In this video, I share some of my feelings about photography and thoughts on color.

Find out more about X-Rite here.

Read more about color management here.

Learn more in my photography and printing workshops.

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xritecolorcheckerpassport

You can significantly improve the clarity and saturation of the color you digital camera creates by creating a custom profile for it. The defaults manufacturer’s provide and most people use are fine, but a custom profile built for your camera is better.

X-Rites’ Color Checker Passport can be used to quickly deliver more accurate color in a variety of ways.

Set White Balance, White Point, and Black Point

The X-Rite Color Checker Passport is the industry standard target that can be used in several ways to render color in your digital images more accurately – setting white balance, creative enhancement, and visual confirmation.

It’s easy to use. Shoot the Color Checker once at the beginning of each shooting session and you can use that exposure as a target for all exposures made under the same light. The exposure of the target doesn’t have to be perfect. Just, roughly fill the frame with the target; it doesn’t even have to be focussed. To use the exposure of the target, use your choice of Raw conversion software to open it along with other exposures you’d like to apply the same measurements to; click on the appropriate color patches (black for black point, white for white point, gray for gray point); and sync all of the files. It’s that simple.

Create A Camera Profile

The X-Rite Color Checker Passport can also be used to make custom profiles for your individual camera. You can create a camera profile with the same exposure of the target that you use to set white balance. While camera profiles are generated with the same target, the resulting exposures are not used to set white balance, instead they are used to deliver significantly improved color rendition and saturation, providing the best starting point for any color adjustment strategy you choose. Camera profiles are created with the X-Rite software supplied with the Color Checker Passport, stored, and later applied with your choice of Raw conversion software, typically Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom.

For optimum results, exposures used to generate camera profiles need to be made under the light (color temperature and spectral distribution) that subsequent exposures are made in. Using two exposures of the target made under different light temperatures, you can create a dual illuminant camera profile that can be used for all exposures made under a wide range of color temperatures. Single illuminant profiles are recommended for exposures made under very warm or very cool light temperatures – below 3600K (golden hours) and above 6800K (twilight).

ColorCheckerDual_425

How do you make a camera profile? First convert one or more exposures of the Color Checker Passport from the manufacturer’s proprietary Raw format to Adobe’s open standard Raw format – DNG. (Use either the free Adobe DNG Converter, Adobe Bridge, or Adobe Lightroom.) Open X-Rite’s Color Checker Passport software. Click DNG or Dual Illuminant DNG. Drag one or two DNG files into the open window. Once the software has identified the specific color patches it needs to build the profile, click Create Profile. The profile will automatically be stored for you in Camera Profiles and will be available for your use the next time you convert a Raw file in either Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom. You’ll find it under the Camera Calibration tab/panel under Camera Profile. Save New Camera Raw Defaults and your new camera profile will be automatically loaded when you open Raw files and previews in Adobe Bridge will be rendered with it.

ColorChecker_BeforeAfter

You can see the significant increase in saturation and color clarity custom profiles make by toggling between the default Adobe Standard and the custom profile built for your camera in the Camera Calibration panel.

Using a Color Checker Passport target or a camera profile generated with it doesn’t mean that you are locked into the results they generate, they simply give you the best starting point possible for adjusting your images.

Read more on color management here.

Read more on Raw processing here.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.

SyntheticProfiles_425

How can you change the appearance of a digital image without changing the numbers that assign the color values? Change what those numbers mean by changing the image’s ICC profile. Using abstract or synthetic profiles, you can make massive changes to an image with little to no cost, changes that ordinarily would cause big problems using standard methods, such as posterization and noise. It’s a practice known to color geeks and few others. When you’ve got a big job to do, it can get you out of a pinch in a hurry.

In most cases, we think of using color management to accurately match colors when moving between different color spaces; ICC profiles are used to describe different color spaces and to make precise transformations to values moved from one to another to maintain consistent appearances. In very rare cases, when profiles are assigned to image files without a color conversion, the appearance of the image changes; values stay the same, but their meaning changes, so the image looks different. So when you use this unorthodox method of color adjustment, you get a change in appearance without changing the values in the file, and this is particularly useful when you want to pay a very small price for making very big changes.

Am I saying that ICC profiles are used to change values so the appearance stays the same? Yes. Am I saying that a color space is just a recipe for color, and that there are many different RGB recipes? Yes, but while they’re the standards, sRGB, ColorMatch RGB, Adobe RGB (1998) and ProPhoto RGB are just a few among many.

With just a little experimentation, you’ll find you, too, can make big changes to your images and pay a small price using synthetic profiles. Using synthetic profiles is color adjustment without editing values; they change no values, but they do change the meaning of those values—and thus their appearance. Don’t believe it? Check your histogram when you assign a profile. You won’t even see it move! It’s kind of unbelievable. Try it. See it with your own eyes. You’ll quickly become a believer, too.

