Color Management


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If you've been keeping up with this series of lessons, you know that there's much more to managing color in your images, from the capture through processing and during the printing or display stages. You should also know that you'll get the best results by taking the proper steps along the way. If these points don't sound familiar to you, I'd suggest you start with the first article in the series. If you're already up to speed on all that, then settle in let's explore soft-proofing your images.

As we learned in the previous article, printing can be a frustrating and expensive process without proper calibration. Once the calibration's done, you can be relatively certain that the colors you're seeing on your monitor will be faithfully reproduced. That's why you created that printer profile.

Here's another great thing about that profile, though: you can use it to visualize how the print will look right in Photoshop or Lightroom, before you waste money on ink and paper. That's what we call soft proofing and it's one of the secrets of every pro that does his or her own printing. If you're sending out your images to be printed, you can also request a printer profile for the print shop. (Remember, your monitor needs to be properly calibrated, too if you want the results to be predictable.)

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The reason you need a printer profile for this step is simple: your monitor's color space is RGB and your printer uses a CMYK color space, which isn't capable of rendering all the colors you'll see on your monitor. When you soft-proof an image using a color profile, you're viewing it according to the gamut of the printer.

Most printer manufacturers supply ICC Printer Profiles you can use to approximate the results from one of their models. As you know from the previous article, however, every individual printer is different and the types of ink and paper used will also affect the final print. That's why you've created your own profile for each combination you use, to ensure the most accurate results. Each profile will produce a different soft proof, representing the print that will be produced as closely as possible.

The time and expense saved by eliminating the need to print until you get the results you want should be obvious, not to mention the importance of judging the results from an outside printing source. Here's the best part: soft proofing in Photoshop is easy. I recommend watching this half-hour webinar from Datacolor that describes exactly how:

As you can see, soft proofing can make an incredible difference in both the speed of your workflow and the quality of your printing results. It's just one more step in the color management process necessary to ensure that your colors are always accurate and crisp, from the camera to the customer. The most complete solution to getting there and the one we recommend is Datacolor's Spyder5 Studio:


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The last stage of color management involves showing off those beautifully captured and processed images. As mentioned in the introductory lesson, there are two options at this stage: screen display or printing. Color management for the two is different, because there are significant differences in the two media types. This final lesson will explore those differences and how to manage them.

Screen Display

While the ultimate goal for most photos is generally some form of printed format, there are those markets that call for displaying your images electronically, on the screens of viewers. The most notable of these are probably as illustrations for online articles and as entries for online competitions. Stock photos must also be optimized for this type of display, since that's how potential buyers will see and select images. Once an image is downloaded by a buyer, the responsibility of managing color for their use is generally the buyer's.

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Images for screen display are most often delivered in a compressed format. The most common formats called for are JPEG and PNG. Of these two, JPEG is the most “lossy”, which creates smaller files, but can also cause color shifts at higher compression ratios. This makes it important to be careful of over-compressing your photos when exporting them. PNG files aren't as widely supported at this time, but may reproduce colors more accurately when they can be used.

Fortunately, if you've properly calibrated your monitor as described in the previous lesson, what you see when you preview your final photos is an accurate representation of how it will display. You have no control, of course, over how accurate other people's monitors will display them. If your colors are true when you preview the final proof, you've completed this stage of color management for screen display.


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If your images are going to be printed, you again have two options: sending the digital files to a professional printing service or printing them yourself. We'll begin with the latter of these two options.

Reproducing the colors and tones you see on a monitor as closely as possible on your printer isn't a straightforward process for several reasons:

  • Colors will appear more vivid on a monitor because of the increased luminosity from the display's backlighting.
  • Printers aren't capable of producing the dynamic range of a monitor, due to a limited palette. The range of colors a printer can produce is known as the gamut.
  • Printers tend to create more contrast than a monitor.
  • Different printers produce colors differently.
  • Differences in ink types and paper impact color reproduction.

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The solution to these problems begins with calibrating your printer, i.e. analyzing your printer's output and creating a profile for the printer, ink and paper type. That profile can then be used in “soft proofing” your photos before printing.

