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Pre-Workflow: Color Management Integration
Color management for black and white, really? Sounds like a serious yawn fest!
Color management is an extremely complex topic and one that has haunted digital photographers since its inception. Most students' eyes glaze over when this topic comes up in my workshops. "Interesting, but a waste of time, not pertinent to black and white, already know it all, and even too technical" are the comments I hear in its wake. Color management was explained to me several times by several different Photoshop experts before it all integrated effectively into my workflow. As an honor student in my undergraduate studies, as well as my graduate work, I typically do not consider myself particularly stupid, but this color management stuff twisted my head into knots for quite some time. As an experiential learner, I love to jump into new things with both feet and, as a result, I often end up doing things the wrong way first. Although I did have more fun in the beginning of my digital learning process, I eventually learned the hard way that skipping over color management was definitely not the best choice. Color management is without a doubt an absolutely essential piece of the workflow process. Although not the most exciting topic, color management is the foundation upon which everything in the digital darkroom process is built. So whether you work in color or black and white, learning the basics up front will serve you well in the digital process.
Unfortunately for the creative user, color management really is quite complex. There are reasons why there are in-depth, full-length texts devoted entirely to this topic alone. Fortunately, for most users, grasping the entire scope of all the technical information available is not an absolute necessity. For the purposes of this book, I have weeded through all of the technical jargon and simplified the majority of the complexity into five easy steps. These five steps will not only get you in the ball park ... but probably all the way to third base with color knowledge in your own personal digital darkroom. The last bit – from third base to the home plate – is the volumes of information within those full-length texts that will either bore you to tears or tantalize your inner nerd beyond comprehension. So, for the sake of making this text user-friendly, I hope to avoid boring you to tears, while leaving the rest to the technical gurus who have already extensively detailed all the finer nuances of this topic. Check out the Digital Dog a.k.a. Andrew Rodney's Color Management for Photographers: Hands on Techniques for Photoshop Users published by Focal Press for more in-depth information.
What does color management have to do with Black and White anyway?
It is true that color management for black and white purposes just does not seem quite right. Managing your system for color, however, is actually the truest test for black and white accuracy. If you have a completely accurate color balanced system, you are in a position to produce more neutral black and white prints, make the best possible conversions, and assess contrast and tonality variations within an image. For the traditional photographer, this is the digital equivalent to standardizing development variables in a darkroom workflow: Dektol 1:1 at 68 degrees for example. Understanding what all this is about can actually help you create far better prints than ever before!
The Essential Overview
Color management defined
Color management is basically the ability to consistently control the reproduction of color and tonality in the digital environment; or more simply, making the print match the image you see on the monitor. A color management system attempts to maintain the "appearance" of consistent color as an image is transferred between different devices, from the camera and/ or scanner, to the monitor and across other monitors, through software and ultimately to an output device such as the printer. We like to stress the term "appearance" of consistent color in our definition because each of these devices (the camera, scanner, monitor and printer) has a uniquely different ability to reproduce and interpret color. We can therefore draw the analogy that each device tends to speak in its own "language" of color. The differences in how each individual device – over the hundreds of makes, models and manufacturers – interprets and "speaks" in color can actually be astounding. In order to resolve these differences, color management creates a system whereby the different devices can "talk" to one another in a common language of color.
Why Do We Need Color Management?
We want color consistency as the image travels through the workflow process across various devices, so we can ultimately make prints that have some resemblance to the image we evaluate and process on the monitor through our digital darkroom practices. For black and white, color consistency is ultimately crucial as the neutrality, brightness, tone, contrast and shadow detail are all functions of the color management system. It is, therefore, extremely important – whether we work in color or black and white – to be relatively certain that what we are looking at on the monitor has some level of numeric accuracy in concurrance with the actual image before we begin the digital darkroom editing process.
Why colors change
All devices have a different and fixed range of colors they are capable of reproducing, dictated by the laws of physics. A monitor cannot reproduce a more saturated red than the red produced by the monitor's red phosphor. A printer cannot reproduce a green more saturated than the printer's green ink. The range of colors a device can reproduce is called color gamut. It is probably easiest to think of gamut as the assortment of crayons a device is able to color or reproduce your image with. Remember the box of Crayolas? The box of 64 crayons with the sharpener in the back had a larger gamut of color than the boxes of 8, 16 and 32. Burnt sienna, carnation pink and ocean teal provided a much greater gamut for the Crayola artist to work with. It is important to note however that no device can reproduce the full range of colors viewable to human eyes, and no two devices have the same color space/color gamut (or set of crayons to color with).
