How many professional photographers bother with color management?

Started Dec 17, 2011 | Discussions
ComputerDork Regular Member • Posts: 225
How many professional photographers bother with color management?

My photography teacher (professional or former professional) says that basically none of the professional photographers he knows these days bother to calibrate/profile their monitors or printers. He also says everyone just wants everything in sRGB, in his experience, and nobody has ever asked him for anything else. (I realize that people have to aware of enough stuff so that they don't send off some untagged AdobeRGB file or otherwise mess stuff up, I'm just talking about how many people mess with matching/calibration/etc.)

I also have a friend who works at a professional printing place (doing mostly signs and reproductions using huge ink jet printers) and it sounds like none of their stuff is properly calibrated/profiled (some monitors are but they sound WAY overdue for recalibration). All of their color management seems to be done manually by "feel" or by taking a pantone swatchbook, comparing swatches to swatches printed out on the target printer with various values, finding which ones match, and then just typing the RGB/CMYK/whatever values into whatever software application they're using to print (rather than typing pantone numbers into the software and expecting the software and printer to be able to figure this out). I know pantone colors aren't photography-related, I'm just giving another example of people working around having to do color matching the "right" way as I know it.

So is this typical among professional photographers or does it depend on what they're doing? Which ones tend to just take photos, adjust them on an uncalibrated monitor, and send them of in sRGB and which ones bother with all the profiling instrumentation and send stuff off to people who demand AdobeRGB/whatever?

Joergen Geerds Senior Member • Posts: 1,758
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

ComputerDork wrote:

My photography teacher (professional or former professional) says that basically none of the professional photographers he knows these days bother to calibrate/profile their monitors or printers. He also says everyone just wants everything in sRGB, in his experience, and nobody has ever asked him for anything else. (I realize that people have to aware of enough stuff so that they don't send off some untagged AdobeRGB file or otherwise mess stuff up, I'm just talking about how many people mess with matching/calibration/etc.)

I don't think that is a true statement, besides, the sample size your teacher is using is probably too small (since we don't know haw many people he knows).

which color space to use is based on your experience and workflow, I rarely use srgb other than exporting for web, and some printers.

but color space and color calibration are also dependent on your printing technique (if you print at all): if you are printing on pigment or inkjet, you can't get around profiling every step, from input to output, since pigment printing has such a huuuuuge variation in output (everything affects the result). on the other hand, c-prints are excessively calibrated on the printer side (since they are usually in a commercial lab, there is no way that the lab would allow their printers to show any color drift, plus you have more or less only the choice between 2 substrates). this allows the output side of the process to be constant, meaning you have to worry less about calibration on your end.

I also have a friend who works at a professional printing place (doing mostly signs and reproductions using huge ink jet printers) and it sounds like none of their stuff is properly calibrated/profiled (some monitors are but they sound WAY overdue for recalibration).

again, one place doesn't mean all places are like this. the 5-6 places I know and use for printing in NYC are all almost OCD about color calibration, and have a huge arsenal of devices to ensure that stuff looks the way it's supposed to,

All of their color management seems to be done manually by "feel" or by taking a pantone swatchbook, comparing swatches to swatches printed out on the target printer with various values, finding which ones match

I would trust a good machine over what the human eye sees. while with a lot of training and experience specialists can see tiny color shifts, and can therefore act on that, machines have a better record of repeating results.

So is this typical among professional photographers or does it depend on what they're doing? Which ones tend to just take photos, adjust them on an uncalibrated monitor, and send them of in sRGB and which ones bother with all the profiling instrumentation and send stuff off to people who demand AdobeRGB/whatever?

no, i think the majority of professionals care about their products and their colors a lot. Uncle Bob on the other hand might not care at all.

PenguinPhotoCo Veteran Member • Posts: 6,284
Someone has to manage color don't they?

I started working in this field doing catalogs and pre press and that was before the average joe could afford color calibration on a PC so I learned to do much if it by the numbers, learned about rgb vs cmyk and color shifts. I learned about white balance in college with video and it was a necessity if you wanted skin tones to be remotely accurate.

