Colour Space & Profiles

andyastbury cameratorpint Colour Space & Profiles

From Camera to Print
copyright 2013 Andy Astbury/Wildlife in Pixels

 

Colour space and device profiles seem to cause a certain degree of confusion for a lot of people; and a feeling of dread, panic and total fear in others!

 

The reality of colour spaces and device profiles is that they are really simple things, and that how and why we use them in a colour managed work flow is perfectly logical and easy to understand.

 

Up to a point colour spaces and device profiles are one and the same thing – they define a certain “volume” of colours from red to green to blue, and from black to white – and all the colours that lie in between those five points.

 

The colour spaces that most photographers are by now familiar with are ProPhotoRGB, AdobeRGB(1998) and sRGB – these are classed as “working colour spaces” and are standards of colour set by the International Color Consortium, or ICC; and they all have one thing in common; where red, green and blue are present in equal amounts the colour produced will be NEUTRAL.

 

The only real differences between these three working colour spaces is the “distances” between the five set points of red, green, blue, black and white.  The greater the distance between the three primary colours then the greater is the degree of graduation between them, hence the greater the number of potential colours.  In the diagram below we can see the sRGB & ProPhoto working colour spaces displayed on the same axes:

 

colour space volume 600x595 Colour Space & Profiles

The sRGB & ProPhoto colour spaces. The larger volume of ProPhoto contains more colour variety between red, green & blue than sRGB.

 

If we were to mark five different points on the surface of a partially inflated balloon,  and then inflate it some more then the points in relation to the balloons surface would NOT change: the points remain the same.  But the spatial distances between the points would change, as would the internal volume.  It’s the same with our five points of colour reference – red, green, blue, black & white – they do NOT change between colour spaces; red is red no matter what the working colour space.  But the range of potential colours between our 5 points of reference increases due to increased colour space volume.

 

So now we have dealt with the basics of the three main working colour spaces, we need to consider the volume of colour our camera sensor can capture – if you like, its colour space; but I’d rather use the word “gamut”.

 

Let’s take the Canon 5DMk3 as an example, and look at the volume, or gamut, of colour that its sensor can capture, in direct comparison with our 3 quantifiable working colour spaces:

 

colour space volume2 600x595 Colour Space & Profiles

The Canon 5DMk3 sensor gamut (black) in comparison to ProPhoto (largest), AdobeRGB1998 & sRGB (smallest) working colour spaces.

 

In a previous blog article I wrote – see here – I mentioned how to setup the colour settings in Photoshop, and this is why.  If you want to keep the greatest proportion of your camera sensors captured colour then you need to contain the image within the ProPhotoRGB working colour space.  If you don’t, and you use AdobeRGB or sRGB as Photoshops working colour space then you will loose a certain proportion of those captured colours – as I’ve heard it put before, it’s like a sex change operation – certain colours get chopped off, and once that’s happened you can’t get them back!

 

To keep things really simple just think of the 3 standard working colour spaces as buckets – the bigger the bucket, the more colour it contains; and you can’t tip the colours captured by your camera into a smaller bucket without getting spillage and making a mess on the floor!

 

As I said before, working colour spaces are neutral; but seldom does our camera ever capture a scene that contains pure neutrals.  Even though an item in the scene may well be neutral in colour, camera sensors quite often skew these colours ever so slightly; most Canon RAW files always look a teeny-weeny ever so slight bit magenta to me when I import them; but there again I’m a Nikon shooter seem to have a minute greenish tinge to them before processing.

 

Throughout our imaging work flow we have 3 stages:

1. Input (camera or scanner).

2. Working Process (Lightroom, Photoshop etc).

3. Output (printer for example).

 

And each stage has its representative type of colour space – we have input profiles, working colour spaces and output profiles.

 

So we have our camera capture gamut (colour space if you like) and we’ve opened our image in Photoshop or Lightroom in the ProPhoto working colour space – there’s NO SPILLAGE!

 

We now come to the crux of colour management; before we can do anything else we need to profile our “window onto our image” – the monitor.

 

In order to see the reality of what the camera captured we need to ensure that our monitor is in line with our WORKING COLOUR SPACE in terms of colour neutrality – not that of the camera as some people seem to think.

All 3 working colour spaces posses the same degree of colour neutrality where red, green & blue are present at the same values irrespective of physical size of the colour space.

