I shot without a color card for years. I thought, “I’ll color correct in post so I don’t have to spend time on set fussing.”
I was wrong.
The day I started using a color card, my production life changed. Good bye time consuming color corrections. Good bye not so flattering color tones. Hello quick, methodical camera routine. Hello easy, eye catching images in post.
Any shooter can start with the color card of their choosing, I use the Datacolor SyderCHECKR 24. Your results may vary depending on which card you choose, but the process remains mostly the same. I’ll outline how I use the card and show the results of using Davinci Resolve to calibrate the footage.
Step #1: Light your subject
Whether your using natural or additional lighting, get your exposure and composition where you want it. In other words, make sure that the lighting environment of your shot will not change once you’ve introduced the color card.
Step #2: White balance
Do this by eye if you like, but color cards have a neutral grey patch or the SpyderCHECKR 24 has an exposure card on the rear with a middle grey tile. Lock and load your camera’s custom white balance with this feature.
Step #3: Record your color card in the camera’s frame
Place the color card in the frame. If you’re shooting an interview, hold it roughly in front of your subject’s face (to calibrate to the light source being directed there). If you’re shooting products, place the card where the object is or will be.
Hit record. If you’ve got a grey side to the card, flip it and record that too. Then carry on with your shooting.
Step #4: Repeat as necessary.
Each time you change a lighting set up or environment, you’re best bet is to repeat the process of recording the color card.
Step #5: Use software to calibrate in post
If you use Davinci Resolve, you’re on easy street with the built in color matrix calibration tool. Ingest your footage and look for the matrix tool in the color grading tab. Pull up a video frame of the color card and use the matrix tool to line up the grid with the card in the frame. Be sure to select the type of card you are using from the drop down menu, as well as the white balance and type of gamma profile you shot with (or are converting to).
Once you’ve lined up the tiles, click Match and the program calibrates the image’s color and gamma with impressive precision.
Now all you do is copy the color adjustment to other clips with the same lighting set up. Repeat this step for each series of shots where you used the color card.
Before color card adjustment applied
After color card adjustments and exposure correction
There are other ways to use a color card to calibrate an image in post, but none that I know of are as precise or quick as Davinci Resolve’s method I described above. Why not keep it simple? If you’re like me, a visual artist and a creative storyteller, you want the technology to empower you, not distract you from the moment you have to capture.
My hope is that this article was informative and gets you eager to put this technique to work on your next shoot.