How to capture the correct color in your photos from your digital camera ~ for online sellers!
Bee on flower in my garden
Shades of different colors aren't photographing properly
When I'm outside photographing natural weather elements, clouds, flowers, my gardens, or insects like the bee in the photo above on the yellow flower, I never have the need to compare my photos on my computer screen to the photo on my camera. The photos usually comes out beautiful unless the focus wasn't adjusted properly. It wasn't until I photographed a picture of a blue dress I was going to list for sale that I noticed, the blue was too blue and not even in the correct shade of blues.
My handmade work
The Color Purple
It's important to me that the colors in my photos nearly match the color of the product in hand. After unsuccessfully photographing an orange and baby blue greeting card I made for Mother's Day, I thought I needed to update my camera. I went to a local electronics store thinking I could just get an updated point and shoot style digital camera. After all, the Kodak Easy Share I used 5 or 6 years ago was inexpensive and never seemed to have a problem getting the color exact in my photos. I'm using a more expensive Canon now and thought maybe it's just a little outdated.
I brought the greeting card with me to show the salesman my issues. First I showed him how the colors look fine when you look through the camera to take the picture. But when you take the picture, the colors on the screen are more brighter and completely different hues. Dull blue looks royal. Pale lavender looks bright light plum. The baby blue in my Mother's Day greeting card looked aqua. Could he explain to me why this was so? Was it a matter of investing in a new, more up-to-date digital camera?
Investing in new camera equipment wasn't the answer
The salesman walked me around displays of hundreds of cameras. He showed me digital cameras priced from $50 to over $1,000. Each time, using my handmade card as a photo prop, we took pictures in different lighting and at different angles. He finally understood what I meant. His attitude changed when he realized that even the $799 updated version of the camera I have was showing the blue as a bright turquoise when it was just baby blue.
Quickly thinking, he said it was probably due to the lighting in the room. The building is an old warehouse type with strong bright showroom lighting. He suggested 1) maybe I should go to New York to the best photography store in the world (in his opinion); or 2) get an oversized umbrella to shade the lighting when I'm photographing pictures in direct light.
I have actually been to the camera store he is referring to. While it was fun, I am not going to be traveling to New York any time soon. The oversized umbrella idea was a good thought too but I didn't know if it would even work. I didn't want to start shelling out money for every different idea. I wanted something that would do the trick easily and affordably. I couldn't possibly be the only person who ever had this issue! Was it me? Was it my camera?
A quick search on the internet and it painted a picture of lots of people have the same troubles. I knew I was in for a mission to find the answer because if I couldn't photograph my products successfully, I wouldn't be able to sell them online.
Why color is important!
Imagine you own a restaurant and are printing a new menu from photographs you took of your weekend dinner specialties.
How many customers would order the "pink" chicken shown here in the second photo?
The problem is you might not be able to tell that your photos are not true to color just by looking in to the camera.
Blues look brighter and more "royal" without adjustments
This photograph was taken after adjusting the camera settings
The difference may be subtle
The color variations without adjustments may be subtle in some instances. Take for example these two pictures of a Gymboree bubble romper. The bubble romper is blue, green, red and touches of yellow.
In the first photo, you'll notice the blue is much brighter and more "royal".
Color variations of blue hues
Color gone wrong
Here are three examples of the same article of clothing. The third picture below represents a more accurate color tone. This was only achieved after the adjustments I made to my camera settings.
This article of clothing was photographed over 500 times to achieve the correct color. But by looking at the first two photos which were not right, you can understand why it was important to get the color correct. There's a big different in all three of these photos. The first photo shows a more "royal" blue. The second photo shows more of a green tint to the item.
The first 400 or so photos were taken before I learned how to properly adjust my photos using different camera settings and photo software which I explain in more detail below.
Notice the background color also changed. I didn't change the white background I had used in all 500 photos. But when I made the simple adjustments, the whole photo changed, including the color of the background.
Actual color after adjustments
Some suggestions I tried that didn't work
After shopping at the electronics store for a new camera and coming to the conclusion with the salesman that it wasn't me or my camera, I decided to invest in paint shop photo editing software. The salesman told me Adobe is not very user friendly. While I can't attest to that because I haven't used it, paint smart was about the same price but was supposed to be easier to use without a lengthy learning curve.
Paint shop is a nice program. It has some great features. I didn't find it that user friendly though and it took me about a week to familiarize myself with all of the features that come with it. It also had an automatic desktop widget that would show up whenever I clicked on my pictures folder. I could edit them quickly in crop mode. But for some reason, the short desktop version disappeared and I can't get it back. I tried looking in my computer folder and activating it in start up. Instead I was forced to go through the main program every time I wanted to edit a photo. This was a lengthy process. It is time-consuming for the program to open. When it does, there are so many options and ways to adjust your photos. I gave up. I didn't have time to sit at the computer for literally hours trying to crop a photo. Besides, that didn't solve my color correction problem any way.
