Category Archives: Guest blog

Colour Management Interview with Simon Prais, Technical Director at Color Confidence

Colour Confidence

Simon Prais, Technical Director at Color Confidence

How many years have you worked in the photo industry? 30 years

What is your current location? Birmingham

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? A creative professional

Do you prefer dogs or cats? Neither, but if I had to choose – cats

Can you briefly sum up what Color Confidence offers? Color Confidence is Europe’s leading colour management specialist into the digital imaging markets. We offer the widest range of products and services from the world’s leading manufacturers including X-Rite, DxO, NEC, BenQEIZO and ExpoImaging, amongst many others, together with our own brand range of calibration and colour management essentials for photographers, designers and anyone with an interest in colour.

How important is colour management to photography enthusiasts? Do they really need to engage in the subject, for instance, if they never print but only post pictures on social media websites?

If you spend any time visually adjusting the colour or contrast of a digital image, regardless of its final use, that decision needs to be made on a colour calibrated monitor. Although it’s unlikely that even 1% of viewers on a social media site would have a calibrated monitor, there are at least two factors to consider:

  • If your monitor was too warm, and you adjusted your images based on the assumption that what you see on the screen is correct, anyone with an un-calibrated ‘cool’ monitor viewing the images will see a massive difference to your intended colour balance. Whereas if your monitor is calibrated, you are limiting the range of colour difference across the range of un-calibrated monitors.
  • Your original image may have been perfect, but if you view it on an un-calibrated monitor, you could end up wasting your time whilst also destroying your image.

How difficult is colour management? Do you need good IT skills, for example? It was complicated fifteen years ago, but nowadays it is straightforward and automated.

Where would you recommend someone start if they want to colour manage their workflow? Is it, for example, necessary to start with the camera and work all the way through to the output device?

The most practical point to start from is monitor calibration. A calibrated monitor enables you to determine deficiencies in your camera, printer or viewing conditions.

There seem to be a great many colour management devices on the market. With a limited budget, what is the first item to buy, why, and do you have any specific product recommendations?

To back up my previous answer, it would have to be a monitor calibrator. A properly calibrated monitor is essential for colour critical work such as photography. A profiled screen gives you a trusted source for viewing your images so that you can be confidence in the results. If budget allows, I would recommend the X-Rite i1Display Pro (RRP £216 incl. VAT), which offers the highest standard of on-screen colour accuracy for displays and projectors. Alternatively, I would recommend the X-Rite ColorMunki Display (RRP £150 incl. VAT), which has slightly less features but is still sufficient for achieving consistent colour accuracy. If you can justify a new monitor, high-end monitors are frequently offered with the benefit of a discount off a calibrator, if purchased at the same time.

The monitor is clearly important, but many people stick with what came with their PC bundle? Is that okay or should they consider an upgrade?

They should definitely consider an upgrade. There is a considerable difference between a £100 monitor bundled with a PC and a £500-£900 professional monitor, and it’s not just the price point. Any editing or decisions on how accurate a photo is, depends on what you see on the monitor screen. That is why it is important to pick the right quality of monitor to suit your needs.

Is there such a thing as an ideal monitor? What should we look for when looking to buy one and what sort of budget will we need?

The NEC SpectraView, EIZO CG and BenQ PG colour critical range of monitors include all the key qualities of an ideal monitor. These are available in a number of sizes and resolutions to suit an individual’s requirements.

A quality monitor will have an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel type. IPS panels offer a much larger colour gamut than TN panels, which are frequently used in laptops. A further benefit of IPS panels over both TN and VA panels, used on standard grade monitors, is the colour consistency and viewing angle. Viewing such panels from even a slight angle causes a shift in the display, whereas IPS panel technology provides consistency from increased viewing angles. Professional monitors will also be validated for uniformity across the display.

Such monitors generally include hardware calibration software. This communicates directly with the monitor for optimised colour accuracy.

Budget constraints are often a factor, and although quality to achieve good colour accuracy over size is a good generalisation, there are some instances when some of the quality features need to be trimmed back, when a larger panel size is crucial. If you can’t justify both quality and the required size, is to worth consider retaining your old monitor for general use and using a second monitor for colour critical work.

With many people buying 4K televisions, is it feasible to use one of these as their editing monitor?

Although the latest 4K televisions offer a much higher resolution than standard HD TV’s, and look a tempting option as a computer screen, they are not suitable as an image-editing monitor. The 4K TV’s are designed to give high contrast, punchy images for primarily displaying TV, films and video, so will display images with increased contrast and saturation even when profiled. We recommend using an accurate colour manageable monitor, and with 4K monitors recently introduced, they should be considered for editing in 4K whereas 4K televisions should be avoided.

The final link in the chain is output. The photographic printer market is dominated by Canon and Epson, what advice do you have for people looking for a high quality photo printer?

Stick to the main photo market manufacturers, Epson and Canon and check that the model is categorised as a photo printer (avoid ‘all in one’ devices as they generally don’t have the colour quality required for photo printing).

