I'm an amateur photographer and I have a Nikon D5200 and a ColorChecker Passport. I'm trying to understand what are the procedures that I should take to capture the real true colors that I am seeing.

I was taking photos in a room where the light had a golden/orange tone. I set my camera to custom white balance and I used the ColorChecker's gray card as a reference. What happened was that the photos were taken as if the light on that ambient was pure white, but it wasn't!

What am I doing wrong? I'm confused because, as you may know, the ColorChecker is also a color reference card. I'm pretty sure that I have what I need to capture the real colors that I can see through my eyes — so what am I doing wrong?


3 Answers 3


The color correction is acting as expected. The point of using a color target is to adjust for the color of light to assume that the light is white. If you want to have the color that is present when shooting, you should instead use a fixed white point that you consider to be standard white, but naturally people's eyes will adjust quite a bit for the color of light to make it appear to them as if it was plain white.

There is no such thing as "true color as your eye sees it" because your eye is different from others eye. You can manually adjust the color to match what you saw, but there is no automatic way to make it match exactly since it is a perceptual thing rather than the actual color of objects at that point.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Think of it this way, when you pulled out the card, what did it look like to you? I'll bet it had an orange cast to it... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 22:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly. And if you have the Passport reference photo around still, try using the far-right "portrait" patch (right beside the head icon with the big sun symbol) to set white balance for the processed images; that's about the equivalent of an 81D warming filter. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 0:59

It is impossible to make a camera see like human eyes see. A camera sensor is made to see as closely as possible but any closet and there are serious noise issues to deal with.

So all we can do with cameras today is calibrate them to match 24 colors or so under one illuminant, and hope that doesn't change much throughout the day. We all know that happens, so our calibrations are only good for that time and a short time after. We have auto white balance to keep things relatively close to human vision, but as color temps change so does color rendering, and any previous camera calibration is out the window.

The other issue is most calibration systems use reflective patches. Problem there is your scene may have very different spectral reflectances than what's in the profile target. That's where raw file editors help to bring your captured calibrated scenes even closer to reality.

Since the way we print or display images using systems with far less dynamic range ( difference between lightest and darkest tones) than the real world, we just simply can't calibrate a sensor for what it can't see. We can see over twice as many stops of contrast than any camera sensor.

Other than that, it's surprising we get as close as we do! :)


The colour checker actually is getting rid of the warm colour, and recalibrating the colours to neutralize the reddish tone. So that alone is not the approach.

Colour is not about absolute value; it is all about perception.

Here is an exercise I prepared to show how our eyes actually change perception of the colours all the time.

Before clicking the link cover one eye with one hand, let's say your left eye with your left hand.


A path you can take:

In your case you can do some things. Probably the steps 1-5 are the ones you already made.

1) Shoot in Raw

2) Put the white balance in "sunlight"

3) Shoot the Color Checker Passport with this light and leave it as a reference. Keep your settings in "sunlight."

4) Take your photos. The colours you capture will look extremly warm, deep orange instead of just "warm golden". Your eyes don't see it as orange as the camera does, because your eyes try to compensate it somehow.

5) In Photowhatever use the Colour Checker passport reference photo to make a profile, and make a copy of your photos with this neutralized colour.

6) Open the original photos without any colour correction, and overlay the colour corrected one on the top as a new layer.

7) Now play with the transparency values of that layer. This way you can choose the amount of "orange look" on your photo.

Play with transparency


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