Last week I went over Monitor Basics and the week before I reviewed an inexpensive but adequate 24” LED Backlit LCD, the Samsung BX2450.This week we’re going to put the pieces together and talk about how they relate to gamuts, color profiling our monitors, and how we process images in our processing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop and then how we see the same image when posted on the web, made into a print, or on our own monitors at home.  This topic is very complex and books have been written on the subjects, but hopefully this piece can bring it all together for you if I can manage to keep it brief and organized.

 

Gamuts/Color Spaces

Last week I used the analogy of a gamut being like a box of crayons.  Some boxes of crayons have 16 crayons, others 32, some 64, and some even have 128 or more.  Each crayon is a certain color and the boxes of crayons can be configured in an infinite number of ways. 

More accurately, a gamut is a subset of the entire color spectrum.  Ideally we’d always want to use the full spectrum but the technology and electronics necessary to reproduce the full spectrum on our monitors, printers, and other mediums would be cost prohibitive. So, we work with equipment which can reproduce subsets.  

A color space is that part of the gamut which can be displayed accurately on a given device.  Individual colors in these gamuts can and often do overlap.  So in practice color spaces while different, are often subsets (at least in part) of other color spaces.

 

Some common color spaces and their uses:

sRGB -  This is the most common color space web users and photographers will deal with.  If you need to ask yourself which color space to use when setting up your system, then use sRGB.  RGB of course stands for the three primary colors of red, green and blue.  Mixtures of these three colors produce all the other colors.  sRGB is the standard the web is based on, it’s the color space most commercial photo print machines are set up to reproduce, and it’s a relatively small but entirely adequate color gamut for most any use.  If in doubt, use sRGB. 

Adobe98 -  This color space includes more of the sRGB gamut, but then extends it outwards another 10 percent or so in most directions.  It’s simply a bigger color space.  For years professionals who owned their own art ink jet printers set their systems up in Adobe98 because their printers were capable of reproducing the Adobe98 color space.  Adobe98 is one of the two choices in the setup menu of every DSLR, the other is sRGB.  Until recently, recently being the last 2-3 years, even professional grade monitors were not capable of reproducing the entire Adobe98 gamut. 

ProPhoto -  This is the new darling of the professional community.  It’s even a larger gamut than Adobe98 and if you want to absolutely work with as many colors as possible with your DSLR you’ll want to work with ProPhoto.  Sure, your monitor won’t be able to display all of it, or your printer either, but it sits right in there with a nice balance inclusive of sRGB and Adobe98.  This gamut is growing in popularity and it’s just a matter of time before it’s the gamut we reference in relation to our monitors and printers. 

CMYK -  This is a subtractive color space based on the four colors most commonly used in professional prepress, or printing press.  Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key black.  CMYK.  Commercial and advertising photographers have been using CMYK for many years to process their images being sent out for commercial printing in magazines, brochures, and other printed media.

 

mcmyk

 

Others -  There are many other color spaces, but these are the four most commonly encountered by photographers so we’ll limit ourselves to these.  Just be aware there are more and you’ll see them for televisions, movie cameras, and other devices.

 

Color Profiling

Color profiling   is simply the act of adjusting our monitors, so that the colors and luminance we see displayed on the monitor, is the same as the print that comes off our printer, or as we post on the web.  If we post our image on the web, we want to ensure as many others as possible viewing the web sees the image as we intended.  We can also color profile scanners and any device that processes an image.   

For the sake of practicality we only worry about color profiling the devices we actually use, and then only for the purposes we need.  For instance, web display, standard print machines, our own art ink jet printers, or even professional art ink jet printers.  And of course CMYK if we’re commercial photographers and out images will be printed in magazines or other prepress output. 

When profiling your own system at home, ask yourself what you’ll be doing most of the time.  If you’ll be posting images on the internet and getting prints made at your local printers (I’d imagine most of you) then choose the sRGB color space and profile your monitor to sRGB specs.  If you’ll mostly be making prints on your own art ink jet at home, or at a professional printers, then consider Adobe98 and profiling to those specs. 

As we’ve mentioned before, we color profile with the aid of a hardware colorimeter which looks a lot like a mouse and plugs into your USB port, and matching software.  This is what you’d use if you’re using a regular monitor that utilizes a video card LUT (look up table).  How it works, is the software guides you through a process where it sends out colors and different luminance values to your monitor, the colorimeter reads these colors and different luminance values, and then builds a color profile which is essentially the values which go into the LUT. 

