Paul Timpa Photography Blog Photography Tutorials and Tips from Paul Timpa Photography

17Feb/16Off

What To Do With That Great Photo That’s Not Quite Technically Perfect

"What a great photo! Oh wait... it's blurry."

It's happened to the best of us. Even professionals. Sometimes in photography we take pictures that we would've really liked but they've come out slightly blurry, or they have too much digital noise from a high ISO, or maybe they were taken with an older camera that had a low megapixel count or quality not up to today's standards. It might be an awesome wildlife image of a rare animal, the sunrise over the Caribbean, a spontaneous photo from a family outing, or an architectural photo from some far away place. Often these otherwise great photos get deleted or just sit unused in a folder on your computer. The good news is there are many ways these photos can still be useful, even for producing art to hang on the wall.

Of course you can always try to sharpen up a blurry photo or reduce digital noise, and there are some great products that can do this for you. The purpose of this post though is to provide some ideas as to what to do with those photos when even the best software can't quite fix your photos 100%.

Wall Art on Alternative Media

One of my favorite ways to save photos that might otherwise be too blurry or too noisy for "traditional" prints is to print them on alternative media, such as canvas or wood. Not only do these surfaces create amazing pieces of art, but they help mask minor imperfections in the original photo. I recently wanted to make a print of an American Bison for a Western-themed wall, and all of the photos I'd taken with a 21mp Canon 5D Mark II were sharp and clear, but the subject matter didn't fit the wall. I found a much older photo of a bison on my hard drive taken with a 10mp Canon Rebel XTi, that I liked better. I decided to print the Rebel XTi photo on wood and it looks absolutely spectacular (Photo printed on wood by woodsnap.com).

Bison Printed on Wood

Bison Printed on Wood

Similarly, I have several very large canvas prints (36" x 24") that look great, even with photos of relatively lower resolution.

Gifts and Other Items

In addition to wall art, there are plenty of other items that you can print on these days. Everything from custom pillows and blankets, cellphone cases, shower curtains, candles, kitchen aprons, puzzles, playing cards, there are so many possibilities. The quality of the photo doesn't have to be the same as if you were printing a poster-sized wall hanging. Photos that are of "decent" quality will do just fine for many of the items mentioned above.

Social Media

If you're not printing the photos to a physical product but still want to make use of them digitally for sharing on social media, there are still many of ways to make them usable. If your photo has noise from a high ISO, one of the easiest ways to mask this is to simply convert to black & white. The most problematic noise is generally "chroma noise" which you see as all the tiny multi-colored dots. When you convert to black & white, this noise looks more like grain in old b&w film and is much less noticeable.

Statue of Atlas, Rockefeller Center, NYC

Statue of Atlas, Rockefeller Center, NYC

Both noise and blurriness are less visible when the size of the photo is smaller on-screen. Rather than post the photo to social media on its own in full resolution, you can reduce its size and include it as part of a collage or other multi-photo image. This allows you to include the image in context with other images taken at a similar time, and it's also easier for friends and family to share a single post (that contains multiple pictures) than to share many individual posts. Below is a photo grid of three city scenes from Rome, Paris, and NYC:

Photo Grid -- Timpa Photography

Photo Grid -- Timpa Photography

Even if a photo is not blurry and looks fine, I often include it as part of a collage for these same reasons. Mobile apps like "Photo Grid" for Android are great at creating collages, and also include some editing tools (brightness, contrast, saturation, tint, crop, etc.) as well as filters.

Filters

There are countless ways to apply filters that will not only enhance your photos, but also help hide imperfections. If your photo is slightly blurry, perhaps you can go for a tilt-shift Lensbaby type look to give it a dreamy feel. If the colors are muted, or the noise is high, you can try an oversaturated, high-contrast "edgy" look. Explore all of the filters or features of your editing software to see what works for your particular image.