So as long as our monitor is profiled to be:

 

1. Accurately COLOUR NEUTRAL

2. Displaying maximum brightness only in the presence true white – which you’ll hardly ever photograph, even snow isn’t white.

 

then we will see a highly workable representation of image colour neutrality and luminosity on our monitor.  Only by working this way can we actually tell if the camera has captured the image correctly in terms of colour balance and overall exposure.

And the fact that our monitor CANNOT display all the colours contained within our big ProPhoto bucket is, to all intents and purposes,  a fairly mute point; though seeing as many of them as possible is never a bad thing.

And using a monitor that does NOT display the volume of colour approximating or exceeding that of the Adobe working space can be highly detrimental for the reasons discussed in my previous post.

 

Now that we’ve covered input profiles and working colour spaces we need to move on and outline the basics of output profiles, and printer profiles in particular.

 

colour space volume3 600x472 Colour Space & Profiles

Adobe & sRGB working paces in comparison to the colours contained in the Kingfisher image and the profile for Permajet Oyster paper using the Epson 7900 printer. (CLICK image for full sized view).

 

In the image above we can see both the Adobe and sRGB working spaces and the full distribution of colours contained in the Kingfisher image which is a TIFF file in our big ProPhoto bucket of colour;  and a black trace which is the colour profile (or space if you like) for Permajet Oyster paper using Epson UltraChrome HDR ink on an Epson 7900 printer.

 

As we can see, some of the colours contained in the image fall outside the gamut of the sRGB working colour space; notably some oranges and “electric blues” which are basically colours of the subject and are most critical to keep in the print.

However, all those ProPhoto colours are capable of being reproduced on the Epson 7900 using Permajet Oyster paper because, as the black trace shows, the printer/ink/paper combination can reproduce colours that lie outside of the Adobe working colour space.

The whole purpose of that particular profile is to ensure that the print matches what we can see on the monitor both in terms of colour and brightness – in other words, what we see is what we get – WYSIWYG!

The beauty of a colour managed workflow is that it’s economical – assuming the image is processed correctly then printing via an accurate printer profile can give you a perfect printed rendition of your screen image using just a single sheet of paper – and only one sheets worth of ink.

 

colour space volume4 600x472 Colour Space & Profiles

The difference between colour profiles for the same printer paper on different printers. Epson 3000 printer profile trace in Red (CLICK image for full size view).

 

If we were to switch printers to an Epson 3000 using UltraChrome K3 ink on the very same paper, the area circled in white shows us that there are a couple of orange hue colours that are a little problematic – they lie either close to or outside the colour gamut of this printer/ink/paper combination, and so they need to be changed in order to ‘fit’, either by localised adjustment or variation of rendering intent – but that’s a story for later!

 

Why is it different? Well, it’s not to do with the paper for sure, so it’s down to either the ink change or printer head.  Using the same K3 ink in an Epson 4800 brings the colours back into gamut, so the difference is in the printer head itself, or the printer driver, but as I said, it’s a small problem easily fixed.

 

When you consider the low cost of achieving an accurate monitor profile – see this previous post – and combine that with an accurate printer output profile or two to match your chosen printer papers, and then deploy these assets correctly you have a proper colour managed workflow.  Add to that the cost savings in ink and paper and it becomes a bit of a “no-brainer” doesn’t it?

 

In this post I set out to hopefully ‘demystify’ colour spaces and profiles in terms of what they are and how they are used – I hope I’ve succeeded!

 

 

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Please note, I’ve not written this blog article for any other reason than to make its readers aware of the facts – no one pays me in cash or kind for any products mentioned in this article; it is written purely for information purposes; you do with this information “what you will”!

If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a line via email at tuition@wildlifeinpixels.net

Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki Photo

Following on from my previous posts on the subject of monitor calibration I thought I’d post a fully detailed set of instructions, just to make sure we’re all “singing from the same hymn sheet” so to speak.

Basic Setup

D4R7794 600x399 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Put the ColorMunki spectrophotometer into the cover/holder and attach the USB cable.

D4R7798 600x399 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Always keep the sliding dust cover closed when storing the ColorMunki in its holder – this prevents dust ingress which will effect the device performance.

BUT REMEMBER – slide the cover out of the way before you begin the calibration process!

colormunkiSpecCover 600x498 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Install the ColorMunki software on your machine, register it via the internet, then check for any available updates.

