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Food For Thought: Color Management

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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

Color Management

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A Wing And A Hair

It is importance to learn how to edit color using Photoshop. The following information is meant to motivate you to explore on your own how color management produces predictable, high-quality results. In the simplest of terms it is known as “WYSIWYG” (what you see is what you get).

As files move through a color managed workflow, adjustments are necessary to maintain accurate and predictable color throughout. Color management uses the LAB color model  and a profile connection space (PCS ), to determine how specific colors (made up of red, green and blue numbers) used by a particular camera, monitor,  scanner, or printer are adjusted from input to output.

The CIE, short for Comission Internationale de l’Eclairage (International Commission on Illumination), was founded in 1913 to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and information and to set standards for how the human eye perceives color. From this commission came the three-dimensional L-a-b model for describing how humans perceive color; it is the foundation for color management systems. The professional artist today can control and predict input and output color results. (L stands for lightness, a for red-green, and b for blue-yellow.)

Input (cameras and scanners) and output (printers) devices use unique sets of numerical data to control how they produce or represent color. A color management system converts (manages) these numbers as the file is moved from one unique device to another unique device or, for example, from a Photoshop file to any type of print-making device. Color management understands the way each device receives color data and represents color data, enabling us to perceive the same color as a file moves through any computer system, camera, scanner, or printer. The color management system uses color profiles and working color spaces to identify and manage these unique color characteristics. A PCS (profile connection space) is the other component integral to the task of converting between input choices and output choices. The PCS is where the color data is examined, edited, converted and sent on its way.

Go to www.color.org to learn about the International Color Consortium (ICC) and its work beginning in 1993 to promote an open color management system that is vendor-neutral and cross-platform capable. Prior to the ICC, there was no way to translate color numbers from one unique device to another. The work of the ICC allows artists to choose printers and computers to suit their needs without having to worry about obtaining accurate and predictable results between devices in their workflow. Prior to the ICC, if you wanted an inkjet print matching what appeared on your monitor, you had to use a printer made by the same manufacturer that produced your computer because the language of color production was unique to specific manufacturers and worked only within a manufacturer’s closed-loop system. In years past, there wasn’t a way for a printer made by one manufacturer to understand how color was handled in a computer made by another. This was limiting and locked you into to a specific manufacturer. Artists did a lot of complaining. Adobe felt our pain and beginning with Photoshop v5 rocked our world with a color management system built into the application. It began with the introduction of working color spaces. Professionals and manufacturers are grateful for their contributions and support of our art. Visit www.colorsync.com for more information about this topic.