The visual spectrum includes 16.7 million colors.
The human eye can physically see only 12 million colors of those 16.7 million colors.
The average 4-color press can reproduce only about 70,000 colors.
As an image moves from one device to another, image colors may change because each device interprets color differently. When a color cannot be produced on a device, it is considered to be outside the color gamut of that particular device, or, in other words, simply out of gamut. You can view out-of-gamut colors by turning this option on in Photoshop, or when softproofing the image before printing. The out-of-gamut colors, or colors not reproduceable by the ink and paper combination you have chosen for a print, will be displayed with gray as a default, however one can view them in other colors by changing this in the preferences. (See image on page 5 and "Softproof", on page 27 for more information.)
As this is truly an imperfect process, we are really learning to use its strengths to our greatest advantage while simultaneously navigating the weaknesses of the system. It is important to know that it is actually impossible for all the colors viewed on a monitor to be identically matched in a print from a desktop printer. There are many reasons for this. First, a printer operates in a CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color space, and a monitor operates in an RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color space, each with entirely different color gamuts. (See "What is a color space?" on page 8 for more information.) Also, some colors produced by printer inks cannot be displayed on a monitor, and some colors that can be displayed on a monitor cannot be reproduced using inks on paper. Paper surface types, such as glossy and matte, also have varying abilities to reproduce color. Further, a monitor produces an image from an illuminated light source, while a print is viewed by reflected light. If the print will never exactly match the monitor, than creating a good print may sound fairly hopeless at this point.
However, this is precisely where the color management system fits in, and why it is so important. Since images come in from many different devices, color management helps you produce more consistent colors by creating profiles (or, translators) to correctly transform and resolve color discrepancy as an image travels from one space, or device, to another. This allows devices to speak to one another in the same language of color. Colors in the digital environment are described with a series of numeric values for each corresponding color, and neutral. For example, middle gray can be described numerically in the RGB space as 128 Red, 128 Green, and 128 Blue; similarly a specific tone of red can be identified and matched by its numeric distribution between the red, green and blue values. Different numbers describe a different color.
Profiles are embedded into the image data providing a definition of what these color numbers mean in terms of actual colors we can see, and consequently make translations from one device to another. In this translation, the differences in the color spaces of each device are reconciled as much as possible. Precision matches, however, are incredibly difficult because there are inherently different abilities and limitations to reproduce color with each device.
This color interpretation is just like how international policy and issues of world affairs are discussed in the United Nations among ambassadors who speak many different languages. Profiles are the digital equivalent to the translators that interpret the dialogue between ambassadors from one language to another. Therefore, it is extremely important to know how to set this profile information in your camera or scanner, to create one for your monitor, and learn to use them effectively as the image transfers from capture and editing to the output device (printer, paper and ink sets). If the digital devices that you work with are not tagging your document with profiles, the numbers for color become ambiguous to the devices, and maintaining consistent color in your workflow will ultimately be quite difficult.
Managing color with profiles
1. Camera Profile: Digital cameras capture a wider range of colors than the human eye can see, and the camera's embedded profile determines the colors available to be processed.
2. Monitor Profile: Digital cameras also capture a wider range of colors than monitors can display, and the profile associated with the monitor determines what colors are actually displayed.
3. Printer Profiles: Digital cameras further capture a wider range of colors than most printers can print, and the profile associated with the printer determines which of the colors presented to it will be printed.
Outline: The Color Managed Workflow
The six basic components to managing color throughout the workflow process
Managing color as well as black and white processes – from film or digital capture to the final output print – is a challenge for even the most sophisticated user. However, before image editing begins there are some relatively painless steps one can take to standardize the process, such as setting up your workspace environment to optimize color consistency, as well as system preferences and software tools to conform to a color managed workflow. These basic steps will aid in maintaining the appearance of consistent color as an image is reproduced on different devices – from capture to the print.
**Keep in mind that the nature of different devices makes exact matches incredibly difficult.
Excerpted from Black and White in Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Lightroom by Leslie Alsheimer Bryan O'Neil Hughes Copyright © 2009 by Leslie Alsheimer and Bryan O'Neil Hughes. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 30, 2012
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Posted June 27, 2010
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Posted December 28, 2009
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Posted July 29, 2009
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