Food For Thought: Color Management


I am am member of the LAPUG and a question came up about monitor calibration and why the image from the camera and the same image on the monitor were not the same. The discussion is quite lengthy. Check out the resources available through this user group, it’s impressive.

My comment to the thread follows:

First a little background: I’ve been working since 1980 and during the 90’s I shot an average of 5-6 coffee table books and auction catalogues per year (55+ shoots) for various animated films and TV shows. Precise color reproductions (on 4×5 chrome) was the standard (with no excuses), I had to deliver results every assignment.

I was so well known for this that I had printers and designers all over the world contact me to ask what my secret was. I told them I was simply following the rules for working with film: buy film in large batches (same emulsion number), testing each emulsion batch with my lights and lenses to dial in the correct filter pack, keep the film cool before exposing, keeping the film cool after exposure and while being transported to the lab (to minimize latent image shift), ensuring my lab was either using Fuji’s or Kodak’s E-6 processing protocols and making sure my film was placed in the middle of each dip and dunk rack to ensure even processing times. Thus I became an expert in matching color from subject to film to print.

For digital it’s much the same: Always use ICC profiles for: files, output media and monitor. If you use non-OEM inks and papers, then custom ICC profiles are very helpful (but not always necessary) If you use multiple cameras on jobs then camera calibration is essential to minimize post processing issues.

Shoot in RAW when you can and use ACR (or whatever your poison is) to apply the color data to the camera files on a profiled monitor in a properly lighted environment.

LCD monitors are very good today, so no worries there. I like Apple as they are well-suited for image editing tasks. Dell and monitors are great for gaming and watching videos but I’ve had issues with them for color correction. I’m sure others have their opinions so take it as you wish.

Finally develop a style that you can repeat, every time, on screen and on a print. Once you have that controlled, begin deviating from that baseline and move on to new looks. It is a process. There is a lot to learn, manage and control for predictable results. It takes time and a lot of desire to turn out great work, but it is accomplished by everyone who applies themselves to the principals of color management.

The Datacolor Spyder is a very good monitor calibration tool but the Color Munki is a true spectrophotometer and can precisely profile and calibrate monitor, papers and projectors. And as a true spectrophotometer it can lift the spectral data off of any object it is in contact with, talk about controlling your skin tones! This aspect alone makes it a must have tool for your digital darkroom!

Reach out to me if you’d like on-site help.

Hope this helps and sorry if I went on a bit….


Michael Stern

My work depicts, appreciates and honors the people who build. Their specialized equipment and stunning challenges are marvels I behold and get paid to interpret. Hope you enjoy this site.

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