One of the Most Frustrating Mistakes a Photographer Can Make

Ever looked at one of your images or prints and been hugely disappointed with how it came out? What you're doing or not doing to your screen is probably why you're having problems.

Color management may not be the sexiest topic, but it is an important one for photographers. If your colors are not correct on screen, you have no idea if the adjustments you make are moving you closer to your goal or even further away from it. I've seen far too many photographers bash their printers for producing bad prints when in reality, they were to blame because they didn't have good color management setup. For all those who have shied away from this topic, technologist Joseph Thio is back once again with an insightful video on all things color profile.

The video is broken down into manageable chunks and covers everything from the basic of color management, to why color profiles matter, and where to get the right ones for your monitor. One revelation to me in the video was how third-party color profiles may actually be better than what the manufacturer provides. We see in the video side-by-side comparisons of the two, and it's surprising to learn that the third-party profile actually performs better. Thio explains that some screen-makers will provide only a generic profile for a range of monitors they produce rather than making one that is for a specific model. For this reason, a third-party color profile that has been made for a particular monitor will allow us to get the most out of your screen by showing more colors.

Thio also walks us through installing these color profiles as well as some issues you may find when using these files on Windows machines. For those on Mac, the installation process will be slightly different, but you should still be able to follow along. The video is a long one at over 20 minutes, but I highly recommend all photographers take the time to watch it. If you're not doing color management right, your images will never come out exactly how you or your clients want them to. 

Lead image by Julia Joppien, used under Creative Commons.

Paul Parker's picture

Paul Parker is a commercial and fine art photographer. On the rare occasion he's not doing photography he loves being outdoors, people watching, and writing awkward "About Me" statements on websites...

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If you are a windows user this very useful :-)

My day job consists of Network Administration and Cybersecurity and have always enjoyed ThioJoe (Joe Thio). His videos on April 1st are great!

Ok, it's probably just me. But, I'm left a little confused. I calibrated both my monitors and am currently using the ICC profiles the calibration tool created. Am I good with those and with the subsequent recalibration ICC's or do I need something more? I also read that you can embed your ICC's into your images so that people viewing them on the web will see them correctly. This seems now counter intuitive by this video. You were right! Color management is a bear.

For online display, embed an sRGB profile, not your custom ICC display profile. The latter is for YOUR display, not for your viewers' displays. For printing, embed aRGB or whatever is closest to your printer's native color space. Many online labs use sRGB, so that's the default unless you're using a service that you KNOW can use a larger color space. If you're sending files to a web press (e.g. a magazine or book publisher), consult the publisher about whether and how to apply a CMYK profile to your output files.

Funny you mention web publishers. I do have plans to publish a picture book later in the year. This is good to know!

Whichever online publisher you pick, contact then for their ICC profile. They may have a variety of profiles depending on the "paper" used.

Such as for Saal

Wow! I just delved into their ( printing process. All this is there! And, yes, they do provide the CMYK ICC for soft proofing your images!

Robert, the "web" in "web press" has nothing to do with the Internet. It describes a large machine that prints on a continuous roll of paper. I don't know whether this is synonymous with "offset press", but what I was referring to was the kind of large-scale printing machines used by high-volume book and magazine publishers.

The most basic issue most folks new to printing face is using a too-bright display. If your display is very bright, you're likely to make adjustments that make it look good on that display but that will make it look dark and muddy on a dimmer display or on paper. 120cd/m2, or about 2/3 max brightness on a MacBook Pro, is a good starting point.