The Dark Art of Colour Management

One of the few things that still amazes me are the number of photographers that enter exhibitions and competitions that do not use any form of colour management. With in my roll as Digital Secretary to the Southampton International I come across quite a few images each year which I would put money on as having been produced on a computer with no form of colour management.

Let us start with the basics, if you are editing images on a monitor that is not calibtrated to the ICC standard how can you be sure that what you see on the monitor is correct? If you send your images out for printing how can you be sure the colours are correct? If you send the images to someone who has a calibrated monitor how can you be sure the colours will look right?

As for printers, if you are not using an ICC profile for your ink set and paper type how can you be sure the results are correct? Nearly all the paper suppliers do provide generic ICC profiles for their papers for different printers and these in most cases are fairly close (the manufacturing tolerances in printers varies so each individual printer is slightly different), some suplliers will even create custom ICC profiles free of charge for their papers.

Personally i use a Spyder4 Elite Studio (the latest is the Spyder5) to create my own custom ICC profiles for both printer and monitor. Now this might seem a bit odd to some but I always calibrate my printer first (the reason will become obvious later on). This involves printing out some target colour patches that are supplied with the calibration software which are the scanned with a spectrophotometer, the Spyder software give the option of 225 or 729 colour patches, the greater the number the more accurate the profile. I prefer to print mine using the software that I use to edit my images, in my case Lightroom.

EZ Target Plus Grays 1 of 4

This is one of the 9 targets I print.

If you regularely use say 5 diferent paper types you will require an ICC profile for each one of them

Next up is the monitor, this is the easier one to do, just a case of hanging a spectrophotometer on the screen and letting the software run through a series of contrast, brightness and colour patches. Once done the colours on the monitor and printer should be very close to each other, but most people will notice that the print appears much darker than the screen image, this is due to all monitors being set to bright when made. Most calibration software will allow you to set a brightness level normally in Candela-per-square-meter cd/m², this should be set at around 100 cd/m² to match the print brightness (this is where calibrating the printer first comes in). The Spyder print software comes with a test image which I do use to match the monitor to the print, this I do viewing the test image in Lightroom with the softproofing facility.


Spyder test images

There should be no reason now why when you send your images in for a competition or to an International exhibition they should look correct, this is of course reliant on the correct colour profile being attached if meant for digital projection (all projectors work in the sRGB colour space) and there is no reason why a print should not be very close to what is on your monitor (bear in mind though one is reflected light and the other is transmitted light). One other thing to remember is, if sending your images out for printing you will require the ICC profile from the printing company for their machine and paper.

If anyone needs help with any of this as it can be very daunting for those new to colour management but to get the best of your images it is a necessary evil, please do not hessitate to get in touch with me, I am more than willing to help out.

© Ian Hutchinson 2017