Along comes digital photography and no more picking film color temps or messing with filters. AWB or presets got pretty close, and I used what I learned doing catalogs to do the rest. You could also let the labs handle color correction (for a fee of course) on any prints/albums you did.

Move forward a bit and thigns change - custs want more processes images so 'true color skin tones' are an opinion thing, custs get files so the lab can't be relied on to correct color anymore...time to do it myself!

So I started with a calibrated monitor and expodisk (among other things) and started getting better color and images and stopped letting the lab mess with things.

Then a year ago I got a printer and that added a whole nother level of complexity - I got a color munki and passport and calibrated my cameras, different lighting types, my monitors and my output. Cost was $450 ish and a few hours of time - just once.

WOW! It makes a big difference.

So you can get pretty close without calibrating anything, and with experience of a pro you do get pretty close, but calibrating everything gives you better results and more consistent results. I know when I shoot a baby or family many times they'll always have the same color instead of 'close enough'
--
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ampimagedotcom
ampimagedotcom Contributing Member • Posts: 516
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

Joergen Geerds wrote:

... i think the majority of professionals care about their products and their colors a lot.

Would agree.

"Amateurs talk about equipment, Pros talk about money, Masters talk about light."

But that doesn't mean we don't care about those other things or that they aren't important to us - it's just we don't tend to talk about them that much anymore.

OP ComputerDork Regular Member • Posts: 225
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

Thanks. My photo teacher also thinks that inkjet printers are never cost effective or as high quality as commercial photo lab prints, so it doesn't sound like he ever prints anything himself. (I handed him an analysis I did showing otherwise on the cost issue, and an example of the output from my R3000 vs. Sam's Club at least. I haven't yet compared my printer output with the highest quality labs out there.)

So it sounds like if "everyone he knows" is using a reasonably good monitor that's not too inaccurate from the factory, and just sends their stuff to a lab for printing, then maybe they don't need to mess with profiling etc. that much. Also, I think he has mostly done photojournalism type stuff where they just send RAW-> JPEG sRGB images off ASAP, expect the camera and raw converter to do a reasonable job, and let the printers worry about fixing stuff.

Anyway, the class is over so I won't have this teacher again. I could believe that photographers in some parts of the industry wouldn't need to mess with color management much, but obviously this isn't the case for every photographer or all of these companies selling instruments wouldn't be in business. So that's what I was curious about... which parts of the industry actually worry about color management and to what degree.

As for my friend at the printing business (he's actually more of a sysadmin than anything else), from what he says their issue is that they don't specialize in any one thing because the market for any particular thing isn't large enough in their small-town area. It also sounds like their sign customers probably have a tolerance of around 5 DeltaE or more and don't really care that much about absolute color matching perfection. (They're also not doing well enough that the owner wants to spend any time or money on anything that isn't absolutely necessary. They're probably suffering from the increasingly sophisticated technology available to consumers, and online competition.)

Peter Berressem Forum Pro • Posts: 10,647
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

If by "professional" he includes those working towards commercial 4c printing for advertizing / catalogue etc. clients he's totally wrong.
We'd be out of business in a heartbeat if we did what he assumes.
--
cheers, Peter
Germany

Michael Thomas Mitchell Forum Pro • Posts: 11,705
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

It sounds as if the teacher is pretty much relying on anecdotal evidence (is there anything else?), so I don't know how much truth there is in what he says or not. I can say, however, that I wouldn't dream of working on an uncalibrated system. That said, I'm still using the same calibration tools I've had for about eight years now. It was that long ago that, after struggling with good color between camera, computer, and printer, I'd had enough and bought a Sypder system. Best money I ever spent. It was a basic system: put the USB hardware against the screen, let it analyze the monitor, and out comes a custom color profile for that particular monitor.

It was absolutely eye-opening seeing the software's before-and-after demonstration of how colors looked uncalibrated versus after the Spyder had completed the calibration. For the first time, my prints and monitor really matched. What's more, I spend far less time in post-processing because it was clear that my camera was doing better with color than I previously believed.