I also got the bright idea to use blue light bulbs. Lighting isn't a problem. There is plenty of natural light where I use my camera. I have other rooms that are darker. I also have a tall lamp with three lights that I can bring to any room to lighten it up if needed. My photographing spaces are flexible. But since I was having trouble with mostly shades of blue, I went searching to find out if there was a "blue" bulb I could use in my lamp that would solve the color problem.
I've seen the bulbs in different colors. They come in red, blue, and black at Halloween at the local hardware store. They aren't very expensive. At the price of $3, I bought two. However, whatever I was photographing just seemed to pick up the bright blue coming from the lamp. Even things that weren't blue looked blue under those bulbs.
I tried to change the background colors. I drape light fabric over a table for most of my photos. The local department store had solid color flat sheets for $4. I took some bull clips and hung a gray sheet over a curtain rod in front of a well-lit window. That also didn't work. The background made no difference in what I was photographing except to make a nicer background.
I set my camera to flash and no flash. I played with the white balance for days. I read multiple online guides and well-written blogs.
I almost threw my camera out of the window!
My camera wasn't going to win. There had to be something I was missing!
Now my colors are accurate
Change your exposure setting
After reading and trying to adapt to all of the suggestions out there, I came across a blog that suggested if all else fails, change your flash exposure. Of course this was written for a specific camera, so my camera settings were different. But the idea was the same.
I didn't know what that meant. I dug out the Canon user manual and started reading. I figured out how to set the exposure. Then I started photographing different colors in different exposure settings. Some of them weren't perfect. But it was a start. The "royal" blues were a little less blue and were near exact just by that one setting.
On My Canon, I set my Flash Exposure Compensation to -1.
Photo Editing Software
I wanted photo editing software that was easy and quick. The paint shop program is great for more advanced editing. I did some research and found Picasa for free online. I downloaded a copy.
When the photos are opened, you have an option to edit in Picasa which will take you to a series of editing screens such as crop, straighten, plus color enhancing.
When my photos are too dull and aren't bright enough, I click on saturation. Click apply and then save.
When the photos are too bright, or when my blues come out "royal", I click on warmify.
There are many variations to color. Picasa has allowed me to find the correct color tone.
Set your camera to P
Normally, when I ever used the "P" setting on my camera (on the mode dial), my photos would come out with a very strange hue.
However, once I changed the flash exposure to -1, the P setting seems to work the best.
In fact, the user guide suggests using the full auto setting and everything will be adjusted automatically. While this may work for photographing insects on my flowers in the garden, as I have proven above, it doesn't work for selling my items!
The reason the "P" mode works best now is because I custom set the exposure compensation. When you revert back to the full auto which is represented by a square icon on the mode dial, everything reverts back to automatic settings internal in the camera which is how you bought it.
(To adjust the white balance in my camera, the mode dial has to be turned on "P" as well or it will be automatic set to the camera's factory settings.)
While denim also has different shades of blue, the dress that I was trying to photograph was coming out like "royal" blue or brighter blue than the actual color it is. The jeans in the photo below show the actual blue of the denim that the dress was supposed to be. That's quite a difference.
With just a few simple adjustments, I was able to capture the true color of the denim I was photographing.
This is exceptionally important for handmade work. There are so many color variations to each color. I know I work hard on my handmade items and I don't want the camera telling me what color it thinks the item is. I want the pictures to represent my items accurately.
Calibrating your computer monitor and disclaimers
I have never bothered to calibrate my computer screens. While looking at a few different monitors, the colors in my photos are the same. Although I have heard that some models depict color differently. There are ways to calibrate your computer monitor through your computer settings. Some photo software does this for you as well.
It's also been suggested to add disclaimers to your photos as well letting customers know that the color they see on their screen may not be exact. I can see how this would be particularly important for sellers in the wedding business. Brides want everything to match and it's possible they hold their wedding color to the screen to match it to your item before making a purchase.
It's a good idea to test some of your items by holding up an item to the listing on your screen.
Here is a quick summary of how to adjust your photos to accurately represent the colors within them:
- Download a copy of Picasa for free online which includes cropping, straightening, and color saturation correction. Of course, you can also buy photo software with more advanced settings.
- Review your pictures online. Are the colors different than the item? It might be time to reset your camera settings. Try adjusting the flash exposure compensation. Play around with each variant until you find the one that works just right for you. I set mine to -1 which seems to work the best on my Canon.
- Use your camera in P mode if you change your exposure settings.
- Use Warmify in Picasa if your colors are too bright
- Use Saturation in Picasa if your colors aren't bright enough
- Crop your photos to remove background "noise" and let your photo appear closer showing more detail