During this process you’ll need to adjust the brightness/contrast/red/green/blue controls on the monitor’s OSD to complete this profile.  The values in your LUT tell the video card how to adjust itself to send the most accurate output to the monitor.  This means, only one profile can be used without repeating this entire profiling process over again which can be a very time consuming process.  It is not practical to go through this process just to change the color profile, unless you’ll be using that profile for a long enough period to offset the 30-120 minutes of work it takes to complete the profile.  I recommend Xrite’s i1Display 2 package  which includes a decent colorimeter and software at a good price. 

 

mxrite

 

Another type of monitor would be a professional monitor like the NEC Spectraview (LCD2690uxi2 for example, or the new PA241w, among others)  These monitors have an internal LUT.  This means you can send the profile directly to the monitor and it will output that profile directly to the screen effectively taking the video card out of the equation.   

As a bonus, most video cards only hold 8 bit LUT’s while most pro monitors hold 12-14 bit LUT’s.  The difference is a few million shades.  A bigger bonus, would be the ability to upload different LUT’s to the monitor via a click of the mouse, and the display will then reflect that LUT., and you can usually have many profile values and change which profile your monitor is outputting on demand.  This is an extremely useful tool to the professional photographer, or anyone who needs more than one color space for their work.  In this realm of equipment the manufacturers usually either provide or sell a matching colorimeter and software which best suits their system.  For the NEC’s this would be the Spectraview II package, of SV II.

 

msvII

 

Putting It All Together, What You See on The Web or on Print

This is the meat of the subject.  If you’ve stuck with me through Monitor Basics, and this article, by now you should easily be able to understand this last part.  The picture should become clear and the lightbulb turned on.  This last section is where we put it all together. 

Let’s invent a photographer and call him Joe.  Photographer Joe.  He uses a 4-5 year old average laptop, a Canon 5d Mark II, and some nice lenses.  His entire focus is taking nice pictures of Thailand and sharing them on his website.  Photographer Joe has noticed that when processing the picture and looking at it in Lightroom or Photoshop, and he then puts it on his website, that the two pictures often don’t match.  Sometimes they do, sometimes they’re close, and sometimes they’re way off.  He’s understandably frustrated. 

Photographer Joe schedules a workshop with BkkSteve and tells him “I want to learn to color profile my laptop so that what I see in Photoshop/Lightroom is what the image looks like on my website.”  BkkSteve replies “I can help you, but there are things you must understand and here they are: " 

  • Your laptop is probably only displaying 40-60% of the sRGB color space.  You are simply not able to see all the colors in the image you’re processing.  To make matters worse, the viewers of your website who are often using the same 4-5 year old laptop which also can only see 40-60% of the sRGB gamut BUT they’re probably not seeing the same 40-60% you are.  They’re seeing a 40-60% subset of the sRGB color gamut just as you are, but their 40-60% coverage will not be the same as yours. 
  • The portion of the gamut you can’t see, can make the image look very different to someone who can see it.  Especially if they then can’t see a portion of the gamut you can see. 
  • Your internet browser, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, each one has different capabilities to display a ‘tagged’ image.  For instance, Internet Explorer IS NOT color managed at all.  Firefox is.  Safari is.

 

Photographer Joe “What’s “tagging” and image, and what can I do for the least investment?”  BkkSteve “It’s all about choices and economics.  Here are some things you must understand.” 

  •  “Tagged” means the image has color space information embedded which a viewer or a browser which is your viewer on the internet, can read.  It reads the embedded color space information and passes that information on to your operating system letting it adjust the colors to your system profile. 
  • You’ll need to color profile your monitor to a “standard” others are using.  The web is sRGB.  You’ll need to calibrate/profile your system to sRGB. 
  • You really should consider investing in an external monitor for your laptop which can display a much higher percentage of the sRGB color space.  If it can display 90%, then you can accurately adjust 90%.  90% means most people will see your images at least 90% as you intended.  90% is a good number.  Even 75-80% is good.  40-50% isn’t good at all.  There is a world of difference between these numbers.

