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Synthetic Profiles – Big Change Small Price

How can you change the appearance of a digital image without changing the numbers that assign the colors in it? Change what those numbers mean, by changing image’s ICC profile. Using abstract or synthetic profiles, you can make massive changes to an image with little to no cost, changes that would ordinarily cause big problems using standard methods, such a 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.

This is worth restating. What exactly is the difference between assigning an ICC profile and using an ICC profile to perform a color conversion? Using an ICC profile to convert color changes values to maintain the appearance of an image. Assigning an ICC profile changes the recipe for colors without changing the values in an image, so its appearance changes.

Real / Abstract / Synthetic Profiles

You could say there are “real” and “abstract” profiles. Real profiles describe the color capacity of real-world devices, like monitors and printers. Abstract profiles describe theoretical color spaces that don’t refer to specific devices, like the standard editing spaces we all use in everyday digital imaging – sRGB, Adobe RGB (1998), ProPhoto RGB, etc. Both real and abstract profiles are designed to maintain a consistent color appearance. So what’s a synthetic profile? It’s an ICC profile that is designed to change color appearance or to solve a color problem.

ColorSettings1

Color Settings

ColorSettings2

Color Settings Custom RGB option

Creating Synthetic Profiles

You can create synthetic ICC profiles with Photoshop. Go to Edit > Color Settings and making sure More Options is checked go to Working Spaces > RGB > Custom RGB. In the final window that appears, you’ll use three variables to create a synthetic profile; Gamma, White Point, and Primaries.

Gamma affects brightness and contrast. Gamma is the midtone adjustment applied to compensate for nonlinear characteristics of capture and display systems. It’s the slope of the input-output curve. A slope of 1 is linear or with no change between input and output. Values larger than 1 make shadows darker; values less than 1 make shadows lighter. ColorMatch RGB and ProPhoto have gammas of 1.8. sRGB and Adobe RGB (1998) have gammas of 2.2. You can set a value as low as .75 and as high as 3.0.

Gamma is the most useful setting of the three; it’s excellent for making industrial strength adjustments to exposure. It has one variable.

White Point is the color temperature of white produced by combining red, green, and blue primaries at maximum strength. It’s measured in Kelvin degrees Fahrenheit. 5000K is the temperature of daylight (at high noon) and the industry standard viewing light. A higher value is cooler (bluer); a lower value is warmer (yellower).

White Point is useful for gross color adjustment; the results are best fine-tuned with other tools in Photoshop. It has two variables.

Primaries are the chromaticities (hue and saturation) of the red, green, and blue components that define a color space. Each primary is specified by an x and y coordinate. There are nine defaults to choose from including Adobe RGB (1998). If you’d like to start with values from other color spaces (including the other standard editing spaces like sRGB, ColorMatch RGB, Apple RGB, and ProPhoto RGB), using the RGB drop down menu specify a color space first, this sets the starting point, and then pull up to Custom RGB, where you can modify those values.

Primaries is the most complex and difficult to use of the three; it requires a lot of experimentation; it’s capable of making exotic color adjustments that can’t be duplicated with other tools in Photoshop but it’s much harder to predict and control. It has six variables.

To make it easier to preview the results of your explorations with synthetic profiles, discard the profile of the image you are viewing. Go to Edit > Assign Profile > Don’t Color Manage This Document. Photoshop uses the current Color Spaces Working Spaces settings to display files without ICC profiles. If you don’t do this, you’ll have to save a synthetic profile and then take the extra step of applying the profile to see the results, which will slow you down considerably.

When you’re ready to save your synthetic profiles, use Color Settings’ RGB drop down menu and pull up to Save RGB. (Don’t use the Save button on the right side of the Color Settings dialog; instead of saving an ICC profile, this saves all of the Color Settings as a .csf file, useful for syncing multiple Adobe applications.) When you finish creating a synthetic profile click Cancel in the Color Settings dialog; you don’t want synthetic settings to become your default RGB editing space as they are used when creating new files.

If you want to archive or share synthetic profiles, you can copy the profiles out of the folder they’re saved in. (On a Mac, profiles are saved with this path – Library > Color Sync > Profiles.)

To apply a synthetic profile go to Edit > Assign Profile command. You can see before and after appearances by checking the Preview box on and off.

Exploring Your Options

Because using synthetic profiles is so abstract, it’s useful to explore your options by comparing the results of multiple profiles side-by-side. While you’re exploring your options, at any one time, have a minimum of two identical files open in Photoshop so that you can carefully assess the results of different profiles.

Make a number of synthetic profiles based on your standard editing space (My standard editing space is ProPhoto RGB.) with different gamma settings varying in .1 or .2 increments. When you save your synthetic profiles, use a standard naming convention to tell the differences between them, such as SYN ProPhoto G2.2, SYN ProPhoto G2.4, etc.