Once the software is fully installed and working you are ready to begin.

Plug the USB cable into an empty USB port on your computer – NOT an external hub port as this can sometimes cause device/system communication problems.

Launch the ColorMunki software.

The VERY FIRST THING YOU NEED TO DO is open the ColorMunki software preferences and ensure that it looks like the following screen:

PC: File > Preferences

Mac: ColorMunki Photo > Preferences

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.28.32 600x416 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

The value for the Tone Response Curve MUST be set to 2.2 which is the default value.

The ICC Profile Version number MUST be set to v2 for best results – this is NOT the default.

Ensure the two check boxes are “ticked”.**

** These settings can be something of a contentious issue. DDC & LUT check boxes should only be “ticked” if your Monitor/Graphics card combination offers support for these modes.

If you find these settings make your monitor become excessively dark once profiling has been completed, start again ensuring BOTH check boxes are “unticked”.

Untick both boxes if you are working on an iMac or laptop as for the most part these devices support neither function.

For more information on this, a good starting point is a page on the X-Rite website available on the link below:

http://xritephoto.com/ph_product_overview.aspx?ID=1115&Action=Support&SupportID=5561

If you are going to use the ColorMunki to make printer profiles then ensure the ICC Profile Version is set to v2.

By default the ColorMunki writes profiles in ICC v4 – not all computer operating systems can function correctly from a graphics colour aspect; but they can all function perfectly using ICC v2.

You should only need to do this operation once, but any updates from X-Rite, or a re-installation of the software will require you to revisit the preferences panel just to check all is well.

Once this panel is set as above Click OK and you are ready to begin.

 

Monitor Calibration

This is the main ColorMunki GUI, or graphic user interface:

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 12.32.58 600x418 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Click Profile My Display

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.17.49 600x416 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Select the display you want to profile.

I use what is called a “double desktop” and have two monitors running side by side; if you have just a single monitor connected then that will be the only display you see listed.

Click Next>.

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.18.18 600x417 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Select the type of display – we are talking here about monitor calibration of a screen attached to a PC or Mac so select LCD.

Laptops – it never hurts a laptop to be calibrated for luminance and colour, but in most cases the graphics output LUT (colour Look Up Table) is barely 8 bit to begin with; the calibration process will usually reduce that to less than 8 bit. This will normally result in the laptop screen colour range being reduced in size and you may well see “virtual” colour banding in your images.

Remedy: DON’T PROCESS ON A LAPTOP – otherwise “me and the boys” will be paying you a visit!

Select Advanced.

Deselect the ambient light measurement optionit can be expensive to set yourself up with proper lighting in order to have an ICC standard viewing/processing environment; daylight (D65) bulbs are fairly cheap and do go a long way towards helping, but the correct amount of light and the colour of the walls and ceiling, and the exclusion of extraneous light sources of incorrect colour temperature (eg windows) can prove somewhat more problematic and costly.

Processing in darkened room without light is by far the easiest, cheapest and most cost-effective way of obtaining correct working conditions.

Set the Luminance target Value to 120 (that’s 120 candelas per square meter if you’re interested!).

Set the Target White Point to D65 (that’s 6500 degrees Kelvin – mean average daylight).

Click Next>.

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.19.44 600x417 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

With the ColorMunki connected to your system this is the screen you will be greeted with.

You need to calibrate the device itself, so follow the illustration and rotate the ColorMunki dial to the indicated position.

Once the device has calibrated itself to its internal calibration tile you will see the displayed GUI change to:

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.20.26 600x416 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Follow the illustration and return the ColorMunki dial to its measuring position.

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.20.49 600x416 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Click Next>.

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.21.11 600x416 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

With the ColorMunki in its holder and with the spectrophotometer cover OPEN for measurement, place the ColorMunki on the monitor as indicated on screen and in the image below:

XR CLRMNK 01 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

We are now ready to begin the monitor calibration.

Click Next>.

The first thing the ColorMunki does is measure the luminosity of the screen. If you get a manual adjustment prompt such as this (indicates non-support/disabling of DDC preferences option):

ColorMunki Photo display screen 111 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Simply turn adjust the monitor brightness slowly until the indicator line is level with the central datum line; you should see a “tick” suddenly appear when the luminance value of 120 is reached by your adjustments.