Roman Forum, Italy

Roman Forum, Italy

Conclusion

Just because a photo hasn't come out technically "perfect", doesn't mean you have to deal with no photo of the occasion. With a little creativity you can bring new life to those old photos and they can take their rightful place on your wall, either in the real world or on social media!


For those looking to improve your photography, I've also created an app for Android which teaches photography and how to get photos like these while you're out taking pictures. It's perfect for when you're traveling. Click here:

Photography Trainer for Android

 
If you find this guide helpful, please share it:

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If you have any questions about the locations or photo techniques, please feel free to ask any time. You can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page, add me to Google+ circles, or follow me on Twitter for more photography tutorials and tips:

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Thanks for reading, and best regards,
Paul

 
If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

 
Copyright 2014, Paul Timpa

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

18Nov/09Off

Color Management Made Simple – How to Calibrate your Monitor

Bora Bora, French Polynesia, by Paul Timpa

Bora Bora, French Polynesia, by Paul Timpa

Color management is one of those topics that is important to understand so that you can get prints that match what you see on your computer screen, yet a lot of what is written on how to do it is overly complicated or deals with technicalities that aren’t necessary in most real-world scenarios.  The goal of this article is to help you understand what color management is and why it’s necessary, and most importantly to tell you how to do it so you can get great prints.

First, let’s understand some concepts.  As usual, I’m going to provide some analogies and stories.  Hopefully this makes it more fun and easy to understand. 

OK, so we’ll start with color temperature.  You may already be familiar with this to some degree because it relates to the White Balance settings you may have on your camera – settings like “Cloudy” or “Tungsten” or “Fluorescent”.  Those settings deal with color temperature, or the color of light.  The next paragraph will explain what it means, and after you’re done reading it, you’ll probably say, “Oh, that’s it!?  That’s easy!”

The reality is that there really is no “correct” color for anything in this world, because it’s impossible to see something’s “correct” color.   Why?  Because everything we see with our eyes is completely affected by the viewing conditions at that moment, meaning the lighting at the time we’re looking at something.  Let me give you an example that will help make this perfectly clear.  This example will also be used later to explain why people’s prints don’t look right.  Here’s the example: 

Let’s say it’s summertime, and I have a nice summer tan going.  One day, I drive to the local gas station, walk into the mini-mart to pick up some snacks, and I pass a mirror.  The lights are that bright, greenish, hideous fluorescent color that you see in gas stations.  I’m shocked when I look in the mirror.  I look horrible, pale, and sickly.  Is that my “correct” skin color?  So, later that same night it’s my birthday party in my house, time to have cake, they turn out the lights, and I lean in to blow out the candles.  My skin by the light of the candles is a glowing orangey, candlelit color and smooth.  Is that my “correct” skin color?  Finally, I wake up the next day to go for a sunrise walk on the beach.  As the sun slowly comes up over the horizon my skin is reddish/golden, and brightly lit.  I think you get the point.  Which of those is my “correct” skin color?  The answer is all of them – my skin didn’t change at all – just the viewing conditions.  In each one of those scenarios, the color of the light was different – not my skin.  The color of the light is measured in temperature, so that’s why you hear the phrase “color temperature”.    The gas station’s fluorescent light is a particular color temperature, and candlelight is a different temperature.  We don’t need to get into any more detail than that… that’s really all we need to know for now.  So back to our examples:  Let’s say you have a picture of your family in your wallet.  You bring it over to my house.  For whatever reason, I’ve decided to have only red light bulbs in my house.  You look at the picture in my house and with all my red light bulbs, the whole photo looks red.  Would you say the photo itself suddenly has a red color cast?  Of course not.  Or if I had only one small lamp in my house, and it’s so dark in there that we can barely make out the details in your photo, would you say your picture is dark and underexposed?  Again, of course not.  It’s all about the viewing conditions.  Understanding this very simple concept is 90% of understanding color management.

