Color Management and Color Perception
by Javan Bramhall – May 6th, 2014
This is a guest blog by UK Coloratti Mark Wood about color management and color perception. Mark is an artist, photographer & training provider; solving technical and creative problems. His creative practice centres on photography and the graphic arts. He initiates personal projects for exhibition and publication. For two decades Mark has combined personal work with commerce – often teaching others about the creative and technical aspects of digital imaging.
This blog supports a webinar that outlines ways to showcase your work, and highlight options to display your prints to best effect.
Viewing Environment | Color Management and Color Perception
by Mark Wood
Calibration and profiling are essential parts of colour management, however there are several other factors that effect how colour is perceived. When showcasing your prints, either in a portfolio or on gallery walls, the lighting, wall colours and mounting choices all effect tone and colour.
It’s fun to enter competitions, to prepare a portfolio, or to print off some personal work. Often these jobs are left until the evening, as a quieter way to end the day. But without the correct light in my studio I know that come the morning what looked like an ideal print under standard domestic lighting could look horribly wrong in the cool daylight.
This blog illustrates why it is essential to have a suitably lit area for viewing work whether it is in your professional studio or in your home. It goes on to discuss how presentation options such as the colour of your photographic mounts will effective a viewer’s perception of tone and colour.
Soft proofing is a great way to evaluate print colour on screen, but no amount of colour management control will rewrite the often bizarre tricks human perception can play on us.
Take a look at this black and white illustration, zoom in so it fill the your display. Look at it for several seconds, then close your eyes. What did you see?
I hope that worked for you. Moving on, let’s take a look at a weakness in human colour perception. Read these instructions before trying the next experiment. Zoom in on the next illustration so that it fills the screen, don’t look at the picture too much until it fills the screen. Now look at the white dot in the centre of the screen, focus on it and without moving your eyes, try and take note of the coloured dots surrounding the white dot. Evaluate their vibrancy. Then move your eye round looking directly at the coloured dots. Once you’ve done that zoom back out and continue reading.
Not only can our eyes deceive us, are brains can play worrying tricks too. To avoid nasty surprises try following some of the following tips when printing and showcasing your work.
Set up a viewing area. Viewing booths can be bought, but they are expensive, often designed for evaluating press work in print companies, where there is often a lack of natural light. The do–it–yourself option involves creating a clean neutral coloured space painted in Munsell 8 grey. The artificial light should be a corrected balanced light such as the Colour Confidence GrafiLite. So matter how late your print session is you will always be able to view your prints accurately.
If having any form of viewing area is impossible, assessing prints by the light of a North facing window works pretty well. Though is of course no use in the middle of the night!
So, you have a great monitor, calibrated and profiled; you’ve set up soft-proofing and your printer makes great prints that stand up to scrutiny when examined in your viewing area. At this point the juxtaposition of your prints on a gallery wall, their arrangement in your portfolio, or how you lay them out in an album can change their perceived colour values.
Look at the following triptychs. The first row contains images with vibrant tones, the second row has rather neutral colours. Each looks okay, but in the third and fourth rows the middle photograph has been swapped around. Ignoring the poor judgement in editorial choice here, note how the middle image looks either too dull, as in row three, or too colourful, as in row four. To appreciate this point try viewing each row separately. The difference is subtle but it is there; consider the effort made in achieving monitor to print colour matching, and note that colours surrounding an image, whether that is a mount or another photograph, effect colour perception.
Relative sizes of prints also effect tone and colour. So if you are ordering a large print but have only ever seen the work printed as small proofs you can have a surprise. This is why fine-artists will work very closely with a pro lab. Even though colour management best practice has been applied the vagaries of human perception come into play. This hyperlink takes you to a painting by Diane Tesler. Try and guess how much blue paint has been used as a percentage of the total amount of colours you see. I’ll give you an answer at the end of this blog.
Not everyone will choose to mount their work. Often fine-art prints are presented with large mount board margins, this can not only add gravitas to a print, it also creates a neutral field around the print so that wallpaper choices et al don’t effect the tone and colour of the print.
Ivory, antique white and white are favoured colours for mounting prints, but other colours are available, and using vibrant colours of mount can be effective; on the right photograph. But again, putting a photograph in different coloured mounts will change the perceived print colour. If you use Photoshop try creating an extended Canvas to act as a virtual mount board preview. I demonstrate this process in the webinar accompanying this blog.
This blog reveals my position as a fine-art printmaker, but by using colour management properly I minimise the number of nasty surprises when hanging work on a gallery wall. In a high speed commercial world the considerations of this blog are no less important.
I am in the process of setting up a SmugMug site for my print sales. Beyond the considerations of my studio based colour management or the colour handling at the pro lab, I need to effectively evaluate the effect acrylic, aluminium finishes will have on my work, as well as framing choices.
And to conclude. How much blue paint was used in the Diane Tesler painting? Answer – none!
Mark Wood uses X-Rite i1Photo Pro 2 to manage color between screen and print. Learn how you can stop guessing and start knowing with color management solutions from X-Rite at www.xritephoto.com.
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