There have been all sorts of new systems, upgrades and so forth in the eight years I've owned the Spyder, but I've been completely content with what I've got because it still works. I use for PCs, laptops, and netbooks, and as long as I do it properly to begin with (in a dark room where ambient light cannot influence the result), all of the monitors end up with very consistent color.

The only bad thing about color management to me is that cringe I sometimes get when I produce nice-looking images and then realize how it will probably look on my client's uncalibrated system. Most consumer monitors out of the store are too bright, too contrast, and gravitate towards the cool side of colors. In fact, I've never calibrated a single display myself in which that was not the case.

For the pro photographer, it would seem to me that basic color management would be as fundamental as getting your shots in focus. I don't know why any legitimate photog would ignore it.

ComputerDork wrote:

My photography teacher (professional or former professional) says that basically none of the professional photographers he knows these days bother to calibrate/profile their monitors or printers. He also says everyone just wants everything in sRGB, in his experience, and nobody has ever asked him for anything else. (I realize that people have to aware of enough stuff so that they don't send off some untagged AdobeRGB file or otherwise mess stuff up, I'm just talking about how many people mess with matching/calibration/etc.)

I also have a friend who works at a professional printing place (doing mostly signs and reproductions using huge ink jet printers) and it sounds like none of their stuff is properly calibrated/profiled (some monitors are but they sound WAY overdue for recalibration). All of their color management seems to be done manually by "feel" or by taking a pantone swatchbook, comparing swatches to swatches printed out on the target printer with various values, finding which ones match, and then just typing the RGB/CMYK/whatever values into whatever software application they're using to print (rather than typing pantone numbers into the software and expecting the software and printer to be able to figure this out). I know pantone colors aren't photography-related, I'm just giving another example of people working around having to do color matching the "right" way as I know it.

So is this typical among professional photographers or does it depend on what they're doing? Which ones tend to just take photos, adjust them on an uncalibrated monitor, and send them of in sRGB and which ones bother with all the profiling instrumentation and send stuff off to people who demand AdobeRGB/whatever?

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OP ComputerDork Regular Member • Posts: 225
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

Neophytes like me have to talk about equipment to some degree because we start out not owning anything and have to decide what to buy. At this point though I'm pretty much stabilized on equipment and have what I need for the foreseeable future so I can stop worrying about it, finally. (For a while I had everything solved and just ignored equipment to concentrate on actual photography, but then I wanted to buy a printer and had to get back into researching stuff so as not to waste my money.)

What's dumb though is when people think that obsessing about equipment will improve their photography. I just have a tendency to want to solve ALL workflow problems at one time and perfect workflow so I can forget about it and go back to making pictures without being interrupted by problems and annoyances.

Hopefully my photo teachers next year will have broader experience and less of a tendency to make dichotomous declarations about things....

Michael Thomas Mitchell Forum Pro • Posts: 11,705
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

I've seen good quality paper actually come down in price over the years, and I use premium quality CFS inks, so in-house prints are, for me, typically less costly than good lab prints. In addition, I can produce prints that rival lab quality. That said, I still resist any notion of handing out final prints to clients from my own inkjet system. Proofs, one-offs, and marketing stuff ok, but not final prints for clients. It's just one of those things which, to me, I still want to deliver the real deal. I don't want a roque blob or ink, or a smear, or some other minor defect to spoil a print presentation in any way. Labs, although not always perfect, still deliver top quality at a reasonable price.

Ordering prints is also much less labor-intensive. With my lab, I simply upload ftp and provide an address for drop-shipping. They print, package, inspect, and ship. For me to do the same thing, I'd have to load paper stock for each size print, load the images to print into the queue, check for quality, reprint as necessary, trim for odd sizes, package into print bags, pack the entire shipment, order shipping, and get it to my carrier or call for pickup. And that doesn't include printer maintenance, paper and ink purchasing, and buying and stocking the shipping and packaging material. Yeah, I like the first way lots better.

