Let’s start with the source, since as always GIGO applies (Garbage in, garbage out)
The camera’s color management is fairly easy to control. You have two questions, “Color Space” and “White Balance Kelvin”. Color balance refers to the range of colors that will be available, and how they will be defined. Adobe RGB has more colors (wider gamut) than sRGB. However, Adobe RGB is usually used for commercial printing and if you’re not going to a lab, you will need to do more post processing to bring out the colors of your image. In camera they will look washed out and subdue.
The second question White Balance is the color of light. There are various pre-defined settings such as Auto, Sun, Shade, Cloudy, etc… but the best setting is Custom White Balance.
To combat white balance, the best option is to use a 18% gray shot and set your custom white balance several times during a shoot (unless the light does not change, i.e. Studio, short session).
One caveat, shooting in RAW would defer the entire argument above. With RAW all data is kept at 16-bit data points as the sensor captures it, so no matter what you have set for your color space or white balance, they can be changed without loss of data in Camera Raw Converter.
Recommendations: Use sRGB in Camera, use a 18% gray target and set your custom white balance and always shoot in RAW.
In your work environment your monitor and video card are the most essential parts as this is how you see your image. You are going to make decisions on color, contrast, vibrancy. Sadly most environments are not a true representation of what your image looks like. The “profile” of your monitor maybe (or I should say “is”) giving you a distorted color variation of what the photo actually looks like.
A “Color Profile” is simply a lookup table that tells reads in the color values of the most saturated colors available. This means that it knows what the highest blue, red and green are where as if something is green, the question is always “how green?” The profile defines the maximum and the rest fall below that as needed.
The best option is to use an external caliber to not only calibrate your monitor but build a specific profile for your monitor and your environment.
The following are important points to remember
- It is by far the cheapest tool in photography.
- It is by far the most important tool in color management.
- Get a unit that not only does calibration but generates a specific color profile for your monitor
- The unit should also remain attached to your computer and continuing adjust the monitor based on the light in the room. The colors on your monitor will not look the same when being viewed while a warm glow of a sunrise is lighting the room, vs. a cloudy day, vs. Halogen bulbs at night. The unit should determine the color of the light in the room and do slight adjustments to the monitor.
Recommendations: I, personally use the Spyder3 Pro from DataColor to calibrate, profile and keep an eye on the room ambient light. It works for me, but your mileage as always will vary. Please do a full due diligence before any purchase to make sure it’s the right tool.
The output of a photograph can be:
- Viewed on another monitor
However, we’ll discuss only printers for now. Projectors and other monitors although important would take a lot longer.
With printers, and I’ll only discuss higher end printers, as with low end printers the color is going to shift no matter what you do. Higher end printers, and even commercial printers, will always have a Printer Profile that you can use.
Just like with a monitor, a printer profile defines the most the most saturated R, G, B (or CMYK) color the printer can provide. The rest of the colors are below those numbers as they need to be.
The profile for your commercial printers can usually be downloaded from them directly. With most professional printers, they either provide updated profiles (every month or so), or they calibrated their printers back to a specific profile themselves so that they’re consistent even though the profile may have changed.
There are various tutorials on the web on how to do soft proofing and print matching and I will not go into that here. If you have any questions please follow up in email or comments.