Color accuracy in photos?
August 7, 2012 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Why can’t I get accurate color in my flower photos, especially blues and purples? Are there adjustments I can make to my Nikon Coolpix L18 to improve color accuracy? I’ve tried a lot of combinations already but haven’t hit on the solution. If you don’t have a fix for the Coolpix, can you recommend a particular camera that’s above average for color accuracy?
posted by sevenstars to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How are you judging the color? On the camera screen, a computer monitor, in hard copy printouts? (I'm not saying it's *not* the camera, just that the camera is only one of several variables - we have four color copiers at work, and they all print out differently, and the copies they produce look different again from materials printed at a place like Kinko's.)
posted by rtha at 6:27 AM on August 7, 2012

This is a known issue with digital photography and how purple and violet are perceived by the human eye versus the camera. You can color tweak your photos to make them look more accurate. Here are a few camera forums where people are discussing the issue: 1, 2. I'll see if I can dig up an explanation for what is really going on. I have this issue also with some purple flowers.
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are you familiar with white balance, and do you know how to set it on your camera? White balance settings usually include Sun, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Automatic, among others. Your camera is probably set on Automatic, but this often doesn't produce the best color, as you're seeing. You can make changes to your photos after the fact, but unless you shoot in RAW (which I do not think is an option with your camera), it's better to set it in the camera in order to get the best results. (Here is the online manual for your camera- white balance instructions are on page 65).

Unfortunately, this means you will have to change the white balance every time you move into a different color of light (such as from indoors under fluorescent lights to outdoors in the shade to outdoors in the sun). This can be a hassle. Perhaps you will want to set it on Automatic most of the time, in order to be able to take candid photos quickly, and then change it when you are shooting your flower photos or other photos where you have time to play with the settings.

You should shoot your flower photos when the flowers are in the shade, because the harsh contrasts of full light will not usually turn out well. When you have full shade on your flowers, play with the white balance settings as you take your photos. Switch between Shade and Cloudy, both of which will warm up the colors of your photos and produce more natural blues and purples. The Sun setting is a more even white balance. Using a Shade or Cloudy white balance setting in the sun will really add lots of warm colors and tones to a picture. Using the Sun setting in the shade will cool the photo off too much. For the most natural look, whites should look white and blacks should look black.
Again, there are ways to make color changes to photos using basic editing software, so your photos are not lost.
For serious photographers, it is important to color-calibrate the monitor on your laptop to produce natural colors. But you don't need to go there yet. Start to understand the white balance setting, and you'll get the results you're looking for.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:59 AM on August 7, 2012

From the manual, it looks like your camera has Daylight (the equivalent of Sun) and Cloudy with no Shade setting. Cloudy will be a warmer tone than Daylight, and Fluorescent may be much cooler. Your Incandescent setting (for use with normal light bulbs, rather than fluorescent light bulbs) will probably be cooler than Daylight, but not as cool as Fluorescent.

Cloudy is the setting you'll want when shooting your flowers outdoors in the shade.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:49 AM on August 7, 2012

Unless you have a color-calibrated monitor, you are never going to be viewing your pictures accurately. That said, what jessamyn says is completely, frustratingly true about digital photography, especially with the point-and-shoot models. Horrible color accuracy, and, generally, high saturation.

You can do all the adjusting you want in the camera settings, though, but if your monitor isn't accurate, you just won't see the image correctly.

And never judge by a home print out. Consumer printers are worse than a weak-link in the chain. They are aggressively bad.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:38 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, all.

I'm only concerned here with what I see in the camera's monitor when I compare the shot I've just taken with the subject flower still in front of me, in the same light. (I never print the photos, and I know that different computer monitors give different results, so while the colors may be way off on the monitor, they still look good and even convincing--just not convincing to me.)

jessamyn, thanks for the links. One of them makes me think it is the camera, not me. The other link suggests photoshopping, but I live in hopes of never having to learn Photoshop.

Thanks, aabbbiee, I have the manual. I've tried Fluorescent, Daylight, and Cloudy in different lights and throughout the day. The setting affects the whole photo, not just the purples and blues. I got wonderful blues with the Fluorescent setting, but the whole scene was artificial.

I may have to spend my way out of this.
posted by sevenstars at 9:10 AM on August 7, 2012

Skip all of the other color balance settings and use "preset manual" for the best match. A blank/unlined index card makes a good color reference. (You will need to change the color balance as you move in and out of different lighting conditions.)
posted by anaelith at 9:13 AM on August 7, 2012

Purples and violets are difficult, and digital always has a very hard time with them. The camera does not see what you see in the monitor. It is trying to reproduce a violet, a spectral shade (one wavelength) with red, blue, and green. Purple, which we perceive as one color, is a mix of red and blue wavelengths, and sometimes cameras do a little better with that shade. It's something that has to be managed in post, nearly all the time. Here's more about the issue.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:51 AM on August 7, 2012

... also many blue/violet (there are very few true blues in nature) reflect infrared which we can't see, but the camera does. It correspondingly assigns more red to the flower.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:56 AM on August 7, 2012

The camera's monitor? I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that they don't optimize those for color reproduction. They may even do something funky to increase contrast, or otherwise optimize contrast for the smaller screen (more contrast between medium greys if the picture is a big field of medium grays, more contrast between light gray and white if it's fine lines of light gray over white, etc.). Who knows what's being captured onto the memory card of the camera?

You might want to a) get a good monitor, maybe even an old CRT (not expensive); b) perform color calibration on the monitor; then c) try viewing your photos on that monitor. You might also d) mess with the color balance, saturation, lightness, etc. of individual photos in a program like Photoshop to see if there's a known trend.

One thing you need to know: there are some colors in nature that can not be produced by a video screen. Some of these will probably be your favorite hues and shades -- you may in fact like them precisely because you see them so rarely (if spend a lot of time looking at a screen).
posted by amtho at 2:46 PM on August 7, 2012

Getting completely accurate colors with digital imaging (camera sensor to monitor proofing to print) requires calibration and color profiles. And if you want to go further, something like the ColorChecker Passport by Xrite.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:43 PM on August 7, 2012

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