ComputerDork wrote:

Thanks. My photo teacher also thinks that inkjet printers are never cost effective or as high quality as commercial photo lab prints, so it doesn't sound like he ever prints anything himself. (I handed him an analysis I did showing otherwise on the cost issue, and an example of the output from my R3000 vs. Sam's Club at least. I haven't yet compared my printer output with the highest quality labs out there.)

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Earthlight Veteran Member • Posts: 3,208
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

I have a very small photo business but I take pride in delivering highest possible quality. My images are mostly published in glossy magazines, books etc. By keeping my calibration and profiling up to date I never get any nasty surprises when seeing the result.

Years ago when my monitor was not hardware calibrated I was somewhat close but never reliably so. I hated every second of it!

Earthlight

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Michael Firstlight Veteran Member • Posts: 3,375
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

It sounds like your professor doesn't know very many pros.

That statement was true - maybe 10 years ago - at a time when many were starting to convert from film to digital in large numbers, but even back in the early 2000's a fair number of pros attending state and regional professional conferences were fully aware of, if not deeply knowledgeable not just about calibration, but also color spaces, gamuts, bit depth and the complexities of end-to-end RAW workflow from capture to output. The big question of the day back then was what was the best overall end-to-end workflow and many sessions focused on the very subject.

In the past 5 or more years, that percentage has risen to include the vast number of working pros - even old schoolers. No one is out there doing formal surveys to prove that - but if you are active in your state or region professional association and meet with hundreds of peers regularly then you essentially know what the level of technical competency exists amongst your peers.

Quite frankly, it sounds like your prof is clearly out of the mainstream and still making assumptions based on the early 2000's instead of present day. He should get out of the class room and attend a few professional conferences for his/her own technical vitality which, in turn, would benefit the students

Regards,
Mike

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Tell me that you know all about your camera, and I will call you a photographer.

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Andrew Veteran Member • Posts: 4,486
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

Michael Thomas Mitchell wrote:

For the pro photographer, it would seem to me that basic color management would be as fundamental as getting your shots in focus. I don't know why any legitimate photog would ignore it.

Agree

I use a professional lab for printing so I dont need to worry about printers, so my end is not very difficult, technical or expensive to do.

tonywh Contributing Member • Posts: 821
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

your professor is way wrong. Its a part of knowing your job. The amount of application varies between a local rag coming of an unknown printing press and top level commercial work. But not knowing and having the basics in place to start regardless of where it ends up is not professional.

tony

Ron Kruger Senior Member • Posts: 1,975
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

I would feel as though I was blind if my monitor at least wasn't calibrated, although I will admit that when I calibrated my newest monitor, it didn't change a lot. Nevertheless, it is very important to have images as close to what I want before sending them out, because I don't trust my markets.

It seems logical to be paticular about color management for high-end markets, but I think it is even more important with lower markest. My markets are tabloids, newspapers and magazines. There was a time when they had experienced and competent "photo editors," but those fell away years ago with the first migration of advertising to the internet. Most still have "design artists," usually someone working cheaply straight out of college who concentrates on layout and simply flows the image into it without looking at it very closely.

I have an agency that wants aRBG (which is mainly a pain in the ars and doesn't sell much), but everyone else wants sRBG, even labs. One of them candidly told me that when I send aRGB, they automatically convert it to sRBG and go from there. I suspect a lot of these "professional" labs give you the impression they give you extra care, and while they may print on slightly better equipment and better papers than Cosco, they use the same mass-production, standard settings techniques. So, again, having the color right from the beginning is better and cheaper than having them correct it.

At any rate, JPEGs and sRBG is the standard in my world, and if I sent an aRGB, they would just think the color was off, because I doubt any of their monitors are calibrated, especially the editors who make the initial selections.

So, I think a calibrated monitor is more important than ever for mid and low level outlets. And I agree with another poster about modern cameras getting the color closer than ever to begin with as well.

In fact, I believe the technology is getting better on both ends, and everything is becoming more "automatic," so it behoves the protographer to get it as close as possible at time of capture and make sure it is right before sending it off.
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OP ComputerDork Regular Member • Posts: 225
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

Michael Firstlight wrote:

He should get out of the class room and attend a few professional conferences for his/her own technical vitality which, in turn, would benefit the students

Well, if it would "benefit" (impress) the 18 year old female students he probably would.