Once you’ve applied a synthetic profile, should you then convert the file to a standard editing space? You don’t need to. Your synthetic profile uses the standard ICC language and should be accurately read by any software that is ICC compliant. One advantage to keeping it in the synthetic color space is that your file will accurately inform you about its creation. But if it makes you feel better, you won’t pay much of a price if you convert to a standard editing space; the few minor quantization errors associated with such color conversions are almost always invisible to the naked eye.

Fine-Tuning Your Results

While you’ll be able to perform the lion’s share of color adjustment using a synthetic profile, most images will benefit from additional fine-tuning through standard image editing practices in Photoshop.

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 is kind of unbelievable. Try it. See it with your own eyes. You’ll quickly become a believer too.

Read more on Color Adjustment here.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.

Richard Benson and Frank Cost discuss important recent transitions in photography at Parsons The New School for Design in NYC during a two day conference The Photographic Universe.

Read my conversation with Richard Benson.

Explore 12 Great Photographs By Great Photographers

Explore The Essential Collection Of Quotes By Photographers.

Explore The Essential Collection Of Documentaries On Photographers.

Resonance in Blue and Gold IA

  Original Image

Resonance in Blue and Gold IA

The Color Lookup Pastel8Hues creates very strong color effects.

Resonance in Blue and Gold IA

Any Color Lookup adjustment layer can be modified with Blend Modes. 

05_ColorLookup

The Color Lookup Adjustment

Originally designed for color grading film and video, Photoshop’s Color Lookup feature offers novel ways to adjust color that will quickly reveal new possibilities in your images. Capable of performing extremely complex calculations extraordinarily efficiently, color lookup tables (LUTs) work by looking up a source color in a table and using the replacement color specified in the grid to transform it for the final destination.

Like Match Color and Gradient Map adjustments (See my last two articles for Digital Photo Pro.) the color effects Color Lookup generates are so complex they are not easy to previsualize. Like anything new, this takes practice. And these are new! Experiment and you’ll find many rich possibilities. Unlike Match Color, Color Lookup is loaded with presets that will allow you to quickly explore many different effects, ones that are far more sophisticated than Gradient Map presets. In this way, using them can be as easy as using many smartphone app effects.

Color Lookup offers three types of LUTs, each with its own drop down menu which contains multiple presets – 3D LUT File (27 presets), Abstract (15 presets), and Device Link (5 presets) for a combined total of 47 presets. While you can only apply one Color Lookup with a single adjustment layer, you can use multiple adjustment layers to successively apply as many Color Lookups as you like. Perhaps not infinite, the possibilities are many.

What is the difference between these three types of LUTs?

06_3DLUT

3D LUTs

3D LUT File

Dependent on color space, 3D LUT presets load and export files with 3DL, CUBE, LOOK, and CSP extensions. While Gradient Map adjustments use one channel (the grayscale values of the combined RGB channel), these lookup tables use all three color channels. They do not generate 3D effects as their name might suggest.

07_Abstract

Abstract Profiles

Abstract

Abstract presets load and export ICC profiles. These settings are not color space dependent so they maintain consistent appearances during conversions to alternate color spaces and are favored when the color space of a file is likely to change during a workflow, as it may when moving files across different output devices or to video.

08_DeviceLink

Device Link Profiles

Device Link

Also dependent on color space, this format is smaller and more portable than 3D LUTs.

3D LUT and Device Link presets are color space (sRGB, ColorMatch, Adobe1998, ProPhoto, etc) dependent and are recommended for use in the color space they were created in – all of the RGB presets were designed for use in sRGB. (LAB supports only Abstract presets. CMYK also supports Device Link but not 3D LUT presets.) This won’t stop you from generating impressive color effects other color spaces. You can use many presets with color spaces other than the ones they were intended for, although the visual appearance they generate will be somewhat different. You need to keep this in mind when you’re trying to achieve consistency between different files. Be mindful that if you make a color space conversion with an active Color Lookup adjustment layer, the appearance of the file will most likely change during conversion. (To get around this, you can merge the effect into a layer before making the color space conversion.) Remember this when you create your own Color Lookup presets.

09_LayerStack

Adjustment Layers offer Blend Modes like Color.

10_LayerStyle

 Layer Styles offer Blend If sliders that remove effects from shadows and /or highlights.

Get Even More Control

At first glance, you might be tempted to think that you have limited control over Color Lookup effects. You either like an effect or you don’t. Don’t move on too quickly. Take another look. You actually have lots of control. When you apply a Color Lookup table as an adjustment layer, you can modify the effect by using Opacity and/or Fill (globally reducing strength with a slider), layer masks (locally reducing strength with a brush), Blend If Sliders (removing the effect from shadows and/or highlights with sliders), and blend mode (modifying the ways color adjustments are calculated). Even with all of this control, it’s likely that you’ll want to further refine the effects of a preset with additional color adjustments, using other tools, like Curves and Hue/Saturation.

