Photography tutorial: Professional photo and video techniques for perfect colours

Discover the 3-step professional approach to creating stunning photos and video.

Every photographer or videographer has the same problem when creating a set of shots that are both beautiful and have a consistent feel. You’ve shot the same subjects over the period of a day – using multiple cameras and in varying lighting conditions – and now you’re back in your studio and in front of you is the arduous job of bringing them together: matching lighting, colour and tone for a coherent presentation of the shoot, event or day. Well, if you’d had Datacolor’s Spyder HD, you’d have saved yourself a lot of time and heartache.

This circumstance is never more obvious than when shooting weddings, where the bride and groom can lead you through the joys of shooting in a poorly lit church with a range of diffuse lighting from stained-glass windows, candles and in the worse cases... bar heaters!

The group scenes invariably involve decamping to the outside – and whatever natural light is available. Then finally you shoot the inside shots for the reception – delivering you into yet another lighting set up with the possible coup de grâce of a poorly lit evening disco.

If you are using multiple cameras and also shooting video as well as photos across the same range of conditions, then you really are giving yourself a potential nightmare. It’s very challenging to ensure everyone looks equally tanned in all shots and it doesn’t look as if the bride has had four changes of gown – as she appears to be in ivory in one set of shots and beige in another.

With so many variables, it’d be nice to have an easy way to set some control over what you’re doing – allowing you to match different cameras, deliver a neutral white point for shots (where needed) and control your contrast across your entire shoot.

Fortunately new to the market is Datacolor’s SpyderHD. This clever bundle of invaluable tools puts you in the driving position from the first shot of the day your complete set of stills and video.

Capture shots with consistent light balance

The first tool you’ll use from the SpyderHD’s shiny metal carry case is the perfect portable device for setting white and grey points for stills and videos. The SpyderCUBE is a highly pocketable version of a grey card – but avoids you having to worry about it becoming creased, stained and worthless when compared to conventional foldable cloth or paper cards.

The SpyderCube allows you to balance contrast for your shot like no other solution on the market. As the name suggests, it’s cubic in shape and only about an inch in length per side. However, despite its compact nature the SpyderCUBE gives you larger blocks of grey to use as targets than most conventional cards, with two of the cube’s faces split between a 96% White and an 18% grey triangle. 

Provided you can see both of these two-toned sides when the cube is either hung or tripod-mounted, you have a perfect target to set grey balance irrespective of the direction of any lighting – even if it’s changing.

Once you’ve shot with the SpyderCUBE, simply choose the lighter one of these split sides to use in setting the grey balance. Then use the black face and white quarters to set your highlights to the 96% white and shadows to a 4% black. Any out-of-gamut scintillation – 100% white and over – or 100% shadows should only appear on the ball atop the Cube, or in the hole at the centre of the black face respectively.

The pocketability of the SpyderCUBE means it should always be available to shoot and doesn’t require a major feat of positioning first to get the angle correct as conventional cards would do. Simply pull it out of its bag, hang it in the scene (or use a mini-tripod), shoot and away you go.

Top: the raw show in Photoshop. Bottom: the perfected shot after two clicks adjusting shadows and highlights.

Consistent colour from your camera

Sometimes you need to do more than simply set white balance and control contrast for your shots – instead accurately matching all of the colours across your shoot’s spectrum to allow you to get that dress, skin tones and any other important hues just right. Here the SpyderCUBE’s big brother, the SpyderCHECKR, comes in to its own.

This multi-coloured target comes in a highly robust plastic case about the same shape and size as a tablet. Intentionally not as pocketable as the SpyderCUBE, its fold-out design is ideal for shooting from a distance and in particular for group scenes.

 Tripod-mountable or simply held or leant into your location at some point in the shoot, the SpyderCHECKR comes with plugins for the most popular photography software – including Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop and Hasselblad Phocus. It enables you to set up a calibration preset with the touch of a button to instantly correct the colour in all of your shots.

As the software knows what each colour swatch should be, it can instantly calculate a calibration across the spectrum to remove casts and bring all colours into alignment in virtually any lighting condition. Don’t worry though – you don’t need to ask your brides, grooms or models to hold the SpyderCHECKR. As long as you shoot the target at some point under the same lighting conditions that any group of shots is taken in, you can apply the calibration to the whole group of shots.

Controlling the Retouch

If you’ve gone to the trouble of removing colour casts and making all of your images to appear to be in the same lighting conditions, it would be defeating the object if you now started retouching on a non-colour managed screen.

Fittingly the SpyderHD comes with the latest top-of-the-line SpyderELITE HD screen calibrator (below). This ultra-accurate device plugs into one of your Mac or PC’s USB sockets and allows you to calibrate connected screens with easy-to-use software. Once run, you can retouch your image safe in the knowledge that ‘What you see is what you get’ – at least as colour is concerned.

Working with soft proofing profiles from your print houses or output devices then puts you in control to see how your images will output on virtually any combination of paper, ink and printer.

How to make your work look its best to your clients

Frequently the most critical environment for how your shots appear is the final viewing with your clients. If what appears on screen doesn’t tally with their expectations, you’ve a lot of back-tracking and persuasion ahead of you.

Having already used the SpyderELITE HD within the SpyderHD kit to calibrate your retouching screens, you can rest assured that colours here will look spot on at your computer. But what if you’re showcasing them on a TV or other large-scale display? Well, the SpyderHD’s SpyderWEB holster and calibration DVDs or Blu-ray discs lets you calibrate the largest TVs and video playback displays to make sure your stills and video colours match superbly as well.

Show off your photos on the move

The last component of the SpyderHD set of tools is the SpyderGALLERY app, which can be downloaded from either the iTunes App Store or Google Play. The lets you swifly and easily calibrate your iOS and Android tablets and phones to give you a mobile gallery viewer that matches the quality of your work.

Datacolor SpyderHD is available from most major camera retailers and online at the Datacolor Webstore.


Elsewhere on IDG sites

Read Next...