Colour management in photography

I was once asked what is the most important photography-related equipment that I have ever bought. My unreserved answer was my Eye-One Display 2 monitor calibrator. Below is the reason why. (I hardly print my images; I only share them over the net hence my discussion today will concentrate on the workflow all the way to the output and sharing through the internet.)

I have always maintained that anyone who is serious about photography and would like to share his/her work must have his/her workflow tuned to the proper standard at every stage of his/her workflow. The philosphy is simple - from the minute you click the shutter till the time you share the image with the community the image must look almost the same at every stage of the digital photography workflow. There should not be any significant changes in contrast, colour shifts or loss of highlight or shadow details. This obviously applies to those viewing your shared images through their respective monitors too. Otherwise any technical comments on the image will not be valid.

So what colour space is recommended? It is recommended that unless one is working in a studio, one is better off using one of the two commonly used editing spaces, sRGB or Adobe RGB (1998). I am a strong advocate of Adobe RGB (1998) simply because of its wider gamut. It also reproduces more vivid greens and reds than sRGB. The catch is should you decide to share the finished post-processed product in the net you must convert the Adobe RGB (1998) profile to sRGB. Otherwise the image will appear washed out.

Digital camera

My recommendation then is to set your in-camera (and Adobe Photoshop) colour space to Adobe RGB (1998). This is easy enough. Go through the utility menu of your camera and you will see this option of colour space selection. Look up your camera's manual if necessary.

Monitor

This is your link to the outside world and as such is the most essential of all the elements in your owrkflow. Your monitor must be calibrated and profiled effectively so that you can be sure that anything you see in your captured image is actually there. Therefore, as mentioned above, investing in a monitor calibration package is one of the best investments a photographer can make.

There are many such packages in the market and since I have only used the Eye-One Display 2 and am very happy with it, I will recommend this to you. It comes with a software and a calibrator hardware that looks very much like a mouse. It is as simple as loading the software, connect the calibrator to the computer through a USB slot, place it on the middle of the screen and you choose from the option of an automatic calibration or the more advanced manual process. So how frequent should one calibrate the monitor?

eyeone

Most of the monitors used nowadays are of the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) type. The problem is that most LCD panels need a warming up time (approximately 1 hour) and the color and tone shifts with time. There are great (e.g Eizo) and not so great LCD monitors in the market. My suggestion to you is to get the best monitor your budget allows. For me I am using Eizo and the mid-range Dell 2407 WFP and am satisfied with their performance. Given the performance shifts of all monitors it is important to perform calibration at regular intervals - I do mine every 3 weeks.

I use the more advanced manual calibration process where I have to specify the White point, Gamma and the luminance I would like to calibrate my monitor to.

White point determines the colour of white used for the monitor. It is very much like the White Balance option of your camera. Most photographers will like to set their white point to 6500K, a close match to daylight and close to the monitor's native white point. Photographers and retouchers who frequently prepare images for reproduction on commercial printing presses may want to calibrate their monitor to 5500-5800K. This produces a warmer white which is a closer match to the papers used for proofing and printing on printing presses. I use 5800K generally.

Gamma on the other hand controls the tone response curve of the monitor i.e the contrast through the midtones. I generally use a Gamma value of 2.2.

Recommending a specific value setting for luminance is a bit tricky. You need to choose a value to match the brightness of the ambient lighting. For me I use 90 candelas/meter2 (cm2).

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Adobe Photoshop

I have mentioned and recommended the usage of the Adobe RGB (1998) colour space for your post-processing software (Adobe Photoshop CS3 in my case). It is important that you do this before using Photoshop.

Photoshop’s default color space is sRGB which is the correct color space for Web posting. However sRGB is really a very limited color space, much smaller than what printers can actually produce. I strongly suggest you to change this to Adobe RGB (1998)You do this by going to Edit> Color Settings.

 

Color settings

 

 

Click it and this dialog box appears. Click on the drop-down menu under Settings and change it to North America Prepress 2. The Working Spaces RGB will be automatically changed to Adobe RGB (1998).

 

 

Color setting change1

 

 

Your job here is not finished yet.

 

Change the RGB in Color Management Policies to this:

 

Color setting change2

 

 

One final step. For Profile Mismatches, turn off the Ask When Opening checkbox. That way, your old photos will automatically update to match your current working space when you re-open them in Photoshop.

 

Then click OK.

 

Your Photoshop is now ready for some serious post-processing.

 

Always remember to convert the profile to sRGB before you share the processed image in the net. The following step will show you how to do just that.

Go to Edit>Convert to Profile and click.

Covert the Profile

In the dialog box change the Profile in Destination Space to sRGB IEC61966-2.1. This is the long technical form of sRGB.

 

Convert the Profile2

Click OK and the resultant image will be converted to sRGB ready to be posted into the web maintaining its vibrant colors as intended.

 

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6 comments to Colour management in photography

  • raja afzaludin

    can i know what is the purspose do this? n bcause of what? i dont understand

    • Generally speaking, this is to standardise the colour management of your workflow with that of the photography community out there. Otherwise what you see and what you want the community to see may not be the same.

  • Eddie Loh

    Hi Doc, with regards to PP, would you recommend us to do PP on a Mac instead of other brands. What I've noticed for sometime is that there are glaring differences in terms of its colours when viewed on my notebook compared to the same photos on a Mac (and even an iPad). Your advise please.

    • Hi Eddie,

      It shouldn’t make any difference assuming all are calibrated accordingly.
      Having said that, with the introduction of glossy and backlit monitors by Apple, I hated my old iMac which was too bright to be calibrated properly (I am using X-rite Display2) – it looked contrasty and bright with vibrant colours but it was really too bright even with zero Brightness levels. I have since sold that iMac. I don’t know about the newer iMac and Cinema Display models but I understand they are still glossy. I only bought my MacBook Pro when I found that they have the matte screen option.
      Hope the above helps.

      Rgds,
      Banhup

  • Mahesan

    Hi Doc,
    Just to enquire , I often use Lightroom and it does not allow me to change my input colour profile to be Adobe 1998. I can export my finished photo in sRGB.jpg. Looking at the above would it still be wise for us to change our colour profile to Adobe RGB when shooting RAW?

    • Hi Mahesan,

      If that is the case, the choice is yours. You can still shoot in Adobe RGB (so that you have that option in future if/when you are using another post-processing software like Photoshop) or just use sRGB. To be honest, it is difficult to see the difference between aRGB and sRGB with the naked eye.

      Cheers,
      Banhup

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