Here’s How You Can Get that Back of the Camera Look

Has it ever happened that while you’ve been shooting, you get a great looking, vibrant, colorful photo on the back of your camera and as soon as you bring it into Lightroom, the colors go all dull? What happens is, the camera shows a JPEG preview on its LCD. The camera applies some enhancements to the photo before it shows you the preview on the back. However, once you bring it into Lightroom, the software reads the raw data and renders it using Adobe’s standard color profile. With this standard Adobe profile, those colors and saturation just isn’t there.

The good news is, you can change the way Lightroom renders it by selecting a different color profile. Infact, this is the first thing you should set when you’re retouching a photo. A good starting point can affect your retouching decisions greatly. I go over how you can change the color profile in this video and set it up in such a way that every photograph automatically has it applied.

Why Are Color Profiles Important

In order to understand it, we have to go back to the days of film photography. The different kinds of films available provided different kinds of flexibility about what you could do with the photos after they were shot. With color slide film, there wasn’t much you could do with the colors, but color negative provided a lot more flexibility. However, whatever adjustments you could make to any kind of film are not even close to what you can get with a RAW file today.

The colors of a photo were dependent more on the kind of film stock used. For example, when shooting landscapes, photographers preferred either the Kodak Ektar or the Fuji Velvia, because of the fine grain, vibrant colors and the exposure latitude it provided. But the same film when used for portraits wouldn’t translate into great colors. So, with portraits you would have to use another kind of film to ensure that the colors are rendered in a way that makes the skin tone look great.

Camera Profiles are to digital photography, what the film stock type was to film photography. The way that you would have to match your film type to your subject, is how you would match the camera profile to what you are shooting. However, it’s much easier to do it with digital as even if you miss it in the camera while shooting, you can do it later on in Lightroom.


The Camera Profiles are available to change within the camera as well. Every camera manufacturer refers to it with a different name. So, whatever brand of camera you have, you would find the corresponding control in your camera’s menu.

Canon: Picture Style
Nikon: Picture Control
Sony: Creative Style
Pentax: Custom Image
Olympus: Picture Mode
Sigma: Color Mode
Fujifilm: Film Simulation

You can choose different options like Standard, Neutral, Flat, Landscape, Portrait, Vivid and Monochrome from these profiles, but depending on which brand of camera you have, these might be named a bit differently for you. While the results of these profile would show on the back of your camera, the RAW file never actually saves this information. So, when you import the RAW file into Lightroom, it applies a different standard profile to it, called Adobe Standard.

How You Can Change Color Profiles in Lightroom

The Color Profiles are available in the Camera Calibration tab of Lightroom’s Develop module. This would be the last tab in the right panel of the Develop module, so you might have to scroll down before you can see it. Once you’re there, you’ll see a dropdown menu right next to Camera Profile. It’s in this dropdown that you would find the same profiles that you had in your camera. From here, you would want to choose an option that you like. Choose the one that you had set in your camera and you would see that it now looks pretty much like the preview that you saw on the back of the camera.

The question however remains. How much of a difference does Camera Profile make? Take a look at the photos below. I shot this with a Nikon D80 in Hunza, Northern Pakistan in 2009.

As you can see in the photo, I’ve set the profile to Camera Neutral in the first one and it’s showing pretty dull colors. In the second one, I’ve set the profile to Camera Vivid which produces vibrant colors. I keep my camera’s setting of Picture Control on Vivid as well, as I prefer a vibrant, contrasty look. So, the second photo is closer to what I was seeing at the back of my camera.

Change the Camera Profile As You Import

Once you’re familiar with the different Picture Control options in your camera and how they make your photo look, it is a good idea to stick to one of them. This way, when you bring them into Lightroom, you can simply apply that profile right when you’re importing those photos. The way to do that would be to set up a preset that you apply to all your photos upon import. It’s a fairly simple process to set up.

Step 1:

In the Develop Module, select any untouched photo. It doesn’t matter which photo it is, just make sure you haven’t moved any sliders for it.

Step 2:

In the right panel, scroll down to the Camera Calibration Panel and set the Camera Profile to be whatever you had set it on the Camera. In my case, I am going to keep it at Camera Vivid.

Step 3:

On the left panel, on the Presets tab, click on the “+” sign next to the tab’s name; which is to build a new preset.

Step 4:

A new window will pop up asking you which settings you would like to replicate from the selected photo. On the top, you can give it a name and select a folder you want to keep it in. I’ve named it Import Preset – Camera Profile and added into a Preset folder called Import Presets. In this dialog box, just select Process Version and Calibration and click Create.

Once you click Create, there will be a new preset in the Presets tab under the folder your specified.

Step 5:

Now, import the photos you want to import, by bringing up the Import window. In that, on the right panel, under the Apply During Import tab, you will have a dropdown called Develop Settings. In that dropdown, you will now be seeing the preset you just created. Select that and then hit Import.

All the photos in this batch, will now have the Camera Profile updated to what you had set earlier. In my case, Camera Vivid. All done at the time of import.

Conclusion

If you ever thought that your photos get dull after you bring them into Lightroom, now you know why. In this one simple step, you get a good starting point for your photo that will eventually result in an amazing looking photo. The good thing is, once you’ve set up the preset to be applied during import, you don’t need to worry about it anymore. Lightroom will take care of it automatically.

Shajee Aijazi

Shajee Aijazi is the founder of Digital Darkroom Academy. He helps people speed up their post-processing workflow and organize their photos in a way that they don't have to waste time managing it and they can focus on creating great looking images.

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