So let’s talk about why your pictures may come out dark or orangey when you print them, even though they look great on the screen.  We already said that in the “real world”, what you see with your eyes is dependent on the lighting, color temperature, and viewing conditions at the time.  Well what you see from output devices (meaning printers, computer screens, etc.) is also dependent on how they handle color temperature and light.  And you know what?  Just like my skin may look different under the green fluorescent light in the gas station vs. how I look under candlelight, printers and computer screens have those same color differences when you look at photos.  As a matter of fact, your computer screen displays photos as if they were under the light of of the gas station while printers are more like the candle light.  So how does this cause poor prints?  It’s simple.  I’ll explain: 

Let’s say you’re with your friend and you’re on your way to a birthday party.  You stop off at the gas station to pick up some soda.  Your friend sees herself in the mini-mart mirror under the awful gas station lights and she’s horrified at how pale and sickly she looks.  She can’t believe she’s going to a party like this so she runs over to where they have the make-up,  she buys some self-tanner and bronzer and slathers it all over her face.  She loves the look once she's finished because she's back to her normal sun-kissed complexion and looking great.  It’s really bright in that gas station and she notices some bright spots on her forehead and nose, so she buys some powder and blots down the bright spots with a load of powder.  Perfect.  You leave the gas station and head to the birthday party.  It’s a small party, completely lit by candles.  Your friend?  She looks terrible at the party.  She’s looks a deep shade of dark orange from applying too much self-tanner in the gas station, and she has pounds of powder covering the bright spots.  Under the candlelight of the party, she's way too orange now.  It’s a disaster.  THAT’s what happens to your prints.  You see, in your friend’s case, she was viewing and correcting her skin in the gas station under unusual lighting.  She overcompensated for the pale green light in the mini-mart by over-applying self-tanner and darkening her skin.  But as soon as she left the gas station, she looked ridiculous.  That’s exactly what’s happening to your prints.  Your computer screen is that gas station lighting, and your printer is the candlelit party.  So you must  edit your photos using the proper viewing conditions.  Otherwise what you wind up doing is editing, tweaking, and changing the color and brightness of your photos on your computer, that you plan on printing – but you’re overcompensating for the unusual light of your screen and in fact ruining your images.  These problems are what color management and color calibration aim to correct.  Hopefully these two simple paragraphs have made a light bulb go off in your own head and you’re saying, “Ah, now I get it.”

OK, so now that we know what the problem is, what’s the solution?  The solution is color calibration.  So what is that?

Well we already said earlier that your computer screen is colored more like the lights in a gas station, and that printers are more like candlelight.  So we need to get them in sync.  That’s ultimately the goal of color calibration – to sync up the “viewing conditions” so that everybody is editing and printing their pictures under the same exact lighting conditions.  Let’s get back to our example with your friend and the birthday party.  At the birthday party you were all hanging out in a room where there were exactly ten candles.   Well if you had a room in your own house and you put ten candles in there, the room in your house would have the same lighting as the party.  So you could have your friend apply her make-up in that room, and she’d know that she’ll look exactly the same when she gets to the party.  That’s color calibration.  It’s syncing up the lighting conditions.  In our example, we need to change the color of our computer screen to look less like a gas station and more like candlelight.

How do you do it?  It’s pretty simple – you buy a gadget that does it for you, called a color calibrator.  You strap it to your computer screen and it takes a look at the colors your screen displays.  It then “reaches into” the video card in your computer and changes the colors for you, to match the colors that standard printers use.  That’s the basic process.

OK, before I go any further, I want to tell you that when it comes to color calibration, there are many different opinions on the best way to do it.  This is a hotly debated topic among people, as everybody has their own way.  I’m giving you my method, and it’s a way that works for me.  So on with the show…

First, you need to buy a color calibrator.  I use a product called the Spyder 3 Pro, made by Datacolor.  You can find it at B&H or any photo store.  There are a few brands out there, feel free to shop around and compare features and prices.  I’ve been happy with the Spyder.