LCDs are notoriously slow to respond to changes in “backlight brightness” so make an adjustment and give the monitor a few seconds to settle down.

You may have to access your monitor controls via the screen OSD menu, or on Mac via the System Preferences > Display menu.

Once the Brightness/Luminance of the monitor is set correctly then ColorMunki will proceed will proceed with its monitor output colour measurements.

In order for you to understand monitor calibration and what is going on here is a sequence of slides from one of my workshops on colour management:

moncal1 600x427 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

moncal2 600x427 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

moncal3 600x427 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

moncal4 600x427 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Once the measurements are complete the GUI will return to the screen in this form.

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.26.29 600x416 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Either use the default profile name, or one of your own choice and click Save.

NOTE: Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES can you rename the profile after it has been saved, or any other .icc profile for that matter, otherwise the profile will not work.

Click Next>.

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 11.27.00 600x416 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Click Save again to commit the new monitor profile to you operating system as the default monitor profile.

You can set the profile reminder interval from the drop down menu.

Click Next>.

Screen Shot 2013 10 17 at 12.32.58 600x418 Monitor Calibration with ColorMunki

Monitor calibration is now complete and you are now back to the ColorMunki startup GUI.

Quit or Exit the ColorMunki application – you are done!

Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Your donation will help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.

 

Screen Capture logos denoting ColorMunki & X-Rite are the copyright of X-Rite.

 

Monitor Calibration Devices

Colour management is the simple process of maintaining colour accuracy and consistency between the ACTUAL COLOURS in your image, in terms of Hue, Saturation and Luminosity; and those reproduced on your RGB devices; in this case, displayed on your monitor. Each and every pixel in your image has its very own individual RGB colour values and it is vital to us as photographers that we “SEE” these values accurately displayed on our monitors.

If we were to visit The National Gallery and gaze upon Turners “Fighting Temeraire” we would see all those sumptuous colours on the canvass just as J.M.W. intended; but could we see the same colours if we had a pair of Ray Bans on?

No, we couldn’t; because the sunglasses behave as colour filters and so they would add a “tint” to every colour of light that passes through them.

What you need to understand about your monitor is that it behaves like a filter between your eyes and the recorded colours in your image; and unless that “filter” is 100% neutral in colour, then it will indeed “tint” your displayed image.

 

So, the first effect of monitor calibration is that the process NEUTRALIZES any colour tint in the monitor display and so shows us the “real colours” in our images; the correct values of Hue and Saturation.

 

Now imagine we have an old fashioned Kodak Ektachrome colour slide sitting in a projector. If we have the correct wattage bulb in the projector we will see the correct LUMINOSITY of the slide when it is projected.

But if the bulb wattage is too high then the slide will project too brightly, and if the bulb wattage is too low then the projected image will not be bright enough.

All our monitors behave just like a projector, and as such they all have a brightness adjustment which we can directly correlate to our old fashioned slide projector bulb, and this brightness, or backlight control is another aspect of monitor calibration.

 

Have you done a print that comes out DARKER than the image displayed on the screen?

If you have then your monitor backlight is too bright!

 

And so, the second effect of monitor calibration is the setting of the correct level of brightness or back lighting of our monitor in order for us to see the true Luminosity of the pixels in our images.

 

Without accurate Monitor Calibration your ability to control the accuracy of colour and overall brightness of your images is severely limited.

 

I get asked all the time “what’s the best monitor calibration device to use” so, above is a short video (no sound) I’ve made showing the 3D and 2D plots of profiles I’ve just made for the same monitor using teo different monitor calibration devices/spectrophotometers from opposite ends of the pricing scale.

The first plot you see in black is the AdobeRGB1998 working colour space – this is only shown as a standard by which you can judge the other two profiles; if you like, monitor working colour spaces.

The yellow plot that shows up as an overlay is a profile done with an Xrite ColourMunki Photo, which usually retails for around £300 – and it clearly shows this particular monitor rendering a greater number of colours in certain areas than are contained in the Adobe1998 reference space.

The cyan plot is the same monitor, but profiled with the i1Photo Pro 2 spectro – not much change out of £1300 thank you very much – and the resulting profile virtually an identical twin of the one obtained with the ColorMunki which retails for a quarter of the price!

