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Color Management
by Bob Dean

Digital photography has added a lot of new “buzz words” to our vocabulary. One of the most misused or perhaps least understood is “color management”. Discussions of color management lead to more terms like color space, rendering, sRGB, and so forth. We figured a brief foray into the realities of digital color is warranted, so we can utilize the new tools we have.

What does color management mean? Essentially it’s the catch-all term that describes the process of making sure the colors of your subject are displayed the way you want them on the medium of your choosing, and that you can achieve that result consistently! First let’s define a few terms:

Color space is the portion of the color spectrum that is available to the output device (monitor, printer, etc.) for display of the image. In other words, how many colors can you hope to reproduce.

Rendering is the software process of converting a RAW image into a usable file in a specific color space. This word comes from rendition. Another techie convolution of the language.

Color space -. The first step in color management is determining the color space in which you want to work. Remember that RAW files are “rendered” to the color space by the camera’s internal software or the post processing software in your computer. If you shoot only RAW, the rendering must be done in the post processing on your computer. If you can select multiple output files such a RAW plus jpeg, you can specify the color space for the jpeg files.

You should select your color space based on the planned use of the image. Most digital cameras will allow you to select Adobe RGB or sRGB. Adobe RGB has a slightly larger gamut of colors and is less saturated than sRGB. Adobe is more closely correlated with ink jet printers. If you are more interested in viewing your images on a monitor or projecting them with an LCD projector, the slightly smaller color gamut and more saturated sRGB color space is better. Post processing programs also allow CMYK color space which is more suited to publication formats. It’s possible to create different files from the same RAW image in various color spaces using the computer’s RAW conversion program (Photoshop™ as an example).

Calibration of your computer’s monitor - What is calibration and why calibrate? This reason is very simple; it allows you to get prints out of your printer that look just like to image you saw on your monitor screen. OK, what if you don’t print your images but send them out to others for printing, use in magazines, contests, and so forth? Calibration has been compared to such mundane things as getting your car aligned or flossing your teeth, not required but very good practice. When you send a digital file out for any purpose, you really don’t know if the next person down the line will do proper color management. If you know you sent out the best file possible, then the next user will start with a superior product and you’ll have a much greater probability that your image will stand out.

There has been a lot of talk about LCD monitors not being very good for calibration since they drift quite a bit over time and temperature; this was true a few years back newer models are much better and can be calibrated as good as the old CRT models.

The first step in calibration is looking at the monitor. There are whole books written on this subject. In order to calibrate your monitor, you might consider the purchase a calibration product that includes software and a sensor. Many of these packages are available priced from under $100 to several hundred. A little bit of research on the internet will allow you to pick the right one for you. There are also more manual tools, some free, that allow a degree of calibration using the computer’s internal tools and specific light sources.

A really good website with lots of links to information, manufacturer’s sites and a good starting point for monitor calibration is:

Take a look at this site and get started doing better color management of your images!