Color Calibration Part II

(By Mark)

Last week we talked about the first half of the process, calibrating our monitors.  The next step is getting it out of your computer and on to your output device or service.  One of the key things to remember is that printed images are seen with reflected light and not backlight as they are on your monitors.  It seems obvious, but it is the number one reason, why the images seem “darker” when they get printed.  Luckily, adjusting for this has gotten much easier in Lightroom.  That being said, it still requires some thought and adjustment.   If you print your own images than you will want to understand which colors your printer can reproduce and how they relate to what you see on screen.   These days printer manufacturers include an ICC profile with their installation software.  The International Color Consortium (ICC) has developed a standardized data set which describes how that device works with different color spaces and outputs.   If you are using even moderate quality photo papers they too have their own ICC profiles tailored specifically for most major printer models.  

Hannemuehle 

Hannemuehle 

For high end papers such as Hannemuele or Red River, you can be very specific.  If you want the color profile for Red River 64lb Aurora Art Natural Fine Art paper, you can, and should download them.  

Hannemuehle Fine Art   http://harman.hahnemuehle.com/site/en/821/icc-profiles.html

These days I rarely print my own images.  Mostly because printers able to print 20 x 24 and larger are very, very expensive.   I use and love www.mpix.com.    They too have a downloadable set of icc profiles.  

While I am not a huge fan, lots of people claim to get good results from their local Costcos.  You can even download their icc profiles from Dry Creek Photo http://www.drycreekphoto.com/icc/

Fortunately, Windows and Apple have finally made managing these invisible in the operating system.  When you download and unzip them, the OS will ask if you want to install them, and then will do so without fuss.

Having the profiles available is only the beginning.  You have to think about using them in your workflow.   There are 2 locations in LR where you need to think about the profiles.  The first logically is in the print module. 

In the Print Job panel, you can select both your output device and your Color Management selection.  If you click on the up/down arrows in Profile, it will open a window showing all of the profiles you have downloaded. 

Two IMPORTANT reminders; One, if you don’t change your profile, it will stay set at that for all future jobs; two, LR embeds your color management profile as part of the metadata for your photo.   This means when you send the file somewhere it will contain the data needed to print it.   Have you spotted the flaw in this process yet?  Well, it’s not obvious, but the print module display doesn’t change to reflect the profile you selected.  

You have to go back to the Develop Module, where they added an important and underused feature called “Soft Proofing”.   

Down in the bottom left hand corner of the image window in the module is a check box.  Selecting it changes the background around the image to white, which better shows how it will look when printed, and it opens up a new Soft Proofing panel.  

Again, you have the opportunity to select the icc profile you intend to use and you can see how it changes the appearance of your image.  If you need to make changes, a dialog box opens up and asks if you want to “Create virtual copy for soft proofing?”  

This keeps the adjustments you need for printing separate from your master copy.   Now when you go back to the Print Module, use the virtual copy and you are good to go.  If you select “Make This a Proof”, it will make this the master version.  Most often you should choose “Create Proof Copy”.  There are a lot more things to learn, but they get really technical quickly.  If you have questions, send us a note and we will try and answer them. 

If you are in the Northern VA area, this will be the topic of this week’s Fauquier Viewfinder Camera Club meeting on Thursday evening at 7PM at the Hospital.   All are welcome to come and join us.  

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.