Don’t get me wrong, the i1 is a far more efficient monitor calibration device if you want to produce custom PRINTER profiles as well, but if you are happy using OEM profiles and just want perfect monitor calibration then I’d say the ColorMunki Photo is the more sensible purchase; or better still the ColorMunki Display at only around £110.

 

Help Me to Help You!

If you’ve found this or any other article on this blog useful or informative then please do me a favour and leave a comment – and don’t forget to click the “Follow” button – it’s free and you’ll get notified of my next blog post.

 

Please note, I’ve not written this blog article for any other reason than to make its readers aware of the facts – no one pays me in cash or kind for any products mentioned in this article; it is written purely for information purposes; you do with this information “what you will”!

If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a line via email at tuition@wildlifeinpixels.net

Wildlife Photography – Common Kestrel

Wildlife Photography How To – Common Kestrel – “Flaps 30, Gear Down, “

As a specialist in natural history and wildlife photography it’s always difficult to decide what are your favorite images from all the frames you shoot – after all, you are quite “emotionally close” to every single one of them!

Being in it to make money in order to live makes the job a little more difficult for the simple reason that, being a photographer, the images you REALLY like are hardly ever the images the picture buyers like. So in order to make a living you have to devote the majority of your camera time to producing commercially viable images – not gallery images.

But occasionally you’ll come up with a shot that satisfies both sides of the equation – you love it yourself and are really proud of it; and it SELLS WELL!

So I thought I’d post a series of my own images that satisfy both myself and the picture buyers, and I’m going to start with one of my top 5 sellers in the last 18 months – your Uncle Andy’s infamous Kestrel shot.

D3C2901 Edit 1024x680 Wildlife Photography   Common Kestrel

Common Kestrel Landing
©Andy Astbury/Wildlife in Pixels

Shot in June of 2012 at Poolbridge Farm in Yorkshire, I approached the entire shoot day with this particular shot in mind – you have to have a goal set even with wildlife photography, otherwise you just end up shooting at random; and you HAVE to be in control of at least something other than the camera!

I’d seen all the usual “kestrel perched” shots that were coming out Poolbridge, but I wanted something a little different – and I got this, which was just what I wanted.

Remember PPPPP – positive planning prevents poor performance!

So here’s how the shot was planned and executed:

This position in the Kestrels flight to the perch is BEHIND the perch – in this case an old wooden farm gate – so it happens BEFORE the bird lands on the perch.

So primary focus has to be BEHIND the perch.

Ok, we’re all good so far, but there are some very important factors to take into consideration.  We want a head-on shot, the bird is flying at about 7 meters per second, and we need to take the shot when the bird is around 1 meter behind the perch.

So here’s our main problem – head on means that the closing distance rate between bird and lens is at its fastest possible, and sadly there isn’t an auto focus system on the planet that will keep up with this small target flying straight down the lens axis and guarantee you the shot.

Therefore, sad to say, but AF is out and manual focus is in!

The bird itself is a mature female so she has a wingspan of about 30 inches.

So the shot calls for the following criteria – set the camera at a distance that will capture a 30 inch wide target about 30 inches behind the perch, with a 500mm f4 lens at about 80% of full frame width.  The lens needs to be manually pre-focused at the required distance and an aperture set that will give sufficient depth of field to give a good degree of sharpness over the nearest parts of the bird – beak to feet.

Simple maths tells me I need to have the bird arriving at “position X” about 40 feet or 12 meters in front of the lens.

So now it’s easy; just get my mate Mike who was with me on the day to stand about a meter behind the gate post with his hands outstretched 30 inches apart, frame up so his hands are both well in frame and about a third of the frame from its top edge.  Then manually focus on his cammo patterned shirt front making sure that both lens and camera body are in MF mode and I’m all set to take the shot from a lens point of view.

Set the camera to maximum frame rate (never a good idea usually on a Nikon as it locks the AF but we are not using AF so it doesn’t matter in this instance), and now I’m all set.

The bird is 100% wild and has a nest full of screaming hungry kids to feed, but she knows that if she’s seen people about then there’s usually a tasty morsel of food on the old gate post. She perches in one of two trees while she’s deciding if its safe to come to the perch, but her approach is only head on if she’s coming in from one of them.

So now its just a case of sitting and waiting until she’s in that particular tree, and then waiting some more until she begins her approach.