Luckily his class is just the most basic photography class that everyone has to take because it's a prerequisite for almost every other photography class. I'm done with this one now and I don't think he teaches any others, so there's probably not much use in trying to convince him of anything at this point.

I didn't believe what he was saying about CM was generally true and thought maybe it just applied to some subset of the industry or something, but the 10 years out-of-date hypothesis would make sense given that he said his knowledge was about 10 years out of date when it came to a previous question I had asked.

hotdog321
hotdog321 Forum Pro • Posts: 19,224
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

I shoot for newspapers and magazines and PR. I use an inexpensive Spyder 3 Express to calibrate my monitors. It is just one more tweak to make my pictures look better and avoid pitfalls. It's well under $100, for goodness sake.

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Dan DeLion Contributing Member • Posts: 544
Teaching not Doing!

ComputerDork:

Your teacher's answer could explain why he's teaching not doing.

Matching your R3000 output to your monitor by eye can be done but you need a pretty sophisticated eye. For instance can you identify a slight excess of cyan and what would you do to the printers profile to correct that? Or, is that warmth from magenta or red? How about adjusting for a slight over saturation where the contrast is too low and the print is slightly dark.

Your R3000 will turn out the highest quality prints available anywhere.

The colors on your monitor result from the interaction of the computer's software and hardware plus the the interaction of monitor's hardware and software. The result of all these interactions is unpredictable.

You'd be much happier profiling your monitor with a hardware device. After that you'll find that Epson's presets are very close and only need slight fine tuning.
-

echelon2004 Veteran Member • Posts: 8,128
Re: How many professional photographers bother with color management?

I calibrate my cameras, my monitors and my printers. I color manage the entire work flow and I provide printed proofs to be compared with the proof from the printer doing the real printing.

Most current job was a small magazine of twelwe pages run at 1,2 million copies. Trust me, you don't want to take any chances with that despite what your teacher claims...
--
Anders

'It is nice to be important but it is more important to be nice'

PenguinPhotoCo Veteran Member • Posts: 6,284
Re: Teaching not Doing!

Dan DeLion wrote:

ComputerDork:

Your teacher's answer could explain why he's teaching not doing.

The colors on your monitor result from the interaction of the computer's software and hardware plus the the interaction of monitor's hardware and software. The result of all these interactions is unpredictable.

Not to mention the monitor's rendition of color, and brightness, will change over time. I calibrate monthly and often see a change in calibration - subtle, but the profiling software catches it.

Like folks that use costco and such and brag how they profile weekly or daily...pro labs profile daily at the worst, every shift is common and certainly every time they change paper or chemicals.

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MasterOfGoingFaster Senior Member • Posts: 1,255
Your teacher needs to meet a better grade of photographer

ComputerDork wrote:

My photography teacher (professional or former professional) says that basically none of the professional photographers he knows these days bother to calibrate/profile their monitors or printers.

Then I suspect he doesn't know any "professionals" that know their craft.

He also says everyone just wants everything in sRGB, in his experience, and nobody has ever asked him for anything else.

For low-end, quick-and-dirty jobs .... perhaps. But these must not be high quality jobs.

So is this typical among professional photographers or does it depend on what they're doing?

A few can get away without color management, like newspapers printed on poor quality paper. But this is (or rather "should be") the exception, not the rule.

Which ones tend to just take photos, adjust them on an uncalibrated monitor, and send them of in sRGB and which ones bother with all the profiling instrumentation and send stuff off to people who demand AdobeRGB/whatever?

Photographers who want to get the color right quickly learn to calibrate EVERYTHING - camera, monitor and printer/paper/ink. But if you don't care, or your work doesn't matter, then shoot sRGB JPG.

People may drive on the highway while eating, drinking, texting and calling on the cell phone - but I believe it would be bad policy for a driving instructor to teach this. I'd suggest your teacher has done a grave injustice to his students.

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