I’ve whipped up a quick review of the X-rite Color Checker. This little chart is handy if you want to get your picture colors close to what they were at the scene originally, and have no white references to go by inside the image, like wall switches, towels or trim mouldings etc. I use the color checker in addition to visually evaluating the color of each final image I present to a client, because I have the time to do this, and I set the proper white balance at the scene, so I know I’ve got the colors close at the time of capture. For cheapskates and amateurs; use a white piece of paper and shoot in RAW, and eyeball the final color, that’s all you need to do, and it usually works great. Do note; if you shoot in jpeg and mess up the colors at the location, you probably won’t be able to fully correct color problems. Most people (and cameras in auto WB) shoot low-light incandescent lighting too warm, and you wind up with a yellow or orange picture. In jpeg, you can usually balance the colors in post processing to get them to be more accurate, but if you’re off too far, you’ve blown the image, that’s why it’s wise to shoot in RAW.
If you’re doing technical work, studio photography or producing large amounts of images that need consistent, and accurate colors, with automation, you can check out some color management applications. I won’t cover that here, there’s plenty of info available online.
I’ve found the best use of the color checker is to be able to pacify clients that think the color of something in the image isn’t quite “right.” If you start to talk about white balance, reflectivity or luminance, they don’t understand, and think you’re trying to cover up poor technique. If you tell them (and show them) that you used a color checker, they won’t argue, because they don’t know how it ties in with the final image, but it looks professional. Doing this is not cheating, or short changing the client, you’re simply showing them you did check the colors, and know how to read the chart, and compensate to make sure the colors in the final image are as accurate as possible. I can do a good job by eye if I have a reference, but that’s not something I can show the client. Read more here.