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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Color Management Basics—05/02/11

DPMag Published in Tip Of The Week
Color Management Basics—05/02/11
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Color management is a big issue that some photographers completely ignore. They figure the problem is so big they can't even wrap their minds around it, much less implement proper procedures that ensure accurate color all the way through the digital workflow. In reality, the principles of color management are fairly basic. Here are all the places where color management is most important, and how you can begin to think about color managements to make sure your pictures, your monitor and your prints all agree.

In Camera
Creating a color-managed workflow starts in the camera with the white balance you select. Whether you prefer a preset (daylight, tungsten, fluorescent), a color temperature (dialed in to match the color temperature of your light source) or a custom white balance set specifically for the lighting in the scene you're shooting, it's important to start with pictures that possess accurate color based on the lighting in which they were made. Without a solid in-camera white-balance foundation, all of the other color workflow steps would simply ensure that you're looking at incorrect color in the correct way. Shooting RAW files is a great way to build in flexibility with precise white-balance control that can be adjusted after capture in the computer. But only if you take care of the next stage of color management, too.


In The Computer
So you've shot accurate images with white balance set correctly for the lighting in which they were shot. That's great, but only if you carry color control into the computer. Every digitally captured image file has a color profile built in. These profiles tell subsequent software and hardware how to treat every value in an image. This is called a color space, and it's easiest to think of it as a physical area—some are bigger, some smaller. The ideal workflow never sends an image with a too-big color space to a device with a too-small color space, or else some values will simply be discarded. This is called "out of gamut," and it means there's no predicting how those colors will be rendered—except to be sure that they won't be rendered accurately. There's no single right answer for an all-time perfect color space. The important thing is to know that your image files have color profiles built in, some allow you to reassign other profiles, and some programs simply throw those profiles away. If you're not careful with the settings in your editing and export software, you could wind up without a profile built in. And that means subsequent software and hardware won't know how to interpret the colors in the images. A good workflow is designed to maintain good communication about colors from program to program, device to device, and this is done with profiles.


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