When researching a printer, download the manual and look at the key features, especially the print driver colour management options, as this will indicate if the printer will be easily colour managed, and if you want to use third party paper, such as Tecco PHOTO and colour profiles, or create your own.

Printers range from having just 4 colour cartridges (CMYK), to 12 colours. A minimum of 7 or 8 colours that include Light Cyan, Light Magenta and Light Black/Grey provides higher quality prints without visually apparent dots in the light tones. Whereas the addition of Orange and Green increases the colour range with increased colour saturation.

Many people complain of the final print not looking anything like the image they saw on-screen. What advice do you have to get colour correct prints?

I would recommend they purchase an X-Rite ColorMunki Photo (RRP £487.27 incl. VAT) – an all in one entry-level calibration process that delivers fast, accurate matching from capture to display and print. However, even with that, such complaints still arise because the thing people overlook is the viewing light. If the illumination of your monitor isn’t matched to the illumination of your print, one will look lighter or darker than the other. If one can’t justify a viewing booth for standardised viewing conditions, a GrafiLite (£61.27 incl. VAT) will give you a daylight balanced consistent temperature and brightness level to be matched against your monitor.

Most people will have their computer and printer in a domestic environment. Have you any tips to help them get the best possible set-up?

Yes, ideally they should use a monitor hood and a viewing light or GrafiLite. Most professional monitors come with an option of a hood, if not, the PChOOD Pro (RRP £71.44 incl. VAT) is an adaptable hood, which will fit anything from a 15” to a 26” monitor size.

If you had to give just one piece of colour management advice, what would that be?

Ensure that you regularly calibrate your monitor. Your monitor will be gradually changing with time so without monthly calibration, it’s a constant moving target.

Red Sails with DxO – Guest blog written by Chris Jameson

DXO_new

As part of my support for local charities, I print and sell images. So I was pleased to win the confidence of a local business to produce a print for their new client room.

Earlier in the year I had captured a few images of a very misty estuary and sailboat, the lighting conditions were unusual because the mist was producing a red cast similar to sunset but whiter highlights on the water.

The client chose this image for the calm serenity that it portrayed.

The sample print had been A4 size and the client wanted an A3, my main concern was getting both the colour temperature accurate to the conditions and keeping what little detail there was in the image, especially at A3 size.

Fortunately help was at hand in the form of DxO Optics Pro v10. I had recently seen a demonstration of the software at the Wilkinson’s Digital Splash exhibition. I was convinced that the software was going to have an impact on my digital workflow.

Optics Pro software looks at the camera body and lens combination you have used to capture an image (works best in RAW) using the EXIF data. It then makes a series of complicated mathematical calculations to adjust the image for any optical & physical corrections required to bring image closer to your intended capture (it won’t correct human errors such as poor focus etc).

The software is straightforward to use with a very intuitive interface, after interrogating your EXIF file the software goes online to get the camera and lens profile combination used from a large database of files (painstakingly created by testing the majority of lens & camera combinations – check if yours are supported).

After a very short time, I had a result which I was quite pleased with, the options of output are quite wide with file formats such as JPEG, TIFF, DNG supported. There is even a plug-in to write directly into Lightroom.

If you want to start customising how your image file is processed, then there is a section to achieve this which has all the attributes that can be tweaked in logical groups: Essential Tools, Light, Colour, Detail and Geometry. Again all of these areas are quite intuitive but if you do require assistance, the help files are excellent – there are online links, tutorials and much more.

There are options to copy the correction settings you have achieved and also to make your own presets.

I like the option to append output files with DxO – as this helps me understand how I have processed an image.

Preparing the image for printing was the next task which was assisted by the use of the X-Rite ColorMunki hardware and software solution.

For any important project like this, I take the precaution of re-calibrating my monitor/screen and then performing a paper/colour profile (ensuring that ink tanks are all sufficient, as any replacement will change the colour output).

It’s very important for me to get the best print without any problems or errors to keep the printing cost as low as possible, this ensures that I can maximise the donation to the chosen charity for which the project is helping.

Most of my images are landscape, wildlife or RNLI action – so I don’t usually have the opportunity to use a X-Rite ColourChecker Passport at the start of any photography but it will be something that I will definitely look at if I start doing people or groups because of the help it can offer in achieving the desired finished print.

My goal is to grow my photography ability and support for charities, spending more time capturing images with a smoother digital workflow to output helps give me the confidence to push my ability and camera to the limit.

Below are the two images

Red Sails

Left is the RAW file after standard conversion in Adobe Lightroom
Right is the image after import and standard DxO preset application.

There is an improvement in details, especially in the shadows and the colour profile is much warmer – as it was when originally captured.

I now understand the message that DxO quote on the introduction splash screen “Push the limits of your Camera” as it is difficult to actually start finding the limits, if you can’t accurately see what you are capturing.

Written by Chris Jameson @photo_cj

Chris has worked for a number of charities such as Trinity and RNLI. He donates his time and images to local and regional fundraising groups and often sells images, with the proceeds going to supporting charities.