We'll cover the proofing stages in the next lesson. For now, we're concerned with the process of profiling your printer(s). Datacolor's SpyderPRINT is our recommended tool for printer calibration. The video below will demonstrate the process.

Creating the printer profile completes the color management process. Keep in mind that changing ink or paper type will require creating and storing a new profile. You can then select the correct profile before printing.

Assuming you've followed the steps in these three lessons, you can now rest assured that the colors in your images are as true-to-life as possible from start to finish. In the next lesson, we'll explore how soft proofing can help you visually predict the output from your printer/ink/paper combinations.

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After capturing the colors in your images correctly, the second stage of color management begins. The editing stage is the point where you'll make sure that the images you've captured are rendered accurately when they are displayed and printed.

Monitor Calibration

While you might think this step is more closely related to the display stage of color management, the fact is that if you're going to render colors accurately, you need to first see them correctly. Different monitors display colors differently, even if they're identical products. Colors in a display will shift as a monitor ages. The lighting in your room will also affect how you see colors. Without calibration, there's no way to know whether your display is showing you the true colors captured by your camera. The errors will carry over into your final digital images and prints.

Display calibration, therefore, is a critical step before you start editing and on an ongoing basis. Fortunately, it's not a difficult one with the right tool. Our favorite tool is the Spyder5 from Datacolor. It provides easy, reliable calibration for all your monitors, with 5-minute periodic checkups. Watch the webinar below to see exactly how it works.

Creating Color Profiles

Now that your monitor is calibrated, so you know you're seeing the truest possible colors, it's time to use the target, or test shots that you took with SpyderCHECKR in Stage 1. Here's a short video that shows you how:

You'll now have an accurate color correction reference to use in all your editing, to easily maintain the accuracy of the colors in your images.

Adjusting for Lighting Conditions

As you edit your images, you'll use the test shots you took at the beginning of your sessions with SpyderCUBE to adjust the black and white levels, then apply those adjustments to all the photos taken under those same lighting conditions, using batch processing. This is one of the greatest time savers you'll ever add to your workflow. Watch the how-to videos below to learn how to calibrate your RAW files using Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom:

Finalizing your Edits

With your monitor calibrated and your images adjusted for lighting, you're now free to edit your images according to your needs. Your colors are true-to-life, and you can add whatever tweaks you like to the final product. Cropping, rotation, resizing, etc. can all be performed confidently, knowing that the vivid colors you see are exactly what you'll get. If you're sending them out for printing, you'll need to check with the printer you choose for the color space to use. If you're printing them yourself, you'll want to make sure your printer is reproducing the colors in your images accurately, too. We'll cover that subject in the next article, on Stage 3: the display.



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The introductory article for this series explained that there are 3 stages to complete color management: the capture, processing and display. In this installment, we'll look at the first stage, in which you capture your image and what's required to maintain accurate colors in this step.

Camera Calibration

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Every DSLR sensor, from manufacturer to manufacturer and camera to camera will exhibit differences in color rendition. That's why camera calibration is extremely important if you want accurate colors in your images. Obviously, adjusting your sensor isn't practical and your camera doesn't provide a means to make adjustments, with the exception of white balance adjustment, which won't address individual colors.

The solution is to create a camera profile that automatically corrects the color in your images. This profile becomes an integral part of your processing workflow, but it has to start in the capture stage, with the creation of the color profile. The process is simple with Datacolor's SpyderCHECKR, which includes a double-sided reference card and the software to create that camera color profile with a few simple steps.

I'd like to encourage you to take the time to watch the recorded webinar presentation below, which delivers a comprehensive look at calibration in the capture stage, including both color and focus calibration:

Balancing Light


Because exposure value affects how your colors will appear, accurate color rendition is highly dependent on overall exposure. As most photographers know, however, differences in light and shadow throughout an image can make it difficult to find the right balance in the studio or field. What's more, if you shoot in RAW mode, which we always recommend, you're going to need to balance the light in each of your images during Stage 2. So, after camera calibration, how do you make sure your colors stay consistent?

