Colour Management

One of the presentations at the NUJ Photography Matters conference that I missed (too busy eating lunch, drinking wine,  meeting people, looking at the exhibition and taking snaps) was on Colour Management.

Assuming that you work with colour (and in this digital age we all do, though some like to pretend they work in black and white, though often the results are not too convincing,)  colour management is something you need to embrace.

Fortunately it’s pretty simple. Buy a decent monitor. Get a hardware monitor calibrator – such as the Eye-One Display 2 – and use it. Shoot in Adobe RGB and supply files tagged as that for print and convert to sRGB for web (and clients who don’t have any idea what they are doing.)

If you want prints, talk to the lab about how they want files and profiles for soft-proofing. To make your own ink jet prints, get specific profiles made for your printer, ink and paper. Apply these only once (usually in Photoshop where you can soft-proof rather than in the printer driver.)


Of course there is a little more to it than this. One clear and concise introduction I’ve just been reading comes from Louis Dina, a Birmingham, Alabama based  photographer and printer. From the Color Management page on his web site you can download two free PDF documents, both very straightforward and readable.

The first, (use the Introduction link at the left of the page to open the page with the download link) is an Introduction to Color Management which tells  you why you need to do it and gives a clear explanation of how it works.

The second,  downloaded from the Monitor and Printer Profiling page gives highly detailed click by click instructions, almost all of which are good advice whoever you get to make your printer profiles. There are a few places where I do things a little differently (for example over the exact monitor settings I use) but I suspect Dina’s approach is likely to be better, and I’ll probably try it out.

[I first came across Dina when looking at black and white printing – a rather more complex subject, and one that takes you – if you are serious – into the world of RIPs, spectrophotometers and specialised ink sets. Colour is in many ways more straightforward because that’s what the printer manufacturers make their ink jets and inks to do.]

If you are in the US, you may want to make use of the mail custom profiling service offered by DinaGraphics mentioned on these pages  – it seems very reasonably priced for what it offers, although I’ve not tried it myself –  but there are also excellent services elsewhere.  But looking at the prices charged by professional sites in the UK, it could be worth paying the postage to the US.  On the site you can also download  profiling targets, and one of these, designed for preliminary testing to establish the best driver settings for a particular paper (its use is detailed in the second PDF) seems worth using whoever you are going to get to make your custom profiles.

I’ve tried making my own profiles using scanner based systems, and tried profiles made by people with some of the cheaper spectrophotometers marketed to  photographers and studios. Both better than nothing, occasionally even an improvement on ‘generic’ profiles from paper vendors, but neither a match for those produced on more expensive equipment.

One of the UK specialists in Colour Management is Neil Barstow, and together with Photo Pro digital editor Michael Walker he is producing the forthcoming e-book “Practical Colour Management for Photographers“, and they were both at Photography Matters to talk about this and discuss colour management.  There is a great deal of information on colour management on his web site including a knowledge base and also a free consulting service.  Much of the site is aimed at press and pre-press and the approach is perhaps overkill for working photographers. I can’t at the moment find more information about the forthcoming book.

Another resource that can be downloaded is  the complete text from the colour management chapter in Martin Evening‘s Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers – which of course some may already have. Being designed for the printed page I find it a little confusing on screen. But I can in any case look at his advice on the subject in his book on the older version of Photoshop I use.

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