Playing with Color – Camera Profiles – Part 3 of 3

So now that everyone knows how to make a calibrated camera profile, it’s time to take it another step.  You can see the added benefit of accuracy that camera profiles bring to Lightroom, but photography is supposed to be a creative art, so let’s manipulate the system.

Camera profiles were originally created to mimic the standard picture styles built in to Canon and Nikon cameras.  To that extent nothing precludes you from creating a custom profile that reflects your personal style.  Starting with a standard calibration recipe, you can manipulate the colors and curve to bend your RAW data to your will, before you even have to start making adjustments in the Develop Module.

First, let’s look at an easy way to accomplish this, by leveraging presets to do the heavy work for you.  If you already have your own personal look saved as a preset, you are one step ahead; otherwise you will need to save a preset from the image that you want to attempt to duplicate the look.  Go ahead and fire up Lightroom and apply your preset of choice to you color checker image:


Now you want to save a new preset from it, including only the basic and color adjustments:


We remove all sharpening, split-toning and local adjustments from this preset, as the DNG Profile Editor really only works with colors. You will have to redo these adjustments when you edit a processed file, but your correct color balance will be automatically applied.  Go ahead and click Create.

Once you have saved your new preset, you will want to open one of your color checker images.  Now apply your preset to said image:


Now is the hard part … adjusting the image to make sure there is no color cast affecting the white and gray patches on the card.  Also be sure that no patches are over exposed.  If there is a color cast or overexposure in the image after you process, DNG Profile editor will reject the film.  Now you will want to export to a Tiff file.  Bring up the contextual menu (Control + click or right click) choose Export >>> Export … :


Export your Tiff with the following settings: Color Space: ProPhotoRGB,  Compression: None,  Bit Depth: 16 bits/component:


This will export a Tiff file with as much information as possible while baking the preset’s settings into the image.

Once the Tiff is exported, you will want to import the image back into your Lightroom catalog. Click File >>> Import Photos From Disk … :


Once the dialog opens, browse to the location where you exported the Tiff file:


Click Choose.  The Import dialog will open:


Import with a 1:1 preview so you can inspect the image – make sure no develop settings are applied.

Once it is back in the system, double check the color and exposure, if it doesn’t look right, trash the file and reprocess.  If everything looks good, and you are ready to see if the DNG Profile Editor will accept your efforts, go ahead and export the image as a DNG.  Bring up the contextual menu again and select Export >>> Export to DNG:


Save the DNG file in whichever folder you want:


We took the Tiff to DNG route to bake in your custom colors as a Tiff and then wrap it back up in a DNG so the Profile Editor can use the file.

Go ahead and open Adobe DNG Profile Editor and keep Lightroom running, because you may end up needing it.  Go ahead and open the DNG file you have just created, click File >>> Open DNG Image:


Browse to the location of the DNG file you just made:


It now opens in the DNG Profile Editor.


The image may look a bit funny to you, but that is because none of the adjustments that Lightroom performs will be visible.  We will worry about that in a moment.

For now click on the Color Chart tab and try to profile the image (if you don’t know how to do this, stop and read part two of this series to walk you through the process):


Click Create Color Table. If it plots the color points on the first try, consider yourself lucky.  A successful Color Table scan will look like this:


Otherwise, you will get an error message informing you what the Profile Editor found wrong with your image:


Pay attention to the dialog, as you will need to hop back over to Lightroom, go back to your original color checker image, and start the process anew (I didn’t say this would be easy, but it IS worth it.)

Once you get a successful chart analysis, move over to the Curve tab and adjust the curve until the preview looks suitable:


If you need to adjust Saturation or Hue go ahead and do so in the Color Matrices Tab.  Do these tweaks now and save your recipe.  Click File >>> Save Recipe:


Now you will need to open another DNG file from the camera you wish to export the profile to.  Click File >>> Open DNG Image Choose the DNG image you wish to use to create the profile with:


Now click File >>> Open Recipe. Then select your recipe that you had just saved.  Open it and it will apply the recipe to the current image:


You can see an estimate of the effect in the preview window:


Now Click File >>> Export to export the new profile to Lightroom:


Give the profile a name as you would want it to be seen in Lightroom.  The profile has been exported.

Now you need to proof your new profile to make sure it is getting the desired response.  You will need to restart Lightroom to get the new profile loaded into memory.

Once it is back open, choose a regular image and apply your new profile:


If it looks good, you are set.  However if you find issues with the rendering, make note of what the issue is.  Is the curve to aggressive? Are the Orange/Browns muddying up skin tones?  Blues looking too purple?  Take a moment to consider what need more tweaking.