Before you calibrate the monitor, there are a couple of things you should do.  Firstly, I recommend you do it at night in the pitch black with all the lights in the room turned off.  You don’t want any lights or colors interfering with the calibrator as it takes its readings from your computer screen.  *You could get strange colors if you calibrate during the day.*

Secondly, and one of the most important things in this entire article – turn down the brightness of your monitor, and memorize where you set it.  One of the most frequent problems that people see in prints is that they’re too dark.  This is because their monitors are too bright.  A picture that looks great on a screen that is too bright will likely print out too dark.  The calibrator will fix the brightness of your monitor “to a degree” (explained later) but you must turn down the brightness on your monitor.  I set my monitor to exactly two-clicks down from maximum brightness.  I memorize this, because when my computer reboots it can reset the brightness to maximum, and I need to know where to put it back.  Once you’ve turned down the brightness on your monitor and memorized where you set it, turn off all the lights in the room and run the software that comes with the calibrator.  The software will probably ask you to set two options – these are the options where you can fine tune the brightness/contrast and the color temperature.   They are called “gamma” and “white point”.   It’s not necessary to understand the technicalities of what they mean.  Just know that the gamma is for the brightness & contrast in the photo, and the white point is for the color temperature (like we described before).  If it gives you the options, I suggest a gamma of 2.2 and a white point of 6500K.  I’ve found that a white point of 6500K gives the most accurate colors to help match what you see on screen to what you get in print.  Once those are selected, you’re all set.  At this point, you can start the calibration and let the product do its thing. Your computer screen will cycle through a bunch of colors and gray patterns, and the calibrator will read the information.  When it’s done, you’ll instantly see all the colors on your monitor change!  You’ll probably see that it got a bit darker, and that the colors are now more orangey.  This is exactly what you want because now your monitor matches what will come out in prints.  For many people, you’re done!  Congratulations.  Using the calibration settings that were just saved on your computer, you’ll be on your way to getting prints that match what’s on your screen.  I’ll get into a few more steps in a moment, but for many people, the hard part is over.

So what’s next?  Well, now it’s time to get some test prints to see how you did.  If you have your own printer, you can print some right away and compare them to the screen to see how well they match.  If not, send some out to your favorite lab and see how they come back.  How you go about checking your prints, and how you send them to the lab matters, so let’s talk a little bit about this.  Firstly, when you check your prints against the screen, you have to do it in the right light.  Remember earlier in this article when I used an example about having all red light bulbs in my house and looking at a friend’s family photos?  They all looked red because the light bulbs were red.  Well this is exactly what you want to avoid when checking your photos for accuracy.  You want to do it in a relatively “neutral” light – meaning not too orangey (like candles or soft light bulbs) and not too green (like fluorescents).  I prefer to check my prints during the day, with the lights off, with the photos only lit by the light coming in from the windows.  I find the light in a room coming in through windows to be pretty neutral for checking prints.  I may then turn on a light or two to check as well.  The print should look good in both types of light.

Regarding sending your photos to the lab, there is something to keep in mind.  In some cases (many cases!), the photo lab has a person who sits there and color corrects your photos to what THEY think you want them to be.  Clearly this is not what you want, because there can be inconsistencies if you get “John” one day tweaking your photos and “Jim” some other day, and he has a different opinion of what your photos should look like.  I suggest you find a lab that offers the option called “No Color Correction” which means that nobody is going to touch the color of your photos.  What you send them goes straight to the printer.  This is what you want if you want consistent photos.  *If your lab does not offer this option then you have no way of ever getting consistent color in your photos.*