Once she’s on her way I pick her up in the viewfinder of the camera when she’s about half way across the field (she’s out of focus and very fuzzy when I begin to follow her), keep her fuzzy shape in frame and she gets sharper as she gets closer, then just as she starts to get some some definition to her in the viewfinder I just press and hold down the shutter to shoot an entire buffer full of frames: remembering to keep the camera moving as it was otherwise the composition will be a bit off!

It’s a technique rather like shot-gun shooting – you need to follow trough while squeezing the trigger, otherwise you miss behind!

Don’t get me wrong, the shot wasn’t “in the can” on the first attempt, and nor was it on the forth! But the fifth time she came I nailed it. After that all I had to do was try and repeat the shot over and over again and try to get it all to come together with some good light – we got there in the end.

All in all the shot has made over 500 sales in the last 12 months or so, in all guises from small website jpegs to full size prints – so buyers like it – and I’m pleased with the shot from both an aesthetic and technical standpoint.

And it’s even been on the TV – 4 times now!

So, the job’s a good ‘un!

 

I hope this article has gone some way towards giving you an insight into how understanding the “technical bits” can help you achieve your photographic goals with a greater degree of efficiency.  Understanding HOW your equipment works, and some of the fundamental principles of photography can only do one thing – improve your picture making!

Please consider supporting this blog.

This blog really does need your support. All the information I put on these pages I do freely, but it does involve costs in both time and money.

If you find this post useful and informative please could you help by making a small donation – it would really help me out a lot – whatever you can afford would be gratefully received.

Your donation will help offset the costs of running this blog and so help me to bring you lots more useful and informative content.

Many thanks in advance.

 

Lightroom Tutorial #1

 Lightroom Tutorial DVD

2012 DVD SleeveFLAT Lightroom Tutorial  #1

Image Processing in Lightroom & Photoshop

 

Here is a preview link to one of my latest Lightroom tutorial DVD lessons where I demonstrate (hopefully!) just how quickly, simply and effectively you can process a RAW file in Lightroom.

 

Lesson Sample Video Link below: Video will open in a new window

 

https://vimeo.com/67741229

 

Lightroom is a really simple and effective tool for RAW file processing and printing; not to mention its power as a digital asset management tool.

This Lightroom tutorial DVD contains 41 high quality video lessons together with exercise files, so that you can work along with me – it really is the easiest way to learn how to process images effectively without having to spend hours at it!

 

This 4 disc DVD set is available from my website at http://wildlifeinpixels.net/dvd.html

 

 

Monitor, Is Yours Up To The Job?

Is Your Monitor Actually Up To The Job?

As photographers we have to take something of a “leap of faith” that the monitor we use to view and process our images on is actually up to the job – or do we?

No – is the short answer!  As a Photoshop & Lightroom educator I try and teach this mystical thing called “Colour Management” – note the correct spelling of the word COLOUR!

The majority of amateur photographers (and a few so-called pros come to that!) seem to think that colour management is some great complicated edifice; or even some sort of “re-invention of the wheel” – and so they either bury their head in the sand or generally “pooh-pooh” the idea as unnecessary.

Well, it’s certainly NOT complicated, but it certainly IS necessary.

The first stage in a colour managed workflow is to ensure that your monitor is calibrated – in other words it is working at the correct brightness level, and the correct colour balance or white point – this will ensure that when your computer sends pure red to your monitor, pure red is seen on the screen; not red with a blue tint to it!

But correct calibration of your monitor is fairly useless if your monitor cannot reproduce a large variation of colour – in other words, if its’ colour gamut is too small.

And it’s Monitor Colour Gamut that I want to look at in this post.

 

 

The first thing I’d like you to do is open up Photoshop and go to the Colour Settings – that’s Edit>Colour Settings, or shift+cmd+K on Mac, or shift+Ctrl+K on PC.

Once this dialogue box is open, set it up as follows:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 13.47.30 Monitor, Is Yours Up To The Job?

 

This is the optimum setup of Photoshop for digital photography as ProPhoto is the best colour space for preserving the largest number of colours captured by your dslr sensor; far better than AdobeRGB1998 – but that’s another story.

If you like you can click the SAVE button and then give this settings profile a name – I call mine ProPhoto_Balanced_CC

Now that you are working with the largest colour palette possible inside Photoshop I want you to go to File>New and created a new 500×500 pixel square with a resolution of 300 pixels per inch with the settings as follows:

 

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 13.58.34 Monitor, Is Yours Up To The Job?

