Configuring Basic Color Management

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Decorative Gourds Canon D30 digital camera, 28-70mm f/2.8, ISO 100, RAW file setting, 2160 x 1440 pixels, converted to a 1.0MB .jpg

When I mention color management to photographers that use Photoshop, they usually have one of two different reactions. One is: What the heck is color management? The other: Oh no — what a nightmare! The fact is color management is truly not a piece of the proverbial piece of cake for sure. It is a complete and usually complex workflow that begins with the creation of a digital photo from a scanner or digital camera, then your PC display, and to any output device you use, such as your own photo-quality printer, a high-end printer at a service bureau, or a film recorder.

While you may be happy with your current results, you likely will have even better results if your workflow is color managed. You find some (but not all) of the key steps to correctly setting up your workflow in a fully color-managed environment in Technique 5. This technique and any of the techniques in Chapter 8 are appropriate for your chosen output device.

As the goal of this book is to provide you with 50 practical techniques for digital photos, complete coverage of how to set up color management is out of the scope of this book. However, without covering some of the basics of color management, you won't have the high level of success that I want you to have. So, the lofty goal of this technique is twofold: to give you a basic understanding of color management (while consuming just a few paragraphs) and to help you configure Photoshop 7 so that it is working with you to get the best results, rather than against you (which it can do if the wrong settings are used). While we cover all of the important settings, we avoid too much explanation about why you ought to use the suggested settings and skip some of the settings all together!

Before you begin clicking your mouse button and setting options, a conceptual understanding of color management can help you feel more comfortable with the settings you choose, and later on when you see dialog boxes pop up and ask you about how you want to handle mismatched color profiles.

Color management is a process whereby color maintains a consistent appearance across all the devices you use in your digital photography workflow. In other words, when you shoot a sky-blue sky over a barn-red barn with a digital camera or with a film camera — the sky remains the same sky-blue and the barn remains the same barn-red when you view it on your PC's display or as a final print made by an inkjet printer. That is the obvious intent for everyone for sure. However, the problems come from the many different devices that are used and because you can see colors your monitor cannot display and your printer cannot print.

Digital cameras, scanners, monitors, and output devices like printers all have different ranges of colors they can reproduce — called a color gamut and some have a wider range than others. These differences in color gamut and the need to precisely communicate color between devices cause the need for color management.

The approach used to solve both these problems is to use color profiles to define color gamut, embed these color profiles in image files, and then use a conversion engine to convert between two different profiles from different devices.

Look at a real world example. I use a Polaroid 4000 SprintScan film scanner for scanning slides. I use LaserSoft's SilverFast scanning software to scan and I have it set up to scan files and tag them as Adobe RGB (1988) files. When I open up the file with Photoshop 7, Photoshop 7 first checks to see if it has an embedded profile — which it does. As it is the same profile as my working space in Photoshop 7, no conversion is necessary. Then, Photoshop 7 along with a little help from the Windows XP operating system uses the color profile for my LaCie electron19 Blue III color monitor to display the image correctly. After completing any image editing, I can save the file (again with an embedded profile) or I can print it out to my Epson 1280 printer, which also uses profiles for each specific ink and paper combination that I use.

In that case, everything worked as it should. But now consider what happens when my photographer friend sends me a file he created on his PC. When I open it up, Photoshop 7 realizes that it is tagged as an sRGB file. Because I have set up color management on my PC, it asks me how I want to handle the mismatch in color profiles. After a clicking with an appropriate response, Photoshop 7 can then use its conversion engine to convert the file to my Adobe RGB working space or allow me to continue to work on it as it is.

So, the role of Photoshop 7 in setting up color management is a big one. It allows you to edit digital photos based upon the proper display profile, it allows you to convert profiles between different devices if you choose, and it lets you embed color profiles in files that you save.

My hope is that you now understand more about why we did what we did in the last technique when we used Adobe Gamma — we created a fairly accurate color profile for your monitor. Later in this technique you set options for working space profiles, color management policies, conversion engines, and other stuff! Then in Chapter 8, you'll learn how to make accurate color prints by using color profiles. That in a nutshell (albeit a very tiny one) is color management.

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This first volume will guide you through the basics of Photoshop. Well start at the beginning and slowly be working our way through to the more advanced stuff but dont worry its all aimed at the total newbie.

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