In order to ensure the most effective images possible, pro photographers often spend hours ahead of a shoot prepping gear and lighting, and then days uploading and post-processing after the shoot; but oftentimes they omit the key component of the workflow process—color management.
Color management is the process of ensuring that colors are consistent, accurate and repeatable throughout the entire digital photo workflow. Historically, it has been a time-consuming and complex process. Given the advances in color technology and the affordability of new tools, consistent true-to-life color results—from capture to edit to final print and display—are now easily within reach for photographers of all levels.
With today’s high-tech devices, why do photographer’s still need to manage color? “It’s a misconception to think that high-end digital cameras, monitors and printers produce perfect color—no matter what marketing materials may say,” said Dave Faulkner, product manager, Imaging Color Solutions at Datacolor. “While today’s devices are miles ahead in color reproduction from those of even five years ago, every device captures and displays colors differently.”
Individual devices, from cameras to displays to printers, have their own color range and color bias. Even two monitors of the same brand, model and age will have differences. And all these tiny color differences can add up throughout the workflow to have a negative impact on the final result.
For professionals, the benefits of color calibration are significant. In addition to control of the resulting images, managing color throughout the workflow will save significant time and resources in editing and trial-and-error printing processes. Once all devices are calibrated, they can be sure the proofs they show their clients represent the final results.
For amateurs and enthusiasts, the benefits are equally rewarding, as they’ll begin producing output that is more consistent with what they actually captured. Even the iPad can now be used for color-managed display.
In order to produce accurate color, your customers should take a few simple steps to ensure the devices they use are properly calibrated. Among the available color calibration tools today are Datacolor’s Spyder family of products and X-Rite’s ColorMunki products.
A Fully Color-Managed Workflow
Calibrate the Camera
Every camera brand, model and sensor, even different lenses for the same camera, will have color variations. In short, each system will photograph the same color with different interpretations of hue, saturation and brightness. Multiple cameras used in the same shoot may produce visibly different color flavors for the same subject matter. This can be time consuming and frustrating to attempt to correct in postproduction.
Today, there are affordable tools on the market that enable photographers to quickly calibrate their cameras using pigmented color targets and software to create corrections that can be applied to images during the RAW import process. Using these tools, the benefits of calibrating the camera are that pictures will not only be more accurate to the original subject but also more consistent between sources—reducing manual adjustments in postproduction for a quicker, easier process.
Calibrate Computer Displays
We all know that monitors and TVs lose the ability to accurately display color over time, but even new displays need to be fine-tuned. Solutions to calibrate displays consist of a hardware measurement device and software to measure and correct the color. An ICC profile is then created to save this calibration and device info.
Because the monitor’s brightness fluctuates and decreases over time, it is recommended that monitors be calibrated monthly. Professional photographers and other creative professionals who regularly work with images and color files often calibrate as frequently as every week or even once per day.
The next step in the process is printer profiling, to ensure that the final printed materials are accurate and will match the calibrated cameras and displays. Because each paper absorbs and reflects color differently, users need to calibrate the printer for each type of paper used. Therefore different profiles are used for matte fine art paper, gloss photo paper or other media. Accurate printer profiles eliminate the time and expense of trial-and-error adjustments that otherwise occur during image printing.
Calibrate Other Output Devices: TVs, Tablets and Projectors
More and more, images are displayed on digital devices, including TVs, projectors or even tablets such as the iPad. Some photographers have moved to portable portfolios on tablets instead of carrying and wrestling with large printed portfolios. And many people regularly show slideshows of their photos using a large-screen TV or digital projector, instead of photo albums. Both amateur and pro photographers will appreciate accurate color on a variety of digital display devices.
Calibration for projectors, TVs and tablets is done in a similar fashion to monitor calibration. A hardware calibrator (ideally the same one used on your computer displays) measures the color output of the device. These measurements are used to build a tablet or projector color profile for use in displaying images with a tablet or projector. Or they are used to adjust the TV to optimal settings, which then improves both image viewing and movie/video viewing on the TV.
The benefits of taking a few proactive steps to manage color will be apparent in finished photos, and your customers will be assured that what they see is indeed what they get.
The color management process is all about producing better, truer output results for photographers, and the more images your customers are happy with, the more likely they will be to print those images or perhaps turn them into other photo merchandise items. Simply stated, that can translate into additional profit for photo dealers.