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Secret Weapon: Camera Calibration in Lightroom

Please welcome my friend Heidi to Go{4}Pro today! Heidi has been kind enough to share an awesome technical trick about camera calibration with all of us.

One of my favorite editing tricks is truly one of the simplest. Like many photographers, I love shooting in RAW format. Probably because I am a perfectionist and love the control that RAW images give me. And the ability to fix white balance, exposure, contrast, sharpening, etc. after the image is taken. When you open up a RAW image in Lightroom or Camera Raw the image doesn’t always look that great. That’s because JPEG images have already had some “work” done to them in camera. But with RAW, you have to do the work yourself. Here’s a picture from a recent shoot right after importing into Lightroom:

Lightroom has applied some “defaults” already: brightness is at 50, contrast is at 25, and blacks are at 5. These are some of the same defaults applied in camera to a JPEG image. So why doesn’t it match what you see on the back of your camera? ‘Cause there is other “stuff” that cameras do. But honestly, I don’t really know what that “stuff” is. And rather than fiddle around with sliders and whatnot, I just go for my secret weapon: Camera Calibration.

While in Develop mode, just scroll on down and you will see the Camera Calibration panel. Click on the pulldown menu next to profile and you will see all sorts of options listed for your camera.
I always choose the “Camera Standard” option (Version 2, which is an updated version for the Nikon D700 which is what I shoot with). But you could play around and see if there are other “starting points” that you prefer. Depending on which camera you shoot with, the names may be different, as it is the camera manufacturer that assigns them. I actually made myself a preset that runs at import and automatically applies the camera calibration to every image. I love it that much!

Can YOU see the difference? Here’s the side by side comparison:

The difference is subtle, but I think it makes a huge difference. The skin is smoother, the colors richer, the highlights are controlled. Even the color shifts slightly. And all I did was simply select “camera calibration”. That’s it. The rest of my editing was a snap. I warmed up the color balance a bit more and then opened it up in Photoshop CS5 for some close scrutiny, applied a little more contrast, sharpened it a bit and I was done. The entire editing process was less then 3 minutes. Here’s the finished image:

Don’t use Lightroom? Never fear! You can do the same thing in Camera Raw! Once again, here is a RAW image, exactly as it defaults when opening up in Camera Raw:
To apply the camera calibration, just click on the little icon that looks like a camera (circled here in red). You will see the same profile options here that you see in Lightroom. Just select the one that you like the best (once again, I always pick “camera standard”) and watch the subtle shift:

Here’s a split screen so you can see it better:

And here’s the finished picture, after I cropped it, adjusted the brightness and contrast sliders (I rarely leave them on the “defaults”), and did some small Photoshop edits:

Go and give it a try next time you are editing pictures! I think you’ll find you just sped up your workflow …

Heidi Lawson is a portrait photographer in Lake Stevens, WA. To see more of Heidi’s work, please visit her website at or find her on facebook at

As always please make sure you leave a comment to let Heidi know how much we appreciate her contributing some inspiration for our journey today! If you’d like to be a guest writer, I’d LOVE to have you! You can either send your article in HTML format (all images should be sized below 600 px.) with a self portrait attached or you can use the contact page and send me your ideas first. When emailing in submissions, please title the subject line: Guest Post – Your Article’s Title. Great article topics might be showing us your branding, packaging, how you or clients display art, things that inspire, educate, encourage… Really we’re pretty easy around here!



  1. Jenny says:

    This was a great explanation of what the camera calibration section does. It’s so sad when the raw image is imported into lightroom and after you click on it the vibrant colors get dull. I’m definitely going to try this out. Thanks so much.

  2. brooke V says:

    this is awesome got to try it! I just started to shoot in raw. so far I am loving it:)

  3. This makes me a little less scared to shoot in RAW. Maybe I’ll have to do a practice RAW run on my girls. I’m curious to see the difference in editing and in the pictures themselves.

  4. Anika says:

    This is awesome! Thank you for the tip 🙂 I’m going to try it right NOW 😉

  5. Happy Astorga says:

    Thank you for this post! The main reason I don’t shoot in RAW is because I had no idea where to start with editing a RAW file. Thank you so much for filling me in! I am going to play around with shooting and editing in RAW and see how I like it. Thanks again!

  6. tamsen says:

    wow! that was an amazing tip! I prefer to work in ACR and was wondering as I read if there was away to do it there…and voila! She showed how to do that as well! Thanks so much, I will definitely be using that!

  7. Alison says:

    Thanks so much! I can’t wait to give it a go!

  8. Hey, those are my kids! 🙂 Heidi Lawson is amazing!

  9. Sarah Craig says:

    this is GENIUS. i didn’t even know this existed! thanks!!!

  10. Shari says:

    Ohhhhh Thanks so much for this Secret Weapon Information. I love LR~ I can’t wait to get home and try this out!

    Thank You!

  11. Irene says:

    Thank you!!!! I also shoot with a D700. I have never tried this, but just did after reading this article and am amazed what a nice and subtle adjustment it is!!! I created preset and will be also automatically running it upon import!!!!

  12. brooke says:

    i had NO idea about this!! thank you!!!

  13. Kelli says:

    Thanks Heidi, that is so EASY!

  14. Jean says:

    Thanks, Heidi, for taking the time to write this all out! I hadn’t paid any attention to camera calibration before.
    I feel like I’m missing something, though. When I pull down the profile list under calibration in Lightroom, I don’t get any options. It just says “embedded.” FWIW, I shoot with a D90.

    • Heidi Lawson says:

      Hi Jean! Are you working with JPEGs? Because then the profile will be embedded. This tip only works with RAW images. And it should work with any camera! It even works with my point and shoot (which can shoot in RAW). Good luck!

      • Jean says:

        I realize now what the problem is… I think I was looking at an image I’d already edited outside and brought back in (as a TIF.) When I look at my .NEF (RAW) images, I see all the options. I cannot believe that’s all there! Wow, what a difference the settings make. Thank you!

  15. Jenna Stubbs says:

    When I pull down the Camera Calibration dropdown menu it only gives me 6 options. How did you get yours to have so many options. I am also using LR 3. Is there some kinda of fix you can download to give you more options? BTW, very helpful. A friend told me my raw files were looking very magenta and I think this could have been the culprit.

  16. Erin says:

    This is great! So would I do the calibration part first, then edit some more in LR?

    • Heidi Lawson says:

      Hi Erin! Calibration is just the starting point. Then you go ahead and do any other edits that you feel are needful in LR before taking your image over to Photoshop!

  17. Katie says:

    What a great tip!!!

  18. Carrie says:

    Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing Heidi!

  19. Lori says:

    Love this tip! can’t wait to try it. Thanks!!!

  20. I came across this tonight and was so thankful I did! I have been really struggling with my editing in Lightroom and couldn’t figure what I was doing wrong! This helped me out tremendously! I agree, it is a small change but is a signifigant difference! Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

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