 

Photographer Joe “Most people viewing my website aren’t ‘color profiled’, so why does it matter if I am?”    BkkSteve “This is a good question.  Let me explain:”

The internet is a “standard” of sRGB which was agreed upon by Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and some others way back in the mid-90’s.  Since then, all manufacturers have agreed to produce their monitors as close to this standard as is economically feasible for the individual product.  Depending on manufacturing tolerances and produce quality, any given monitor is in the ballpark, but can vary significantly.  This is why as photographers we profile our monitors, so we can ensure that at least we are as close to this standard as possible. 

Think if it this way.  If your monitor is 10% off the standard in one direction, and you’re only seeing 40-60% of the gamut, your total error from the standard could be as much as 25-30%.  Now, what if the viewer was also off by the very same amount, but in a different direction?  Now we have 50-60% error.  By keeping your own images to a industry standard and profiling to ensure their accuracy, you can help reduce that error margin significantly.  The viewer will then only be viewing your image the degree their machine is off, and not a sum of both yours and their machines.  Do you see it now? 

Photographer Joe “I never realized how important color profiling was, or how it could add to the error of the systems my site viewers are using.”  “What can I recommend to my viewers to be as accurate as possible and to be able to see my images, because we know the average person isn’t going to invest in profiling equipment.  I can do my part, but what can they do?” 

BkkSteve “I would recommend they use a color managed browser and to check out this web page  to test their current system to make sure they’re picking up the tagged image as you made the image.” 

Photographer Joe “Okay, I can do that.  And the investment in the xrite i1Display2 color profiling package seems a good deal.  And maybe I can even spring baht 10,000 for a decent monitor.  But why what advantages will someone get if they go the entire 40 yards and buys a professional monitor with an internal LUT capability?” 

BkkSteve  “Okay, I’ll explain how I personally use my professional imaging monitors and why the internal LUT’s are valuable to me.  For others this might not be the same, each person’s needs are different.  Here goes:”

 

Multiple Monitors

I work with two monitors.  Many studies have been done showing productivity greatly increases with more screen real estate, and a second monitor.  The point of diminishing returns is reached quickly with the third monitor for most people.

With more than one monitor, you’ll either need a separate graphics for each video card LUT capable monitor, or if professional monitors with internal LUT’s you just need two monitor outputs period.

 

sRGB Emulation

Remember you told me some of your images matched, some were close, and some were really off when viewed on the web?  This is because different images use different portions of the sRGB gamut.  Depending on which part of the gamut a certain image is using, and how much of the gamut you can see, will determine how they ‘appear’ to you.  But there’s more. 

Even if a monitor is capable of displaying 100% of the sRGB gamut, and is profiled, there can still be errors.  You see, if just a portion of the gamut escapes the confines of the sRGB gamut, this can create what most refer to as a color cast.  This can be very frustrating, because even if you spend a lot of money for good Dell U2711 monitors and have great video cards, and then profile them correctly, there is no mechanism built in that LIMITS the gamut to ONLY sRGB.  So extraneous colors can escape causing a color cast. 

This has been a huge problem for web imaging professionals for years with no solution until recently.  Now NEC, Lacie, and Eizo have all come out with a form of “sRGB emulation” modes.  What this does is clamp down on the sRGB gamut, or rather limit it to only the sRGB gamut.  This creates a super accurate image.  Since I went to the NEC’s my images in Lightroom or Photoshop now match what I see on the web 100%!  Finally some relief.  I can’t tell you how good this feels. 

But here’s the bad part.  As I go through my galleries and other online content I’ve posted over the years, I notice much of it looks close, but a lot is really off.  I’ll need to spend a lot of time going back and correcting these images.  But once I have them corrected, then I’ll have the system licked. 

 

Why I Use Different Color Spaces

Before I went to the NEC’s with internal LUT’s things worked like this:  I’d color profile to a standard somewhere in the middle of the work I did, and then when I had a different type of work I’d guess how much I needed to adjust the levels and change the colors.  It was always a guess, but with a lot of experience I tended to get pretty close.  When I had my studio, I’d set up one system for in house printing so there was no guessing, another complete system for work that went out to a lab, and yet a third system for commercial work.  And guess what?  A fourth system for web work.  This was the only way I could get things right on a professional level.  A complete different workstation for each color space I had to work with.  And like I said, even then my web work was never spot on. 

Now life is different.  I have one main workstation.  It has two NEC LCD2690uxi2 monitors.  I use the Spectraview II colorimeter and software, and have created profiles in sRGB, CMYK, Adobe98, ProPhoto, for in house printing, for one of my favorite out of house professional printers, and for another of my out of house professional printers.