The answer comes down to another important step in this first stage: having and using a reference for adjusting light values. While an 18% gray card has been and still is the standard reference, having a way to evaluate white balance and black level settings in addition to middle gray makes the process much easier and allows you to create a preset in your RAW file processing software that lets you apply the correct settings to each image taken under the same lighting conditions.

Datacolor's SpyderCube is the best tool we've found for this step. You simply take one reference shot that includes the cube for each lighting situation. That's all that's required in this stage to allow you to balance the light correctly in all of your RAW files shot under those same conditions.

Here's another pre-recorded webinar that's worth taking the time to watch, demonstrating the uses of SpyderCube:

Armed with this information and the tools we've mentioned above, you're ready to tackle Stage 1 of the color management process quickly, easily and accurately.

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If you've been pursuing photography on any level for a reasonable length of time, the term “color management” won't be a new one to you. Even the rawest novice will understand that colors can shift in the process of creating images, and that there can be several factors that may cause those shifts. Even many experienced photographers, however, don't always grasp what's involved in complete color management. Let's take a look at what needs to be considered if you really want to get photo colors under control from start to finish.

There are three basic stages in creating a photograph with a digital camera:

  1. The capture: recording a scene on the camera sensor, using available and/or supplemental lighting.
  2. The edit: Almost all digital images will require editing.
  3. The display: There are two basic options here: electronic display and printing. Each has its own specific requirements.

Along with the other aspects of an image, color information can be affected by the methods the photographer uses. Furthermore, each stage in the process depends on the previous stage for maintaining true colors. Developing the best practices for each stage is critical if you want to render colors faithfully in your final images, or exercise precise control over their manipulation.


Given those points, it's easy to see that complete color management is also a 3-step process. In other words, you need to take the proper steps before and during the capture stage, followed by editing correctly, then outputting the image to your display medium. Those steps may include calibration, compensation for existing conditions, and using the right devices to establish control parameters.

Over the course of the next few articles, we'll discuss the color management steps required for each stage of the creation process. We'll include standard and optional steps as well as recommended for procedures, software and hardware.

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As you work your way through this series, you'll find many references to the color management solutions from Datacolor. Their line of comprehensive, intuitive color tools includes all the components needed for quality color management and control, from start to finish. They've developed hardware and software packages specifically engineered for each stage of color management, as well as a complete studio that includes everything needed to manage your entire color management workflow and achieve professional, repeatable results.

Color management is the key to consistent quality in your images and taking control of color is surprisingly easy with the right methods and the right tools. The next few articles will introduce you to both.

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Printing your photos can be a frustrating process. It can also be expensive, what with one print after another eating up photo paper and ink while you make adjustments to the color. It seems that your printer just can't match those amazing colors you're seeing on your screen without over-adjusting your settings one way or another. What's worse is that the settings for one image often won't work for the next.

Before you replace your printer, though, I'm here to tell you that the problems most likely don't start there. Your printer is just the last piece of equipment to process your images and although there are certainly differences in printers, the output is only going to be as good as the input. In other words, if you're getting inconsistent results from a photo printer, chances are good that the color information coming from your computer isn't matching what your monitor is displaying. The solution is to be sure that both your monitor and printer are set to render the colors in your image files correctly.

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You see, the monitor is really the weak link in the chain of output devices. That's not because it's incapable of displaying color information correctly, but because there are so many variables, including room lighting, monitor type, monitor age, video card output, personal preference and more. You've set up your monitor to display everything comfortably for you, but because of those variables I just mentioned, what you're seeing may not match what others are seeing or what your printer is faithfully rendering.

The up side is that the solution is simple. Calibrating your monitor is a 5-minute process with the right equipment, and the right equipment is the Spyder5 from Datacolor. Once it's calibrated, you simply take about 3 minutes once a month to keep it tuned up, using the same system.

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Now, to complete the process, you need to create a printer profile for your processing and printing software to use. Like all other output devices, each printer is different. You need to tell your software exactly how your printer renders colors on a particular paper. This means using an ICC profile. Don't worry; Datacolor has that covered, too. SpyderPRINT is an incredibly easy and intelligent hardware/software package that lets you create an ICC profile for any printer and paper combination in a matter of minutes.