So your test prints are back from the lab, you rip open the envelope and take a look.  Hopefully the prints look much closer to what you have on screen now.  If they're still a bit off, you can do a little tweaking.  Adjust the settings, re-calibrate, and then see if the screen matches better.  For example, if the prints came back and they’re still too dark, then your monitor is probably still too bright.  Lower the brightness even more until it matches the test prints you have in your hand.  It may seem ridiculous to have your monitor that dark, but what you’re trying to do is to sync up the monitor with the printer.  You see, what’s going to happen, is that now your screen will be so dark that you’ll wind up brightening your photos using your editing software.  THAT is what you want.  That’s the whole point of this exercise.  It’s so that when you edit the photos on your screen, you’re editing knowing that what’s on the screen is what you’re going to get when you print.  So if the picture looks too dark or too contrasty on the screen (which it will if you’ve lowered the brightness a lot), you will then brighten up the photo in editing software to make it look right.  Then when you print it, it will have the correct brightness.  Similarly, if the screen now has people with really orange faces (which is common), you will use your editing software to remove the orange and return your friends and family to their normal skin tones.  Then they will print perfectly.  (FYI, I usually do this color adjustment by adjusting either the White Balance or Color Balance setting, depending on what software I’m using at the time).  If you keep getting prints that are too dark, also make sure that you look at photos on the computer screen when there is a lot of ambient light in the room, either by looking during the day, or with all the lamps in the room turned on.  Many people are night owls like myself, working away at midnight in relative darkness.  On the screen, while editing in a dark room, the photos may look fine.  But if you look at them on the screen during the day or with the lamps on and suddenly you can’t make out the details in the dark areas anymore, then you know you have to brighten the photos some more.  It make take one or two rounds of making test prints, but after a few tries, you will find the settings that are just right.  The key here is achieving consistency.  You always want to make sure you have your monitor at the same brightness, and that you use the same printing lab every time.  Find one that you like, whether it’s Costco, Walgreens, Mpix, or whoever, and get to know how their printers print.  Once you’ve got your system all set up, you will get consistent prints every time.  Also, recalibrate your monitor every once in a while (once a month or so).  Monitors can “drift”, meaning that the color settings can gradually change a little over time, so re-calibrating will bring everything back in line.

OK, so there is actually a lot more to talk about, which I’ll get into now.  What we’ve accomplished so far is getting the screen to match the printer, which is exactly what we want, and is the overall goal.  There are a couple of other things to think about though, before we get into the section with some of the more advanced topics for those that are interested.

Let’s talk about the Internet for a bit, and pictures for the web.  Everything we’ve described here is intended for the purpose of making good PRINTS.  This has nothing to do with how pictures look or should be edited for viewing on the web.  This whole topic of web viewing is one of the areas where opinion varies on how to handle it, and I’ll give you my opinion on the subject, and you can make your own decision.  The “issue”, in a nutshell, is that most people in the world are NOT viewing the Internet on calibrated monitors.  Your average person looking at Flickr or Facebook or whatever photo sharing site is just looking with a normal monitor, just like yours before you calibrated it.  You may see where I’m going with this now…  just like the problem with prints, a similar problem can happen for the web.  If you were to edit your photos on a calibrated monitor ONLY, you will wind up making them very bright and removing the orange so they look great in print, but then when someone looks at that same picture on the web, it will be TOO bright and there will be too LITTLE orange.  So…what to do...  Well here’s what I do.  The reality is that I only print a small percentage of my photos.  I may get 50 keeper photos on a trip, but I probably print maybe 10 of those, and the rest go on my website.  So I do most of my editing on an UN-calibrated monitor, and then turn on the calibration when I edit the 10 photos for printing.  There is usually a simple switch in the calibration software that allows you to turn on the effect or turn it off.  For normal everyday web surfing, I have the calibration turned off.  This allows me to see everyone else’s web photos as they intended – because they edited theirs on a NON-calibrated monitor too.  I’ll also be surfing the web on a screen that is not too dark, which it can be if I were to turn the calibration on.  I’ve had some discussion with other photographers about this, who have suggested that I just leave the calibration on all the time, and they say that if I haven’t calibrated at all, I’m editing my web photos using the exact peculiarities of my particular monitor and no “standard” at all.  While “technically” that is true, I have done an incredible amount of research on this.  I have looked at countless monitors, LCDs, laptops, etc. to see how my pictures look on a variety of uncalibrated monitors.  And I’ve found that most uncalibrated monitors look pretty much identical.  I’ve looked at all of my friends’ monitors, I’ve looked at monitors, LCDs and laptop screens in every store from Best Buy to B&H to the Apple Store, I’ve looked in Internet cafes, in hotels, airport lounges, you name it.  The look is pretty standard.  So for web viewing, I do all my editing on an uncalibrated monitor.  For the few images I’m going to print, I make a second copy of the photos and then I turn on the calibration and edit those separately for print.  This is the system that works for me, and provides the best results for both the web and in print.

