEGs you get from the camera don’t always match up with your RAW files when you open them in Adobe Camera Raw? That’s because when you shoot a JPEG, the camera still starts off by capturing a RAW file but then processes it in camera to produce the image. The point is that Nikon (or Canon, or Sony etc) have a different idea about how to process their RAW data to Adobe’s.
Note: This was written around an older version of Lightroom. In newer versions, use the Profile menu at the top of the tools panel.
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RAW converters are not the same! They’re like different developer formulations in the days of film – each one gives slightly different results. When you open a RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw, it applies a generic colour profile which is often quite different to the colours generated by the camera.
Adobe Camera Raw’s profiles are actually quite conservative. You might be used to getting vibrant reds, blues and greens from your camera, and slightly disappointed that the RAW files are rather subdued by comparison. You can hike up the colours yourself, of course, but even then you can’t always match the particular colour rendition of the camera.
This sunset is a good example. Our default Adobe Camera Raw version looks OK, but there’s something lacking in the colours.
But there is an answer. Buried away near the bottom of Lightroom’s toolbar in the Develop module is a Camera Calibration panel, and here’s how it works…
01 Camera Calibration controls
When you open the Camera Calibration panel you’ll see a whole load of different sliders. It looks complicated, but don’t worry because we don’t need any of these. The bit we’re interested in is right at the top of this panel…
02 Change your profile
By default, Adobe Camera Raw will select the Adobe Standard profile, and that’s what’s generating this rather conservative colour rendition. But you can click on this to open a pop-up menu which offers a whole list of alternative profiles which are designed to match those offered by the camera. I’m going to choose the Camera Landscape option, which more closely mirrors the ‘Landscape’ style offered by the Nikon D90 used to take the picture.
03 See the difference
You’ll probably see a change in the colours and tones straight away, but you can use the controls in the bottom left corner of the window to create a split-screen view which really brings the difference home. The ‘calibrated’ image has much stronger colours and more contrast, and looks much more like the JPEG version captured by the camera.
04 The finished picture
Adobe Camera Raw’s Standard profile tends to reduce the image contrast in order to capture the widest range of shadow and highlight details, but this can do more harm than good, since it can leave images looking flat and lifeless. Choosing one of the custom profiles can restore life and colour to these pictures, and also makes small changes to the colour balance to more accurately reflect the camera’s own rendition.
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