Saturday, October 23, 2021
How-tos

What Is Calibration in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom?


Calibration panel in Lightroom

The Calibration Panel in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom Classic is one of the most underused and misunderstood tools in either app. So, if you’ve ever wondered what this mysterious panel does, let me explain.

Tip: This article assumes you are shooting RAW images. The Calibration tool is a lot less effective on JPEGs as there is less data to work with.

Digital Translation

Digital cameras don’t see the world the same way as your eyes. When light hits the camera sensor, it generates an electrical current that is converted into a digital signal. The relative strengths of the current generated by the red, green, and blue light-detecting sub-pixels are what’s used to calculate what color and how bright any given pixel in your image should be. If only the red sub-pixel generates a charge, the pixel will be rendered as red; if the red and blue sub-pixels generate a charge, it’ll be some kind of purple; and if the red, blue, and green sub-pixels generate a charge, it’ll be a white or gray. And this is done for every single one of the millions of pixels in your image with the exact ratio of electrical charges determining which of the millions of possible colors it is.

However, there’s no universal standard for what electrical charges equal what colors. Different camera manufacturers convert the digital signal into the colors in your image in slightly different ways. This is a big part of why Canon and Nikon cameras (and Apple and Samsung smartphone cameras) all have a unique look, and it’s largely the reason that two people standing side-by-side but using different cameras will get slightly different looking RAW photos.

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Of course, no manufacturer is rendering blue as orange or something, but there are differences in how a blue sky will look when shot with different cameras.

Where to Find the Calibration Panel

Calibration panel highlighted in adobe camera raw

In Adobe Camera RAW, the Calibration panel is the last panel in the right sidebar.

calibration panel highlighted in lightroom

In Adobe Lightroom Classic, the Calibration panel is the last panel in the right sidebar in the Develop module.

Using the Calibration Tool

calibration panel in lightroom and adobe camera raw side by side
The Calibration panel in Lightroom Classic (left) and ACR (right).

The Calibration panel enables you to change the underlying color assumptions in the whole image. Let’s break it down.

The Process dropdown lets you select what version of Adobe Camera RAW is used to convert the data in your RAW images. Version 5 is the current one, though your older images may use a different version. There’s very little reason not to use Version 5 so if you see Version 1 or Version 4 or the like here, change it to Version 5. Otherwise, you can safely ignore it.

shadow tint slider demo

The Shadows Tint slider enables you to remove any color cast in the dark areas of your image without affecting the rest of the colors. If the shadows look a bit too green, drag it to the right to add more magenta. If things look too red or magenta, drag it to the left to add more green.

primary hue slider demo

The Red Primary, Green Primary, and Blue Primary options are the main tools in the Calibration panel. Each has a Hue slider and a Saturation slider.

The Hue slider shifts how every underlying color value in the image is rendered. This means adjusting the Blue Primary Hue slider doesn’t just affect the blues in your image, but every color that includes a bit of blue (which is most of them). It’s the same with the Red Primary Hue and Green Primary Hue sliders.

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primary saturation slider demo

Similarly, the Saturation slider affects the intensity of every underlying color value in the image. Increase the Blue Primary Saturation and the intensity of the blues in every pixel in the image is increased. Same for Red Primary Saturation and Green Primary Saturation.

What Can You Do With the Calibration Tool?

styling an image with calibration panel

The two main uses for the Calibration tools are color correcting and color styling. It’s so powerful because of how it affects every pixel in your image at once. This enables you to make big global adjustments that you can’t with other tools.

For color correcting, you use the Hue and Saturation sliders in the Red Primary, Blue Primary, and Green Primary tools (and maybe the Shadows Tint slider) to tweak colors so they look better or more natural. If there’s a lot of blue-ish artificial light in your image, for example, you can decrease the Blue Primary Saturation or push the Blue Primary Hue slider to the left towards turquoise.

For color styling, you can basically do whatever you want. Play around with all the sliders and see how they affect your images. Increasing the Blue Primary Saturation, for example, can make everything pop in a really cool way.

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