Alright, we’ve covered a lot, and for many of you, what I’ve written above may be all you want to or need to know.  What I’ve written above applies to your casual everyday user who uses straightforward editing software like Microsoft Picture Manager or Apple iPhoto or Picasa, etc.  If you’re using one of those, congrats again… you’re ready to get great prints if you follow the steps above.  There are a couple of more advance topics however, and these include printer profiles / ICC profiles, Color Spaces like sRGB, Adobe RGB, and ProPhotoRGB, etc.  If you’re interested in learning what these are all about, read on, but for the everyday casual user, it’s not “necessary” reading.  I just figured I’d cover it since it comes up all the time.  It’s up to you…  ***By the way, if you’re already calibrating your monitor but are still having significant color differences from your screen to your prints, then it’s probably worth reading the info below because it may be related to your problems.***


Before I begin the next section, I’d like to preface with a disclaimer.  This next section deals with personal preferences and opinions.  Not everyone out there will agree with what I’m writing.  In my other articles, we’re dealing primarily with facts.  For example, ISO 100 pictures are of better quality than ISO 1600 pictures.  That’s a fact.  So my suggestion to shoot at ISO 100 is based in fact.  On the other hand, the info below is largely opinion.  These topics are hotly debated among professionals.  I can only give you my opinion, take from it what you will and then make your own decisions based on what I’ve written here.

The next topic we’ll cover is “Color Spaces”.  These are spaces like sRGB, Adobe RGB, and ProPhoto RGB. 

What is a Color Space?  A color space is just a description of the number of colors and types of colors that can be produced.  For example, let’s use sRGB as a starting point.  Let’s say sRGB describes all the colors than can be produced if I gave you 10 crayons.  You can create a picture with the 10 colors of the crayons, plus every conceivable color possible from combining and blending those 10 crayons.  With all the different combinations, you could create millions of colors.  FYI, sRGB is the standard for just about everything, from viewing on your monitor, to printing, to photos on the web.  I suggest you use sRGB for everything you do.  Moving on… Adobe RGB is a different color space.  It’s as if I gave you 12 crayons instead of 10.  Yes, “technically” there are a few more colors than can be produced.  But these would be in addition to the MILLIONS of colors you’re already getting with sRGB.  Plus, most monitors cannot even display Adobe RGB – you’d have to spend literally thousands of dollars to buy a special monitor to see these extra colors.  And even if you did buy a monitor that displayed Adobe RGB in your house, those colors are not used anywhere else!  The Internet is only sRGB.  You must convert photos that are in Adobe RGB format to sRGB if you want to put them on the web, Flickr, Facebook, etc.  Oh, and most PRINTERS only print sRGB, so you have to convert your Adobe RGB files to sRGB to print them too.  So why would anyone use Adobe RGB?  Well, in my opinion, you wouldn’t.  With all the converting that is going on, and the potential for problems, it’s just not worth it.  Just to give you the other side of the coin, some say that they like to use Adobe RGB because they feel that during the editing process, they are using the full range of colors that the camera captured.  So they set their camera to record in Adobe RGB, they output their RAW files in Adobe RGB, and they edit in Photoshop using Adobe RGB.  During this workflow, they are theoretically editing a picture which has more colors, which they feel helps with how the final product looks.  But in the end, as mentioned, all those extra colors get discarded when the photo is converted to sRGB anyway, as is necessary for it to be printed, viewed on the web, etc.  For me personally, that just seems like a lot of extra work with not a lot of extra benefit.  ***NOTE:  Using incorrect or mismatched color spaces is one of the primary reasons people get prints that do not match the monitor.***  Check to ensure that you camera is set on sRGB, your RAW file converter (if you use one) is set to sRGB, and that your photo editing software is using the sRGB color space.  FYI, ProPhoto RGB is yet another color space, and has even more colors than Adobe RGB.  Of course, it too would need to be converted to sRGB to do anything useful with it.  Only very specialized applications would require ProPhoto RGB.  To summarize, I recommend you shoot, edit, print, and view files on the web in only sRGB 100% of the time.