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Check out the short video below to understand how a printer profile, along with monitor calibration can save you hours of frustration, as well as your hard-earned dollars, by ensuring that your prints match what you see on your screen. Be sure to follow the link at the end of the video to see which Spyder package is best for your purposes. (By the way, you can save a lot of money on those packages right now. You're welcome!)

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Photography is about telling stories and preserving memories. As photographers, we spend a lot of time -  and often money – learning to capture those memories in all their splendor. We put a lot of effort into making sure that we or our clients can relive those treasured moments vividly.

No matter how well you capture an image, though, viewing and printing it in a way that brings back all the emotion of the moment depends on consistent color matching. Have you ever emailed a photo to a friend only to have that person say that the colors seem washed out, or worse, sent images to a print house to have them come back with colors that don't look right? Prints that are too dark is also a common problem.  The most likely cause is a problem with your monitor's color calibration.

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No two monitors are alike, not even if the model number is the same. That means that you can fine-tune your images on your monitor, then display them on someone else's and see two very different images. So, how do you know that your monitor is the one that's right? How do you ensure that your printed images will match what you're seeing on your screen? The only way to be sure is with accurate color calibration.

Fortunately, making sure the colors you see are correct every time isn't as difficult as you might think. Thanks to the Spyder5 from Datacolor, you can ensure that your monitor colors are true in about 5 minutes. You'll be amazed at how easy the process is and the time you'll save in editing when you're done. You'll also find that your print colors match what you see on the screen much more closely, rather than requiring multiple adjustments and reprints. That means saving money on ink and paper as well as your valuable time.


Here's something else you may not know: monitor colors shift over time. That means that calibration isn't a one-time procedure. It's important to periodically check and re-calibrate your monitor. Spyder5 creates a profile for your monitor when you initially calibrate it, so checking and recalibrating can be done in about half the time!

Put simply, if your images are important to you and you want to reproduce them as you intend, this is an investment you can't afford not to make. There's a Spyder5 package to suit every photographer, from the serious hobbyist to the most discriminating professional.

Stop frustrating yourself and start getting the results you want from your efforts to preserve those memorable moments. Take a look at the short video below and then visit the Datacolor website to see everything this incredibly intelligent system can do and the difference it will make in your images.

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You've heard it hundreds of times from your photographer friends: if you want to get the most out of your images shoot RAW. Sadly, many photographers aren’t maximizing the potential of their cameras by using the RAW image format.   Processing RAW files can be perceived as too involved when compared to other formats like JPEG. Exposure, white balance, contrast and all those other variables have to be set manually for those RAW files to look their best.  It can be much easier to let the camera make those adjustments and use the JPEG files. If you're shaking your head in sympathy for those photographers, good for you!

Fortunately, for those photographers and those who are going to all the trouble to work with those RAW files there's a much easier way to edit your images that will give you consistent settings for entire batches of images from a shoot. It will save you an unbelievable number of hours at the computer and ensure that all your photos taken under the same conditions get the correct initial adjustments in your favorite editors like Photoshop and Lightroom.

So, how is this time-saving miracle achieved? It's actually a simple process that involves an ingenious and very affordable device from the folks at Datacolor. It's called SpyderCUBE(tm) and it's one of my favorite additions to my camera bag.  Here's how it works:

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  1. Set your camera to save your images as RAW files.
  2. Place SpyderCUBE within a shot in the same lighting as your subject.
  3. Take a reference shot.
  4. Remove SpyderCUBE and shoot all of the required shots under those lighting conditions.  When you change locations or the lighting changes, take another reference image with SpyderCUBE.
  5. Back at the computer, open your reference shot in your editing software.
  6. Use SpyderCUBE as a reference to adjust white balance, exposure and contrast and save the settings as a preset.
  7. Apply these settings to the rest of the RAW files in the set.

That's it!  By using SpyderCUBE as a reference you can quickly edit an entire batch of images to correct white balance, basic exposure and contrast and render the scene accurately. You can now review and adjust individual images as desired to achieve any particular effects. It doesn't get any smarter and simpler than this!