Resonance in Blue and Gold IA

Resonance in Blue and Gold IA

Make Your Own Presets

You can also generate your own Color Lookup presets. To do this create a color effect you like with any with any combination of adjustments layers, Opacity and Fill, Blend If sliders, blend modes. (Layer masking and transparency will not be included, because alpha channel information in alpha channels is not included in the recipe.) Then go to File: Export: Color Lookup Table, name the file, and click OK. (I recommend the titles you give your presets include the color space you created them in.) These files are stored in Photoshop’s Presets folder or if they’re saved as ICC profiles in your operating systems Profiles folder. You can now use your custom preset at any time on almost any file by making a Color Lookup adjustment layer and choosing your preset. You can share your custom Color Lookups with others by giving them these exported files. Color LUTs created in Photoshop can even be used in other programs such as After Effects, Premiere, SpeedGrade and other applications that use color LUTs.

Using Color Lookup adjustment layers is one way of creating a condensed layer stack but it comes with a price – you won’t be able to adjust or mask individual adjustment layers. If you’d like to do this, as an alternative solution, you can place all of the adjustment layers into a Group and drag and drop the Group from one file into another when needed.

If you want to produce a Color Lookup preset and achieve the greatest consistency in appearance between multiple images you’ll want to use a file that is representative of a majority of the images it will be used on and include a professional color chart like X-Rite’s Color Checker. (This is especially important when processing video.)

Using Photoshop’s Color Lookup you can choose to create color effects as subtle or dramatic as you like. This game-changing color adjustment tool may seem exotic at first because it offers a new way of thinking about and seeing in color. Once you become more familiar with this mindset you’ll truly begin to see with new eyes. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Read more on Color Adjustment here.

Learn more in my digital printing and digital photography workshops.

 

4          The Color Lookup window.

5          3D LUT presets

6          Abstract presets

7          Device Link presets

8          Layers provide extra control – Opacity, masks, blend mode

9          Layer Styles’ Blend If sliders allow you reduce effects from shadows and/or highlights.

10        Modest adjustment

11        Dramatic adjustment

Quotes_Craft

Enjoy this collection of quotes on Craft.

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
― Francis of Assisi

“There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman.” – Emile Zola

“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.” – Johannes Brahms

“Well you can’t teach the poetry, but you can teach the craft.” – David Hockney

“The difference between an artist and a craftsman is that a craftsman is interested in his or her tools and an artist disdains them.” – Richard Benson

“Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.” – Raymond Chandler

“The moment a man begins to talk about technique that’s proof that he is fresh out of ideas.” – Raymond Chandler

“Art that submits to orthodoxy, to even the soundest doctrines, but lacks imagination and deep self-expression is lost leaving only the craftsmanship.” – Andre Gide

“The most awkward means are adequate to the communication of authentic experience, and the finest words no compensation for lack of it. It is for this reason that we are moved by the true Primitives and that the most accomplished art craftsmanship leaves us cold.” – Ananda Coomaraswamy

“It is not enough to know your craft – you have to have feeling. Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more.” – Edouard Manet

“I think you get most of the most interesting work done in fields where people don’t think they’re doing art but are merely practicing a craft and working as good craftsmen. Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.” – Douglas Adams

“From an acting standpoint, when I was a kid, I thought I knew everything there was to know. As the years go by, this craft becomes more intensive as I get older. You realize how much more there is to know and to learn, and how much better you can get, if you really work at it.” – Kevin Bacon

“And if you can find out something about the laws of your own growth and vision as well as those of photography you may be able to relate the two, create an object that has a life of its own, which transcends craftsmanship. That is a long road, and because it must be your own road nobody can teach it to you or find it for you. There are no shortcuts, no rules.” – Paul Strand

“What I’ve learned over the years is that the craft of songwriting is trying to take the personal and make it universal – or in the case of telling a story, taking the universal and making it personal.” – Neil Peart

“The great thing for me, now, is that writing has become more and more interesting. Not just as a craft but as a way into things that are not described. It’s a thing of discovering. That’s when writing is really working. You’re on the trail of something, and you don’t quite know what it is.” – Sam Shepard

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway

“The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps… so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.” – Dylan Thomas

“You want to be a bit compulsive in your art or craft or whatever you do.” – Steve Martin

“You either create something and you keep it a secret and you die with it, or you can benefit the craft.” -Vidal Sassoon

“The life so short, the craft so long to learn.” – Hippocrates

Explore The Essential Collection Of Creativity Quotes here.

View The Essential Collection Of Creativity Videos here

Discover more quotes in my social networks.

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