What is DCP? And how can it help you get better looking images?

DCP is the abbreviation of Digital Camera Profile. Nice. What does that mean? 

Digital Camera Profiles are the looks that the manufacturers put in their cameras to make the JPEG photos have different looks without post-processing. Settings like Faithful, Neutral, Standard, Vivid, Landscape or Portrait are examples. Each one influences the “look” of the resulting JPEG.

Additionally, in the simplest terms, a Digital Camera Profile maps colors from a known target captured by a digital camera to the output of that camera’s sensor. This mapping or profile corrects the captured color under a given lighting condition to one that matches the target. 

Creating a DCP for your digital camera means getting the most accurate color from it.

The win for using DCPs is to solve difficult color issues. A DCP can bring bad color casts back into line. A word of caution; if the target is poorly exposed, a Digital Camera Profile will fail to be created.

Targets for DCP

The industry standard targets for making custom Digital Camera Profiles (DCP) is the 24 patch X-Rite ColorChecker® chart. The chart was introduced in 1977 and is used throughout photographic color management. There are two versions of the target currently available.

I use the ColorChecker® Passport Photo because it is enclosed in a rugged plastic shell that protects the 24 patch target and it’s accompanying Color Enhancement Target. 

Shooting the ColorChecker®

Since DCPs are specific to individual cameras, making a custom one for your camera makes good sense. It’s really very easy to make a Digital Camera Profile using any 24 patch ColorChecker® target. For this example, I’ll use my Passport. The key is to make certain the camera can see all 24 patches. Additionally, the exposure has to be accurate. I suggest using an incident light meter to measure the light falling on the ColorChecker®. A word of caution, if the target is poorly exposed, a Digital Camera Profile will fail to be created.

Creating the Digital Color Profile

There are two profile creator packages available and they are both free. Download links are below.

X-Rite ColorChecker® Passport DCP software

Adobe DNG Profile Editor Download Mac

Adobe DNG Profile Editor Download Win

I’ll show how to use X-Rite’s DCP creator.

Convert a RAW file to DNG

DNG is an open source standard created by Adobe to hold all types of RAW files. Adobe, in the spirit of open source, provides a free DNG converter. Here’s a link to download it.

Adobe DNG Converter

Install the converter on your Mac or Windows computer. Launch it, then follow the steps. While the converter can handle a folder of RAW files, only one is needed. That one is a photo of the 24 patch ColorChecker®. 

Make a DCP

Open the ColorChecker® Passport software. Making a DCP could not be easier. Simply drag a well-exposed DNG photo of the ColorChecker® onto the window. The Creator automatically finds the target and puts green dots on its four corners. Additionally, there are boxes inside each of the patches on the target. 

Choose DNG in the top bar of the dialog.

Click Create Profile. Name the profile. The camera brand and model are automatically populated in the naming field. I suggest adding the date the DCP is created to the name. I use the year-month. Click Save. 

By default, the profile is saved in the Camera Profiles folder in Camera Raw. The path is shown below for Mac. If there are no Adobe products on your computer, spin down the disclosure triangle to the left of the name to show navigation to where the Profile will live.

Path > Folder > Item

Using a Digital Camera Profile in Luminar 2018

Applying a custom DCP to a RAW file in Luminar is also really simple. Before I take you there, understand that this will be a very subtle change. Since the DCP maps the known colors of the target directly to an individual camera’s digital sensor, the color seen is the color actually captured by that sensor.

Step one: Open a RAW file in Luminar 2018. Note that it does not have to be a DNG. This works with the RAW file from your camera. 

Step two: Go to Filters. Open RAW Develop. Click the Adjust tab. Right under that tab is a window named Profile. Click the double-headed arrow then choose Load Custom DCP Profile…

Navigate to the location of the custom DCP. It will load instantly. You’ll notice a shift in color and a bit of brightness from the profile Luminar Default.

Step three: Change the profile to Camera Faithful. Another change. Go back to the custom profile.

The DCP Payoff

The camera faithful profile is the generic DCP for the manufacturer and model of the camera Luminar 2018 reads from the file’s metadata. Loading the custom DCP for a specific camera body shows what the sensor actually recorded as far as tonality and color. Compare the two photos above. The left side is the camera faithful DCP. The custom profile for my Canon 1Dx in portrait lighting is on the right.

One last note. DCPs can be easily created for the most often used lighting types you use. It’s a great tool that allows any photographer to optimize the color for her or his camera body in practically any condition.