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Photography Question 
Kevin Skinner

Color Management

  Hermitage Falls
Hermitage Falls
Sample image to check calibration
© Kevin Skinner
Canon EOS 30D Digi...
I'm finding Colour Management rather a never-ending pursuit. I'm having problems with my monitor at the moment. I'm using Color Munki. However, when I'm adjusting the brightness and contrast controls, the contrast I can achieve but the brightness will not go low enough for calibration purposes (set at zero at the moment!). The program moves on from there and gives me a profile but it does look a touch bright to me.
So is my monitor calibrated too bright now (which will mean my images are too dark) or are they just right? Also does this mean that my monitor cannot be calibrated?
Cheers in advance,

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6/28/2008 3:17:16 AM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Kevin,

I don't have a specific answer for you.

That being said, here are my comments on color management.

At one time I chased this elusive spectre. My opinion now is that given all the variables, color management for the photographer with any real degree of accuracy remains elusive as well as next to impossible.

Why? Look at all the variables. Some are controllable, some are not.

To mention a few: Color LCD screens have a "viewing angle." Move your head this way or that way, and it changes.
LCD screens also physically change in color, contrast and brightness over time.

A color calibrator such as the "Spyder" look at the screen at zero degrees; we as humans do not.
CRT screens remain the best for accuracy and rendition, though they too suffer from age degradation.

Gamma and luminance: I find gamma, while interesting, useless to the photographer; just ask Ansel Adams on this. LOL. Luminance or brightness. This is a rather subjective term not to be confused or used with terminology like "blown Hi-lites."

Next; color and intensity of color are are represented by the RGB system in monitors... 000,000,000 and 255,255,255 being black and white. The combinations of these values will render a wide array of color with many gradations we can't even see!

Now factor in the many ICC profiles we as photogs must come to grips with. The screen SHOULD match what is output to the printer; be it OUR printer or a commercial printer. So now we need a standard for not only our screen but our printer as well.

Then we need to wonder if the printer will even lay down the color as it should be. I don't care if it's ink or dye sublimation, we ultimately have to believe THEIR equip is properly calibrated and working properly.
Usually; it's "good enough."
This is exasperating!

Ok, so what else? Oh ya; how I see RED may not be the way YOU see red. This is a variation how humans see and interpret light, be it color or brightness.

So what do I do?
I take it on faith that Red, Green and Blue are represented numerically.
As long as I have my black set to black, my white (255...255...255) set to white and my primary RGB values set accordingly, I am happy.

In my opinion, while total visual accuracy and measurement is necessary in pure science, it is not needed in photography. I know that is a pretty bold statement and likely open to disagreement, but nonetheless, it is what I believe.

I no longer agonize over "perfect" color calibration. I find it a futile effort. For me and my photography, close enough is good enough.

When I use a commercial pro printer, I enclose a guide print when it's important. The commercial printer people I use have a ICC profile on what (I) want; not what the Spyder says.

The guide print and ICC profile they have on record for me does NOT indicate perfect calibration, it indicates how I want the final print to look and has little to do with someone elses ICC profiles and color accuracy.

It remains purely MY opinion, we as photographers have been sold a bill of goods with color calibrators and the assortment of books written on color management.

While a good solid GENERAL understanding is good concerning color management, I feel some of us get way too carried away with it.

all the best,


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6/28/2008 5:40:44 AM

Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  I recently answered a similar question on the forum and I'll copy it here (below). The 'problem' of color management is often over-complicated, and solutions illogical - which of course leads to poor or unpredictable results. I blame some of this on bad information that floats around the Internet, and some of it on Adobe. My goal for color management has been to simplify it and make it logical and easy to follow. An inherent difference in RGB (an additive color theory based on light) and CMYK (a subtractive theory based on light absorption) is that the two are never the same exactly. This does not, however, mean you can't have reasonably get predictable results. But before I repeat myself ad-nauseum, the following is copied with a few changes...

The question of getting prints to match is a heady one ... one that I answer all the time in my From Monitor to Print: Photoshop Color Workflow course ... Books are written on the subject of color management spanning 500 pages. That is, a short response here won't do it all for you. However, the important things:

- Calibrate your monitor (I use Spyder Pro)
- Create a custom ICC profile (usually part of #1)
- Decide on a sensible workflow (handling of color and color spaces from camera to print)
- Make the most of your corrections (correct your images to look their best)
- Embed your working space profile (some suggest specific printer profiles or other things, but generally these would only be helpful in situations where you have converted to CMYK)
- TEST. Don't go right for that 28x20 print ... get the service to print 3x5 or 5x7s as a test on the SAME MACHINE.

Each service will be a bit different, as will each paper and each machine they use. This will lead some to want to use custom profiles for output. That can really become a headache ... and another step where people can ruin their chances of getting the right results by assigning profiles incorrectly. I print with a service even though I have pre-press experience as I will not buy a $60,000 printer for my home, but can print on one cheaply at a service.

There are inherent differences in CMYK and RGB, and you see on screen in one and generally (with variations) print in the other. You will not get them to be identical, but you can get them pretty close with "normal" images. I like the idea and results I get with Laser Light printers (also sometimes called LED or CRT), which project light to expose paper which is then run through a photographic process ... no ink. The printers themselves are really expensive and you wouldn't likely own one, but services often do and can make your inkless prints for a bargain.

A lot of what you hear about working spaces and profiles is junk. Your workflow needs to make sense more than conform to sRGB, AdobeRGB, ProRGB, or whatever. It is often the "making sense" part that people leave behind as it is the biggest pain. I calibrate with a hardware device on any machine I correct images on ... I use a ColorVision Spyder. You can get away with the Express model. Hardware calibration is superior to software calibration.

If your monitor is an issue and images are important to you, get a better monitor. I use a 30" Apple Cinema Display and a Mac Pro laptop - and as good as the latter is, I do not correct images on it. I have worked with other monitors that are suggested as excellent, and, honestly, they have ranged from crummy to OK. I only switched from CRTs this past December because of the flaws in flat screens.

So I think generally Pete and I agree that people get carried away with color management for minimal and unnoticeable 'gains' in performance.
I teach a class in Color Workflow because it is such an issue ... I'll be writing a book for the next few months but will be back teaching again in September.
Hope that helps!

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6/28/2008 8:52:22 AM

Roy Blinston
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2005
  If you print your images on your desktop printer, then you are using CMYK inks - but your file is RGB (video) so it has to be converted on-the-fly when the file is downloaded to your printer. It does this automatically in the background.

RGB and CMYK settings are totally different. Try it yourself in Photoshop. Convert one of your normal pics from RGB to CMYK and see how the colours change (especially some blues). This is normal.

If you print your images at a Lab where they use an LED printer (ie: Light Emitting Diodes) this uses RGB settings because it is "light" not "ink". In this case you should get a result more closely matching your file on screen.... RGB to RGB.

Remember... ink and light are totally different. You can edit your pic on-screen to show colours that are physically impossible to print on a CMYK printer.

PS: CMYK means.... Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (K).

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7/8/2008 4:34:49 AM

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