Colour correcting using a reference image

Many people do not realise that an image will require colour correction before printing. Digital cameras have improved greatly, but they are still a long way from providing good consistent skin colour across a variety of scenes. And whilst the light may have become cooler as the day wears on, you don't have to put up with prints where the skin looks graven. If you are not colour blind, and you have a good calibrated monitor and software, you can adjust your images to look however you want. Making skin tone look natural and healthy across a quantity of images is tricky, but can be learned if you want to spend the time practising it. At AtkinsTechnicolour we employ 4 colour correctors, all of whom have been in this work for more than ten years, and even they use this trick to keep on track.

We use a reference image, we call it Shirley. Shirley had been used for almost 30 years to guide our colour specialists to ideal skin tone. Shirley is not representative of the world's skin tone, but the look and feel is good; how dark are the shadows with details, how white the whites, how bright the mid-tones need to be, etc.

Whenever we colour correct, we open up the shirley file and have her sitting to the side of what we are correcting, the colour corrector's eyes dart between Shirley and the target image estimating what needs to be adjusted to match.

In Adobe Photoshop, it is easy to accidentally adjust Shirley, so we always lock the file or make it "read only".

In Adobe Lightroom there is a new feature that allows you to lock an image to a second window that floats over what you are working on (right-click on the image and choose 'lock to second window'). This is where we put Shirley when we work in Lightroom.

Below is a youtube video we have made to explain using a reference image, it may explain things better.

Please use Shirley. or your own reference image, just make sure it prints well through your print system. I can guarantee, it really helps, when you get used to using it, your work will sing.

And if this is all too much for you (and we want to scare you into doing it properly), colour correction is our specialty, we would love to do it for you.