 

Click OK and you should now have a white square.

Now go to your foreground colour, click it to bring the colour palette dialogue box into view and manually add the following values indicated by the small red arrows:

 

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 14.06.52 Monitor, Is Yours Up To The Job?

 

The colour will look a little different than it does in the jpeg above.

So now we have a rather lurid sickly-looking green square in the ProPhoto colour space.

Now duplicate the image TWICE and then go to Window>Arrange>3up Vertical and you should end up with a display looking like this:

 

unconverted 1024x624 Monitor, Is Yours Up To The Job?

 

Now comes the point of the exercise – click on the tab for the centre image and go Edit>Convert to Profile and choose AdobeRGB(1998) as the destination space (colour space).

Then click on the tab for the left hand image and go Edit>Convert to Profile and choose sRGB as the destination space.

 

Here’s the thing – if your display DOES NOT look like this:

 

MonitorColourDisplay 1024x628 Monitor, Is Yours Up To The Job?

 

and all three squares look the same as the square on the left then your monitor only has a small sRGB colour gamut and is going to severely inhibit your ability to process your images properly or with any degree of colour accuracy.

Monitors rely on their Colour Look-up Table or LUT in order to display colour. Calibration of the monitor can reduce the size of the available range of colours in the LUT if it’s not big enough in the first place, and so calibration can indeed make things worse from a colour point of view; BUT, it will still ensure the monitor is set to the correct levels of brightness and colour neutrality; so calibration is still a good idea.

Laptops are usually the best illustration of this small LUT problem; normally their display gamuts are barely 8bit sRGB to begin with, and if calibration drops the LUT to below 8bit then the commonest problem you see is colour banding in your images.

If however, your display looks like the image above then you’re laughing!

Why is a large monitor colour gamut essential for digital photography?  Well it’s all to do with those colour spaces:

 

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 14.56.11 Monitor, Is Yours Up To The Job?

 

If you look at the image above you’ll see the three standard primary working colour spaces of ProPhoto, AdobeRGB(1998) and sRGB overlaid for comparison with each other.  There’s also a 4th plot – this is the input space of the Canon 1Dx dslr – in other words, it encompasses all the colours the sensor of that camera can record.

In actual fact, some colours can be recorded by the camera that lie OUTSIDE even the ProPhoto colour space!

But you can clearly see that the Adobe space looses more camera-captured colour than ProPhoto – hence RAW file handlers like Lightroom work in Prophoto (or to be more strictly true MelissaRGB – but that’s yet another story!) in order to at least preserve as many of the colours captured by the camera as possible.

Even more camera colour is lost to the sRGB colour space.

So this is why we should always have Photoshop set to a default ProPhoto working space – the archival images we produce will therefore retain as much of the original colours captured by the camera as possible.

If we now turn our attention back to monitors – the windows on to our images – we can now deduce that:

a. If a monitor can only display sRGB at best, then we will only be able to see a small portion of the cameras captured colour.

b. However, if the monitor has a larger colour gamut and a bigger LUT both in terms of colour spectrum and bit depth, then we will see a lot more of the original capture colours – and the more we can see then more effectively we can colour manage.

Monitors are available that can display the Adobe colour gamut, indeed quite a few can display more colours – but if you are on a tight budget these can seem more than expensive to say the least.

A good monitor that I recommend quite a lot – indeed I use one myself – is the HP LP2475W, well worth the price if you can find one; and with a bit of tweaking it will display 98%+ of the AdobeRGB colour space in all three primary colours and even some of the warmer colours that are only ProPhoto:

 

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 15.40.07 1024x890 Monitor, Is Yours Up To The Job?

 

The green plot is the Adobe space, the red plot is the HP LP2475W display colour space.

So it’s a good buy if you can find one.

However, there’s a catch – there always is! This monitor relies on the LUT of the graphics card driving it – plugged into the modest 512Mb nVidea GT120 on my Mac Pro it is brilliant and competes at every level with the likes of Eizo ColourEdge and NEC Spectraviews for all practical purposes.  But plugged into the back of a laptop then it can only reproduce what the lower specification graphics chips can supply it with.

 

So there we have it, a simple way to test if your monitor is giving you the best advantage when it comes to processing your images – food for thought?

 

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