Color-Managed Workflow

By Mark


Last week we started talking about the challenges we have in representing the full array of colors we can see with our eyes on our cameras, monitors and printers.  Hopefully, we recall our display devices can only map the colors into the RGB color space.  One of the key aspects of RGB is that is entirely device dependent.  Each manufacturer sets their own standards based upon how their proprietary technology works.  sRGB is the universal “best guess” across makers, while Adobe RGB is based upon professional quality CMYK printing.  So what can we do to make the colors we eventually display as close to what we saw, or imagined? We have to manage our end-to-end color workflow

There are three phases where we have the opportunity to control how our colors look: The camera, our monitor(s), and our prints.  Tonight we are going to talk about cameras and the monitors. 

Roger has been writing about the importance of selecting the right white balance while shooting under different lighting conditions.   Another valuable tool is the common gray card.

Gray Card

Gray Card

A gray card is exactly that; a piece which has been colored to be exactly 18% gray.  These are available in lots of forms. There is a pull-out page in the back of most of Scott Kelby’s books which can be carried in your camera bag.  I have a small plastic card on my key chain and a larger version attached to the miniature flashlight I keep in my bag.  All you have to do is include the grey card in your first picture and you will be able to correct your color afterwards in any of the editing programs.   In the Develop module, just select the eyedropper tool and move it to the grey card.  Click on it, and your colors will be fixed.   If you didn’t remember to use the grey card, just find an area closest to grey in the image and click there.  Here is a before and after image taken at night under sodium (very yellow) lights.

Before and after.PNG

Tools such as the x-rite color checker, provide even more precision.  It has software which LR and PS recognize and builds a specific color profile. 

x-rite color checker.png

Next in the chain are your monitors.  If you have two screens, you may see colors and brightness shift as you drag an image between the monitors.  Each monitor is doing its best to display the instructions from your computer to show this color and intensity of pixel at coordinates x and y.  The problem of course is that color depends on lots of unrelated factors: how old is the monitor, what is the resolution of the hardware, are the electronics warmed up, or are they cold?  The lighting of the room will change how the colors appear as well.  Do you have a big bright window washing out the screen?  What colors are the walls?  Walls will reflect the light source and may change how the colors appear.   Arrrrgh, what should you do.  Well, ideally you would have a windowless room with the walls painted that same 18% gray and only have indirect soft naturally balanced light in the room.  Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone who has that kind of freedom. 

Thankfully, there are tools available to help you calibrate your monitor.  I use the Spyder3 Pro as my tool of choice, but that is only because I started with them and they have proved simple to use for me.  There are some really expensive choices-the full color monkey system is great for a professional studio and would be worth it for their purposes.


They all work basically in the same way.  Find your monitor controls and the individual adjustments for the Red, Green, and Blue.  You then attach the Spyder to the monitor and run the included software and follow the directions to adjust the color values.  You then just repeat it for your other monitor.   Higher end monitors allow you to specify the output color in degrees K for each band.  You have to do this on a routine basis.  I try and reserve the last Sunday of the month for my calibration run.   You should try and work in the same lighting conditions and allow the monitors to warm up.  That used to be more critical with CRTs, but I’ve found that having the screens on for 30 minutes or so before I try and adjust them makes a difference.    OK, we will talk about the final step of translating the images on the screen into print, in an upcoming topic.  CALIBRATE your monitors this week!