Once lighting has been arranged, whether for photo or video shoot, the second step is to make sure that reference colors are correct and well-balanced. In order to do this, you should ideally use a color checker, a card printed with well-calibrated colors and a gray scale from white to black. And however strong the temptation may be, avoid printing one off at home, since the colors will never be completely faithful. Instead, buy a good color checker for just a few dollars.

pro photo lights
1. An X-Rite color checker called ‘Passport’
2. A GretagMacbeth sheet color checker

Several companies offer this product, the most important difference being in the material with which it is made. Cardboard versions are cheaper but tend to be damage more easily, and, in time, will fade. Rigid case versions are more expensive but last much longer.

Using the color checker is simple:

  • Set the lighting and color balance with a spectrometer.
  • Calculate the exposure using an external light meter.
  • Check that the chromatic composition reflects the impression you want to give to the scene, and correct the lighting if necessary.
  • Now shoot the scene framing the color checker next to the subject, using a tripod in the case of a landscape. Having imported data into editing software, the shot will then be extremely useful for post-production.

Important note: If lighting changes during the shoot, even only slightly, you will need to record a new image with the color checker up against the subject.

color lights shoot
1. Model and color checker

The tool thus creates a color profile that can be applied to a set of images. In addition to allowing you to check color compositions during shooting, it facilitates post-production color correcting, speeding up the color matching of different scenes or shots in order to preserve visual continuity.

It is wise to remember that two cameras, even if identical (even of the same model and brand), will never produce perfectly identical photographs. If the cameras are different, then all the more reason to use a color checker.

In short, a color checker is useful for:

  • Correcting whites
  • Balancing blacks and whites
  • Checking that colors are perfectly matching
  • Creating a color profile for post-production
  • Saving a colorist’s time (and the producer money!)
  • Matching frames or videos from different cameras
  • Preserving visual continuity

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