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SpyderCUBE is a 3 dimensional reference that you use like a gray card.  The SpyderCUBE, however, provides more references than a traditional gray card. It's small, lightweight and durable, so it goes along with you easily. The colors on the surfaces are through-pigmented, to ensure that they'll last and they are spectrally neutral to provide a stable reference under any light source.

In my opinion, every photographer should own a SpyderCUBE; especially since it's priced so well. Don't take my word for it, though. Watch the short video below and visit Datacolor's website and get your own. Your RAW processing woes are about to go away!

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Let's be honest; modern Auto Focus systems are much faster than manual focus when it comes to many subjects. Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of manual focusing when the situation calls for it and time allows, but I'm also a firm believer in letting the camera and lens do the work in those situations where they may actually do a better job. In order for your equipment to get the job done right, though, there are a few steps you need to take and I'm going to lay those out for you here. Let's get right to it:

1. Stay within the sweet spot.

Try not to shoot at the extreme ends of the aperture range of your lens. Although the effects are more pronounced in inexpensive lenses, every lens will show more distortion, diffraction and aberration effects at the widest or narrowest aperture settings. Every lens is different, but most will have a "sweet spot" somewhere near the middle of the aperture range. Experiment with your lens to find it. A good place to start is often around f/8 to f/11. This is also a good idea when you're focusing manually.

2. Be still.

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A surprising number of shots that appear to be out of focus are actually exhibiting motion blur from camera movement. In fact, this is one of the most common problems for novice photographers. Learning to shoot steady takes practice and discipline. Use your tripod or monopod when you can, along with a remote release. When you can't, keep your elbows tucked in against your body and support the camera correctly, with your left hand cradling the body and lens. Relax, exhale and then trip the shutter with a smooth, gentle motion.

3. Be careful when focusing and recomposing.

One of the most common and very useful ways to ensure focusing on the subject of a shot is to put an active AF sensor over the subject, depress the shutter halfway to lock the focus, then re-compose the shot. While this is a good method, it's important to realize that as you change the angle of the camera, you're moving away from that initial focal plane. If you're shooting with a wide aperture, even the slightest change in distance from the subject will be much more noticeable, too.

Try not to move your camera too much when using this method. It's also a good idea to learn to use back-button focusing if your camera offers this option (and most modern DSLRs do).

4. Sharpen in post.

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Sharpening needs to be done in two stages for the best results: while shooting and during editing and sharpening for output. Start by capturing your images in the RAW format, because in-camera JPEG files will limit the amount of sharpening you can do in post without creating artifacts. It's also important to know that the final size of an image will determine how much sharpening you can do, so it's a good idea to sharpen as the last step, just prior to printing or converting to JPG for display.

5. Calibrate your lenses.

Your camera and lens work together to achieve focus and it's important to make sure they're set to deliver the best results. Like any other equipment, lenses vary and to get the best from an AF lens, your camera's AF system should be set to work with each specific lens. Higher-end DSLRs will allow you to store a correction profile for each AF lens you use, to ensure that you get repeatable focusing.

Most cameras have two types of focusing systems – Phase Detect AF and Contrast Detect AF.  Phase Detect uses another sensor to achieve focus and Contrast Detect uses the image sensor to focus the lens.  Modern mirrorless cameras use a combination of both systems on the actual sensor but DSLRs have two systems independently.  Live View auto focus uses contrast detect on the sensor and is most accurate.  Through the lens auto focus uses the Contrast Detect system.  SpyderLENSCAL allows the user to tune the Contrast Detect autofocus system so it is as accurate as possible.  AF fine-tuning is an adjustment of the Contrast Detect system and the LensCal helps in this adjustment) 

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There's an easy and efficient way to calibrate your camera and lens combinations. Datacolor's SpyderLENSCAL(tm) gives you an effective target to make the job of creating lens profiles through your camera’s auto focus adjustment quick and easy. What's even better is that it's surprisingly affordable. Check out the short video below to learn how it works, then follow the link at the end to improve the results you're getting from your AF lenses!

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