Color Management - BG Pictures Photography
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Color Management

18 Aug Color Management

Color Management Part 1

The term means nothing to most, strikes fear in some, confuses others and is fully understood by few.  Hopefully I can shed some light on this surprisingly simple subject for everyone!

It’s a simple concept really, you want to make sure that the colors you see with your eye as you take an image with your camera, are faithfully reproduced to your monitor and to prints.  It’s only when people realize that there is an issue in the first place, that they begin to understand the need for it at all.  You see, there is no industry standard for how you see things with computers or printers.  Each device uses color in it’s own way, and can customized by it’s user.


Remember having to adjust the Tint/Hue knobs on your old TV?  Odds are you were setting it by eye, to what looked ‘good’ to you.  Unfortunately it probably wasn’t spot on, and your neighbor probably had his adjusted slightly differently, and ol’ Aunt May who went colorblind 50 years ago probably had purple newscasters and didn’t even know it.


Luckily for us, using digital cameras, computers and printers – it’s very easy for us to truly standardize everything and make sure colors stay true every step of the way through your workflow.  The first step is to understand the concept of Colorspace.

Think of colorspace as the total range of all colors possible for a device to use.  Like a box of crayons.  There are a few different colorspaces out there, created by various industry groups, and just like there are different sizes of crayons, there are different sizes of colorspaces.  The smallest colorspace is called sRGB, and like the small 24 pack of crayons, it has the most limited range of colors.  It goes to a certain shade of blue, a certain shade of green and a certain shade of red.  Any colors that are not included in the range it has, is squeezed down to fit inside.  For example a fall color scene of turning leaves with lots of deep and brilliant reds, oranges and yellows would look more like a wash of color, without the fine shade details and extremely bright or deep colors.  sRGB is there because it’s the lowest common denominator.  Virtually everything in existence from the cheapest camera, to the oldest computer monitor to the cheapest printer, can use the full range of sRGB.  The internet is also designed around sRGB, and every webpage, every web browser, is using sRGB as the colorspace.  sRGB is the worst colorspace we, as photographers, could possibly use for your images to work in.  It is the most limiting, and there are better options.


The most common colorspace you will see mentioned by people in the photographic, illustrative, graphic arts, etc. industries is called AdobeRGB, and you will find this is also an option in most digital cameras and certainly all DSLRs.  AdobeRGB is better than sRGB in that it is a larger range of available colors.  Think of it as an upgrade to the 36 crayon box :)!  If you are shooting jpg rather than RAW (see future article), this is certainly the option you should choose for your files.  The range is more than most monitors can use, and better approaches what most printers can output.  You are not limiting yourself nearly as much as sRGB.


For those shooting RAW, you choose your colorspace when you develop your RAW files.  The best available option (only available shooting RAW) is a colorspace called ProPhoto.  ProPhoto is one of the very largest colorspaces, like the monster 128 box of crayons.  It is larger than all monitors, it much better fits the range of printers, and offers the most options when working on your files.


You might ask, why is having more colors so important?  Well, when you have an image that uses colors not available to show on screen or print – you get substituted colors.  Leaves that were detailed suddenly are solid green blobs.   A bird with bright orange feathers is suddenly an orange featureless blob with a beak.   When you use a colorspace that is too small, this is how everything gets compressed.  Sometimes you don’t notice (if the scene is not very extreme or saturated), most times you will.

Coming Soon – Part 2