Alright, we’re on the home stretch now.  Time to cover the final topic.  This one is probably the most complicated, and is also the topic that is most debated among photographers when it comes to color management.  It’s the concept of ICC profiles.  Warning: This section is extremely technical.  I don’t normally get this technical in my articles, but if even one person can sort out their color-matching problems by reading this, then it’s worth it.

What is an ICC profile?  It’s a file that describes the characteristics of a particular device, like a printer.  You use it so that your computer can “learn more detail” about a particular device, and can (optionally) use that information to help with color matching.  Before we go any further, I'll mention that I don’t recommend using ICC profiles for normal everyday photography work.  That’s not to say that I personally haven’t used profiles at all, because I have, but only in specific unique circumstances.

So what is it exactly, and how is it used?  Think of it this way: an ICC profile describes the characteristics of a device in detail… for example, an ICC profile for Epson printer XYZ might say “I’m printer XYZ and my blue ink is a little more blue than most printers.”  (I’m oversimplifying, but you get the picture).  An ICC profile for a Kodak printer might say “I’m Kodak printer model 123 and my red ink has a slightly pink tone to it.”  So, what you can “optionally” do in software, is something called “softproofing”.  If you’re using Photoshop or another color-managed application, you can do softproofing.  FYI, a color managed application is an application that supports reading and using these types of profiles, among other things.   Softproofing is a technique that can help with color matching.  First, you download the ICC profile for the printer you’re going to be printing to.  It’s just a small file.  Then, essentially what you do is tell Photoshop that you would like to softproof using the Epson ICC profile for printer model XYZ.  Photoshop reads the information in that file and adjust the colors on your screen to more closely match that particular printer.  So in the example above, if you had blue in your photo, Photoshop might display that photo with “extra” blue to match the Epson’s ink.  Many people use these ICC profiles and do softproofing.  I generally do not, except on occasion.  For me personally, it’s another one of those areas where the time spent is not worth the benefit.  I have a pro lab that I use, I know exactly how their printers print, I have no need to start softproofing and using these profiles which only add to the complexity of what I’m trying to do.  It’s up to you if you want to try to use them, but I suggest against it if you want to keep your system as straightforward as possible.

There is one exception to this.  There is a separate and special type of a printer, pretty much a “printing press”, that is used for high-volume printing for things like brochures and magazines.  These printers use a completely different type of technology to print, called CMYK (which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (a.k.a. black)).  This printing method is so different than that of “normal” everyday printers, that the colors they produce can be drastically different from your average printer.  If you’re printing brochures, business cards, or preparing photos for magazines that use CMYK printing, then I can suggest you might want to look into softproofing with an ICC profile for that CMYK printer.  This way, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re photo will look like when printing using that method.  The process will also likely involve you actually converting the photo itself to CMYK, but that’s a whole separate process that we don’t need to get into here…

