Color Calibration

Don’t you hate it when the pictures you get back from your print service or from your printer just don’t look like what you saw on your screen?   Understanding color calibration still remains one of the most frequent questions we get.

Colors are very perceptually driven.  What you and I mean when we think of a red car may vary between the bright red of a Porsche and the wine red of a Dodge minivan.   Last year we talked about the difference in “color spaces”, as hopefully you will recall.   sRGB, AdobeRGB and ProPhoto RGB are all attempts to map the larger range of colors our eyes can see into electronic instructions our monitors and printers can display or reproduce.  We know that making sure your camera accurately records the colors depends on having your white balance correctly set in camera or by correcting it through the use of something like the xrite Passport, which Roger and I both use.  

When you are sitting in front of your monitor(s) looking at an image, there are a lot of factors which influence how it looks.  First, is the ambient light; if you are sitting in a brightly lit room it takes more power on your monitor to make the image stand out.  Ideally, you should work in a room with controlled and consistent light, and it should be fairly dim.   Second, you need to consider what color are your walls?  Seriously, the reflected light will influence the colors you see on your screen. Finally, we get to your monitor.  Hopefully by now you have upgraded to LED monitors.  They have much more even light and it provides much finer controls.  Additionally, they don’t require warm up time to settle in.  One of the first things you should do, is turn down the brightness level of your screens.  Remember, prints are seen in reflected light not in the backlight glory of electronics.  Next it is important to actually calibrate your monitors.  It’s important to do this regularly; I try and do it every two weeks.  Now the new very high end monitors come with built-in calibration sensors which automatically communicate with the controls.  Since I don’t have $3K hanging around for those kinds of monitors, I take a much more practical approach. 

Tools such as the Spyder line, range from monitor only, to monitor and printing devices.   The lens hangs over the screen and the software generates color commands. The sensor reads the screen and helps you adjust the monitors RGB values.    Lots of people ask about calibrating their laptop monitors.    In my opinion, it is almost a waste of time.  Laptop screens are far less accurate just because of the additional stresses inherent in their design.  First, your color perception depends on viewing angle, second screen brightness is subject to power stability and often is impacted by how much power the computer is using elsewhere in the system.  Next week we will discuss Part 2 of this topic; calibrating your printing devices or the digital equivalent if you send your images out for printing.  

Playing with Fire

By Mark

I’m not much of a pyromaniac by nature, but there is something very cool about watching the way flames ripple and change.  For a very long time, people have found that creating realistic looking fire in Photoshop was very, very hard.   In one of the new features introduced during the October update, Adobe introduced a new “Flame” Filter along with some others.  You can find it under the Filter>Render>Flame Menu.

In order to use it, you need to create a path or a shape using the Pen or Shape tools.  Once you have one, select the filter and it will bring up this very detailed menu panel.  

As you can see, it gives you a lot of choices.  Starting with the Flame type, you can really adjust the style, length, direction and the violence of your fire.  You can also use custom colors for some eerie looking effects.

I started out with the simple path as shown in the flame panel.  Then I created some 3D text and wasn’t happy with the results. 

I wanted the flames to follow the outline a little more closely, so I created another layer and played with the path I had built, by adding some more control points and then re-ran the filter with more violent settings. 

Just to keep playing with it I created a new image and used the Shape tool to create a wavy arrow. 

I set the flames to run parallel with the shape.  

I kept the same shape and on a new layer, filled in the arrow and applied some layer styles to it giving it an embossed look.  I then duplicated the flame layers and ran a motion blur filter on it. I added some background elements as you can see from the layers view.   

As we keep saying, the best way to learn these features is to just start trying them out.  You never know what you will come up with.  Here by the way is my final result.  Not very useful, but lots of fun. 

Composites—the more challenging stuff

By Mark

Last week I wrote about the basic techniques used in compositing.  When you are trying to combine very different elements into a brand new creative image it requires more techniques and even some preplanning.   As humans, our optical systems are pretty amazing. Over millennia, we have evolved the ability to detect when something is just not right in a scene.  We might not recognize just what it is, but we know when something is off.  

The most critical and immediate thing we notice is where the shadows don’t make sense.   Shadows are a natural consequence of the blocking of light.  Our brains see where the light sources are and then know where the corresponding shadows should be.   What is usually the biggest light source?  The sun, of course.   Now for the tricky question; how many suns do we have?  That’s right, only one.  Why then do so many composite fails look like they were shot on Tatooine?   Yep, people put images together with competing suns.

Here are two images that I want to put together.  The model was from last year’s Photoshop World Westcott Lighting both, while the other is a river in New Mexico.   As you can see her lighting came from high up on the right side.  Unfortunately, the lighting for the river scene comes from the opposite direction.   If you just put them together and mask out her black background, it doesn't look natural.  

Luckily, since we are not trying to be photojournalists you have options to correct this.  The easiest thing to do is just flip one of the images on its axis.  Since there is no text in either image it doesn’t matter which one.   I flipped the background and…voila!

More for next week!  


By Mark

Two weeks ago we talked about selection techniques.  Isolating specific elements from an image is one of those capabilities which Lightroom just cannot do.  It requires a pixel level editing program like Photoshop or even elements.  The ability to place things and then work on different layers is also one of those capabilities where Photoshop rules.   Building composite images takes full advantage of these three elements. 

In my mind there are three basic categories of composited images. We are going to cover the first two types in this blog.  The first are the simple replacements—ooh, I don’t like that sky and so I will put in a new one.

Taos Cemetery

Taos Cemetery

.   Starting with this nice happy image from the Taos cemetery, I just used the “color range” selection for the sky to create this mask. I inverted the selection to keep only the ground.   

I then took another big sky image I shot from that same trip and opened it up as a smart object.   Why as a smart object?  Well I wanted to be able to resize it without damaging the original file. 

With the sky as a new layer beneath, it’s a much more dramatic image.

The other two types are more artistic in scope.  The creative composite, where images and effects are layered and blended together and you intend for the viewer to be able to see this as part of your message.   Using that same cemetery base shot and the same mask I created a completely different look.   I shot this at Epcot Center during a fireworks display.  I keep it tagged in my effects and colors.  

When you make this into the sky, you need to add an orange cast to the markers themselves.  I just picked out a color from the new sky and then created a new fill layer on top.  I then reduced the opacity way down, just to give it a little glow. 

The last one, which we are saving for later, is where you take various elements from multiple images and create a seamless effect that could be a photograph from a completely different world.