Learn the steps you need to take to make your own synthetic profiles …

Read more on Digital Photo Pro.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Understanding the difference between assigning and converting to a profile is one of the most conceptually challenging things about color management in digital imaging. It’s counterintuitive to think that by changing numbers the appearance of colors will stay the same or that if you don’t they won’t. But, once you understand why this is happening, how to set up your color management environment and what to do when you encounter color management dialog boxes will become much clearer.

In color management you “change to stay the same”. Why? Take the values for the most saturated red in any RGB color space – 255/0/0. If you graph this in sRGB (a small color space) and ProPhoto RGB (a large color space), you can quickly see that one will produce a much less saturated red than the other. Similarly, all the other numerical combinations produce different appearances in different color spaces too, with the exception of absolutely neutral colors whose values are equal – i.e. 128/128/128. To maintain the appearance of colors when you move them from one color space to another (for instance from a monitor to a printer), you have to change the numbers very precisely, using ICC profiles or maps for each color space and recipes for mixing colors in them.

The parenthetical remarks in Photoshop’s Paste Profile Mismatch dialog box say it clearly.

If you Don’t Convert but “preserve color numbers”, the appearance of a file will change, sometimes dramatically, because the numbers in the file have not been converted but a new color profile has been assigned, changing the meaning of the numbers.

If you Convert you “preserve color appearance”; Photoshop does this by referencing the ICC profiles of the source and destination color spaces and precisely changing the numbers in the file so that they produce the closest possible match to the original appearance; only the appearance of very saturated colors will change if you convert a file to a smaller gamut color space.

Note that information converted from sRGB into ProPhoto RGB does not get more saturated. The editing space becomes wider gamut, but the potential for increased saturation can’t be accessed unless values in the file are further enhanced with software. The best way to get the most saturated color possible is to convert the source file (Raw) into ProPhoto RGB.

If you adopt a consistent workflow and always convert into and create new files in the same color space, you’ll encounter these dialog boxes infrequently. You’ll quickly find you won’t have to think about it any more. And when you do, you’ll simply take appropriate action with confidence when you need to, confident that the images you’re creating are the very best that can be created.

Remember, color management isn’t about ensuring that color doesn’t change, it’s about ensuring it changes as little as possible and is changed as precisely as possible.

Read more in my color management ebooks.

View more in my color management DVD.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

In this video, I share my thoughts and feelings on photography and color.

Find out more about color management here.

Read other interviews here.

Read my artists statements here.

Profile Your Printer

December 21, 2011 | 2 Comments |

Prints made with default (left) and custom (right) profiles compared.

Good printer profiles help make good prints. Better printer profiles help make better prints. So, logically, you’ll want to use the best printer profiles to help you make the best prints.

How do high quality printer profiles contribute to print quality? A good printer profile helps render optimum shadow and highlight detail, gradation, neutrality and graybalance, as well as color rendition and saturation. (Remember, printer profiles characterize the combination of a printer’s hardware, ink, media setting, and the substrate you choose. You’ll need different profiles for different substrates on the same printer.)

How can you get good printer profiles? Look to three primary sources. One, use profiles provided by printer manufacturers; they’re free. Two, hire a printer profiling service; profiles cost approximately $100 each. Three, make printer profiles yourself; printer profiling systems run between $400 and $1000. (Profiles supplied by substrate manufacturers are of uneven quality; a few are good, many are bad.)

Which solution is right for you? It depends on both your printing conditions and needs.

If you’re using substrates supported by the manufacturer of your printer, try using the profiles they provide first; they’re often quite good. Years ago, Epson raised the bar on the quality of printer profiles provided by manufacturers. The highly sophisticated routines they use to produce their printer profiles processed by supercomputers are truly state-of-the-art. It’s arguable that you can produce better profiles, even with the most sophisticated profiling solutions available. Their profiling routines factor in subtleties like dot structure or screening frequency. One of the reasons a solution like this works is because the technologies and manufacturing standards they use are so consistent that the unit to unit variation between individual printers of the same model is extremely low. (It’s less than a Delta E of 1 or the minimum variation the human eye can detect.) Some, printer manufacturers, like Canon, provide a large number of profiles for substrates made by other companies; their quality is generally quite high with only a few exceptions. Other printer manufacturers, like HP, produce self-profiling printers. They need to be self-profiling, as the state of the printer is constantly changing; when nozzles clog, new nozzles come on line; when ink cartridges are swapped nozzles are replaced. One advantage to a system like this is you can quickly profile a new substrate on a printer with no additional equipment. The quality of the profiles is often good, but there will be times where you’ll want to improve upon it.

No manufacturer provides a comprehensive set of profiles that will cover the entire spectrum of fast-evolving substrate industry. A little experimentation with new media is advised, sometimes a lot. If you experiment with many medias or use more exotic substrates, you’d be well advised to have someone make custom profiles for you or do it yourself.

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