Now that you understand what an ICC profile is and how it might be used, we can cover the very last piece, and that is the concept of “embedding” profiles.  Yes, this is another area that is hotly debated.  And yes, once again, I feel this is an area that adds many layers to the complexity of what you’re trying to accomplish, and is not necessary for everyday use.  Embedding a profile in your photo means that you are including additional details alongside the photo that can be read by a color-managed application.  Remember, a color managed application is an application that is specifically designed to look for and read these profiles.  The goal of embedding a profile is so that if you’re working on your system under a specific profile, and you embed the profile with the photo when you save it, you can send the photo to someone else who also has a color-managed application, and their application will read the profile and adjust the colors so that they see on their screen what you see on your screen.  That’s essentially what it’s trying to accomplish.  (It can be used for printing as well.)  Here’s the problem.  Most people aren’t using color managed applications.  Most web browsers are not color managed.  Internet Explorer completely ignores the ICC profile.  So, the problem is that you may be viewing your photo in Photoshop using an ICC profile, you get it to look great, but when you post it on the web or send it to a friend, or PRINT it, it looks terrible.  Why?  Because you were viewing the photo using the profile and nobody else is.  It’s like our example at the very beginning with the friend who is applying her make-up in the gas station lighting.  She’s applying her make-up under the wrong light.  If you use ICC profiles and then post to the web, you’re essentially doing the same thing.  You’re editing your photo in one type of light, but giving it to people under a different type of light.  Below is a web page that is a fantastic example of this – I’m so glad this person put this together.  Click on the link below and look in the right-hand column a little ways down.  You’ll see a color chart.

http://www.gballard.net/psd/go_live_page_profile/embeddedJPEGprofiles.html

If you’re using Internet Explorer you’ll notice that the names of the colors in the color chart do not match the actual colors in the associated box.  For example, the upper left box shows the word “Red”, yet the box itself is blue.  Clearly this is wrong.  Well, this picture was produced using an ICC profile that is embedded in the image.  On the person’s screen that created this picture, the boxes were correct!  The upper left box was actually red on THEIR screen, because Photoshop was using the appropriate profile and correcting the colors.  However, Internet Explorer is not a color managed application.  Even though the ICC profile is embedded in the image, Internet Explorer doesn’t care.  It ignores the profile and just displays the image.  Not good.  Now, if you were to open this image in Photoshop, or open this web page in Apple’s Safari web browser (which IS color managed), then the photo would look correct.  But how does that help YOU?  It doesn’t, because most people are not using color managed applications.  Most everyday printing labs also ignore the profiles.  So unless there is a really specific reason you need to do this, I suggest avoiding embedding ICC profiles.  I also suggest turning off ICC profiles in Photoshop or your photo editing software altogether.  Why?  Because you may get inconsistencies across your system.  As an oversimplified example, you may see a photo while browsing the web with Internet Explorer and decide to download it.  Perhaps it has an ICC profile embedded.  Well when you open it in Photoshop, if you have ICC profiles activated, the photo will look completely different when you open it than it did in Internet Explorer.  You may no have any idea why it looks one way on the web and another way in Photoshop.  This is similar to the link above.  If you were to download that image to your hard drive and open it in Photoshop with ICC profiles activated, you’ll see something completely different than you would looking at it in Internet Explorer.  To me, this level of confusion and complication is just not necessary.  It can also lead to mismatched colors in your prints.  If you’re editing in Photoshop under a particular ICC profile, and you don’t even realize it, and then you send it to your printing lab and they ignore the ICC profile, your print will come back looking nothing like your screen.  Again, use the example in the link above.  In Photoshop, that upper left box in the color chart looks red.  Send that photo to Walgreens and that box will come back blue.  Now you see why it’s so easy to get mismatched prints!

We’ve covered a lot here and I hope this has shed some light on this very complicated topic.  With an understanding of these concepts, you may be well on your way to getting prints that match your screen.

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Best,
Paul

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New York City Stock Photos - Images by Paul Timpa

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Bora Bora Bungalows, Tropical Stock Photos:
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