Extract Insane Color from Your RAW Files in Lightroom with Camera Calibration

Looking for a way to bring back more color in your RAW files? A way that’s easy, looks natural, and has no banding? There’s a way, and it’s built right into Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW. It’s a bit of a secret and a hack. It’s called “camera calibration“.

Camera calibration is of course intended to do just that, help calibrate your camera. But it’s also an EXCELLENT tool for extracting more color from your photos.




How to boost saturation with Camera Calibration

The basic process is incredibly simple.  Increase the saturation sliders found under red, green, and blue. Those saturation sliders are the key to the process, and really the only thing you need to know to get a lot of use out of Camera Calibration.

You might expect they only target those colors, but they tend to have a fairly broad impact. That’s what helps keep the result natural looking and avoids banding. Of course, each one has a different result. It can be somewhat difficult to predict, so the best approach is to simply try each slider.

Typically, the red slider is the most important for improving sunrise and sunset color. Green tends to help yellow tones. Increase each one until you see the result you are seeing. Be sure to look closely at small areas of saturated color, such as near the sun, to avoid overdoing it.

Blue can also be very useful, but is probably the one where the most caution is needed. It is very easy to over-saturate blue in the sky, especially near the top or corners of the sky above the sun. An overly rich blue can quickly ruin the sky. If you find the blue slider is helpful in other colors, you can increase blue saturation and use an offsetting decrease of saturation in blue/aqua in the HSL panel.

In addition to the saturation sliders, you might wish to try changing the profile from the default “Adobe Standard” to Camera Vivid. This increases saturation, but also makes shadows very dark. You will likely need to increase shadows and/or blacks in the Basic panel to compensate. There are other profiles, but I’ve never found them to be useful (the Camera Landscape profile tends to be too dark). In fact, most images should stick with Adobe Standard. They saturation sliders are the way to go.


How to change hue with Camera Calibration

In addition to boosting color with the techniques above, Camera Calibration can also be used to change color. This isn’t something to use often, but it can be helpful to make adjustments.

To adjust colors, use the hue sliders found under red, green, and blue. You can make an orange sunset seem more red by decreasing red/blue or increasing the green hue. Or make yellow leaves appear more green by increasing green/blue or decreasing the red hue. Experimentation is key. Take care to use small amounts.

There is also a slider for shadow tint, to push your dark tones more green or purple. They can be helpful in a few niche scenarios, but this is a slider that most photographers can safely ignore.


A quick note on Process Version

Note that Camera Calibration has a “Process Version” choice at the top. I recommend setting this to the latest (version 4), unless you are working with an old image and don’t want to bother tweaking the Basic tonal sliders. Version 1 and 2 are old, and have inferior highlight/shadow recovery, as well as a less capable clarity slider. Version 3 and 4 are essentially identical, with Version 4 adding the new “range masks”. They are so similar, that Lightroom will allow you to use Range Masks when using Version 3, and will automatically update the image to Version 4 if you use the range masks.

  • hallo Greg,
    thanks for this interesting tuto.
    personnally I think i would use separate gradient or adjustment brushes for sky and foreground, would add some magenta… and play with new luminosity masks or color ranges
    more predictable, isn’t it ?


  • Try Camera Calibration, it works with the color in the image for very natural and smooth adjustments. It is not available via adjustment brushes, just a global change within Lightroom. You can certainly add colors like magenta, but that is adding color to the image, vs increasing what is in it. Creates a different result, and one that is really nice.

  • Ansel Spear

    I’m surprised that you downplay the importance of the profile drop-down menu (and have it set to Adobe standard). The available choices are determined by the camera manufacturer, and represent its idea of how the raw information should be processed given various shooting factors. The choices available vary from manufacturer to manufacturer – and even between camera models. They are also only available with raw files.

    As far as I’m concerned, they are a vital starting point in my calibration. I would never choose to default to Adobe standard.

    You can also set a custom calibration defaults per camera so that, whenever files are imported from a camera, these calibration settings are applied. Lightroom will do this on a per camera basis which means that you can set a different calibration for each camera – which will be applied on import.

  • Reuven Ansh

    Ansel, the “available choices” are actually NOT determined by the camera manufacturer, they are poor attempts by Adobe to emulate those settings. Often Abode standard is a better first attempt, definitely with Canon settings. For completely consistent color rendition between all cameras/lenses/manufacturers use X-Rite color calibration. That being said, the newest model cameras i.e. 5dm4 are rendering beautiful Jpegs that are very difficult to duplicate with Lightroom any more. Of course one could use Canon DPP software shooting in RAW and pick any profile you like after the photo was taken in RAW.

  • You can use any of the dropdowns as a starting point (or create your own custom profile). However, I don’t generally find the default options all that helpful.

    In either case, what I am demonstrating is something which is independent of that starting point: an ability to modify the color in a way that looks stunning. In other words you can do this with or without calibration, it’s a separate change. If you only use these controls for calibration, you are missing out on their enormous potential for creative control of color. Of course, if you shoot food or some other subject that demands precise calibration, you may not want that level of control.

  • Robert Scott

    Hi Greg, I am surprised that you don`t mention creating a custom camera profile

    using an X-rite colour checker passport in combination with a light-meter and data transfer software (Sekonic) that produces accurate but greatly enhanced colours that far exceed the bland rendition of the “Adobe Standard profile” and when saved as a profile is a “one click” correction for every shot.

  • I’ll make a tutorial on calibration at some point, but this is really a different topic. Im using the “calibration” tools in an unintended way that has huge potential. This allows you control to modify color, including increasing saturation in a natural-looking way (ie to make a nice sunset into a remarkable one).

  • Roland van Beurden

    Hi Greg, are you really serious about the process versions? Version 3 and 4 are inferior to version 2 in my opinion because these do an automatic highlight recovery without bringing back highlight details. That will get you blown-out highlights without showing the actual clipping. Version 2 does this correctly.
    Just my experience.

  • I’ve personally found the final results I get with v3/4 to be much better, and the interface is more intuitive for making adjustments. That’s consistent with what I’ve heard from other serious photographers. I don’t use v2 for anything.

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