When I sit down to process an image, I simply ask myself what I’m going to do with that image.  Is it for my website, for my own printer, a commercial client, and then whatever it’s for, I then choose the right profile.  With a click of my mouse I can set my workstation to any of these profiles and be 100% accurate.

 

m1

 

Look at this image below, see the green line triangle?  That’s an estimate of the sRGB gamut.  See the entire color triangle?  That’s the gamut I have set to sRGB emulation.  It follows the sRGB gamut perfectly.

 

m2

 

On the image below, notice the yellow triangle?  That’s the Adobe98 gamut, but my workstation is still set to the sRGB mode. 

 

m3

 

Below, now with a click of the mouse my monitor has readjusted to Adobe98!  See how much bigger the gamut is?

 

m5adobe98

 

Below, see the green sRGB triangle inside the much larger Adobe98 gamut?  Without an sRGB emulation mode I’d have the sRGB colors right, but all the extra colors would be escaping and creating color casts on my images. 

 

m6adobe98srgb

 

Below, you can see where my target (ideal) sRGB is 6506k (kelvin), which is a perfect CIE, x,y reading of 0.313, 0.329.  After calibration/profiling I’m now at 6507k, with a perfect CIE, x, y reading of 0.313, 0.329.  This is extremely close.  The extremely small difference could never be seen by the naked eye. 

Remember what I said about different browsers?  Look at the image below.  The first image shows what an image would look like if it had both ICC 2 and 4 profiles and was being viewed correctly, the second shows if it only showed v2 correctly, and the third what it would look like if not showing anything correctly.  A real mess!

 

m9

 

Now, you can easily see how useful a professional standard monitor with internal LUT’s can be to someone who uses more than one standard.  The biggest mistake someone can make is thinking if they profile their monitor, then it’s good for all uses.  It just doesn’t work that way. 

Whether or not the investment is worth it to you is a personal decision.  And you still need to consider that a professional grade monitor is just plain more accurate and enjoyable to use in every respect.   They’re a real pleasure to use. 

Photographer Joe  “Wow, that’s a lot of information.  I need to decide what is worth it to me.”

 

Summary

This is a huge subject, and I’ve already mentioned books have been written on just portions of the subject.  There is no way I can write a comprehensive article on monitors and color profiling in this sort of venue, and I have no desire to write a book. 

What I’d recommend, is if you’re a hobbyist, is to seriously consider an inexpensive monitor like the Samsung BX2450.  I’d recommend you buy the Xrite i1Display2 profiling hardware and software, and profile as accurately as you can to sRGB.  Set your cameras, computer, printer, all to sRGB.   

If you’re a more serious photographer then a nice S-IPS wide-gamut consumer model like the Dell U2711 or Viewsonic VP2365wb would be great.  Use the same Xrite i1Display2 equipment.  

If you’re a very serious photographer, or just have the money and want to do it, then invest in some great professional monitors like the NEC LCD2690uxi2’s or the NEC PA271w’s.  Buy their SVII profiling colorimeter and software.  Once you use these, you’ll never go back.  You’ll never realize just how good they are, and how easy they make things, until you’ve used them a few weeks. 

This is a tough and confusing subject.  It’s explained differently, and often wrongly, on the web at 1000’s of links.  People argue and debate the subject on 100’s of photography forums.  Some arguments get quite heated. 

I’ve had not a small number of fellow professionals hire me, and either bring their systems to my home, or I go to theirs, and help them set up the color correctly.  The subject can be that tough.  Maybe it’s not that it’s tough, more than it’s an intensive and steep learning curve and some people just rather not climb that curve.  They just want their system to work.  So they call me and I make it work for them, and I’m very clear as to that particular systems limitations.

Some of the toughest calls I get are from Mac people.  They’re used to Mac’s making great products and being well thought out, and just can’t accept the truth about Mac monitors.. which is generally, they’re of a very low quality.  Others with Imacs become frustrated when they want to connect a better monitor, but then learn their video card can only support a color profile to one of those monitors.   

There’s a ton of information out there, youtube tutorials, books, articles, and advice from the manufacturers (their low paid help almost always give you the wrong answers, unfortunate but true).  I’ve tried to lay out the most important points, while not hitting many of the smaller points at all.  I hope this has been of some use.