If it just looks completely wrong, you may want to start over from scratch, but I will recommend that you attempt to remedy the situation in the DNG profile editor right now.  Weaken your curve in the Tone Curve tab, drop the saturation in the Orange and Brown colors in the Color Tables tab, and adjust the Blues in either the Color Table or the Color Matrices tab.

Once you are ready to try again, save your recipe and export again.  Restart Lightroom and test again.

This process does require a bit of trial and error, and can be frustrating.  However, once you have a working recipe you can export it to any camera you use by opening a DNG from that camera and importing the recipe and exporting a profile as shown in Part Two.

Don’t limit yourself to presets either.  Open the color checker file into Photoshop and apply actions or plug-ins, then round trip back to Lightroom and export the resulting file as a DNG, repeat other directions as usual.

You can also share recipes with others who can download the recipe file and export it to profiles for their own cameras.  All you need to do is send them the .dcpr file create by the DNG Profile Editor, within it contains the magic.

Using someone else’s recipe is simple.

First download a recipe file, try using my recipes I designed while researching this article, you can find the link at the end of the article.  Once it is downloaded, place it in a folder you can find easily.  Now fire up the DNG Profile Editor and open any DNG file made with your camera.

Next click File >>> Open Recipe and browse to the folder that has the recipes you wish to cook into a profile.  Highlight the one you wish to use and click Open.  The recipe will now load and your preview image will change to reflect the new recipe.  Now all you have to do is click File >>> Export Profile, name the new profile what you wish it to be listed as in Lightroom.  Click Save and once the dialog box pops up restart Lightroom.

The new profile will be listed when editing images from the camera you exported to.

This is not the only way to create custom profiles; it’s just the one I find the most efficient.  Another option is to manually adjust each color point by hand, frequently exporting and checking in Lightroom.  I don’t recommend that method as it is even more time consuming.  As it is, getting the modified color charts working in the Profile Editor is time consuming.  However once you get the image profiled, it is smooth sailing.  Plus, as you do a few profiles, you will get a feel for when an image will work for the Editor.

As I mentioned earlier, don’t be afraid to take your images into Photoshop too.  That will open up even more possibilities as you experiment further with this process.


Brandon Oelling

Hi there! I'm Brandon Oelling, the founder of XEQUALS. My team and I believe deep in our hearts that inside every one of us is an amazing photographer.

  1. I am sure this was written to perfection, but I got so lost, going to have to try again with a clear head.

  2. Very informative post, I didn’t know about the DNG profile editor. All the above will work with Camera Raw 4.5 and above too for non lightroom users I assume.


  3. Yes, these profiles will work with the Adobe Camera RAW module for Photoshop as well as Lightroom. Function is esentially the same.

  4. This process, if I understand it correctly, will give you a profile which is sort of the opposite to the response you’re trying to emulate. When you open the image of the colorchecker in the profile editor it provides you with settings that counterproduce any “wrong” (as in not in accordance with the actual colorchecker data) colors. To get a profile which does what you want shouldn’t you invert the settings the profile editor suggests?

  5. I believe that the way the DNG Editor works, which I may be wrong, is that it interprets the color response from the color checker. It does not auto correct for the “correct” output. If the profile editor did create the profiles to the “true” values on the color checker, all profiles exported would render the same colors. Even when you profile a camera, it is not correcting the colors, just mapping the camera’s response so it can be applied to RAW data at processing (or duplicated to another camera to facilitate a consistent look between different bodies.) The color checker image just tells the ACR engine what particular RGB values should look like, therefore it will render fairly true to the original sample image.

    At least that is how it has worked for me in practice thus far, as I said I could be wrong, but that is the way I have seen the DNG Profile Editor to work, both from reading on the subject and in practice.

  6. I have used this method to absolutely neutralize and practically perfect my white balance and color response(s) for all my cameras – both Canon and Nikon.

    If I invert the settings in the profile editor I have found that I actually re-introduce all the problems that I have attempted to correct.

    Maybe I’m not interpreting you comment correctly Johan so feel free to elaborate.

  7. In my view: The colorchecker is used as a sort of absolute reference. The profile editor uses one of the grey squares to whitebalance. It then has the camerasensors raw colorrendition for that illuminant, eg daylight or tungsten. This is compared to the known colors of the colorchecker. The “automatic adjustments using a colorChecker” then provides you (instantly, not like the old photoshop scripts which took like 40 minutes to calculate) with a set of modifications to make the response optimally in line with the known colorchecker data. The modifications as such will also depend on what baseprofile is used.
    In my thinking, if you bring in a modified colorchecker (like something changed in lightroom or photoshop and saved as a DNG) the automatic feature will try to neutralize those changes and make it look like a standard colorchecker.
    The profile editor is perfect for getting a “correct” colorresponse, and also creative “by the eye” changes, but I don’t see how one can extract the “bias” from a changed image of a colorchecker. IMHO.

Comments are closed.