We've been talking quite a lot about colour management at the studio recently and it's dawned on us that most people really don't have any idea that there is a whole process and a lot of technical skill behind ensuring that the photos you have on your computer look exactly the same when you print them out as they do on your computer screen.
For most people the process goes something like this - capture a moment that you love, upload it to your computer, toggle a few sliders in your editing software, click print and Voila! You have a gorgeous print of one of your favourite memories. But how many times have you done that and the print you end up with leaves you feeling disappointed?
Perhaps it's a bit dark, or too light, or the colours just look a little (or a lot) "off".
Well there are actually quite a few reasons that this can happen, starting with your computer screen.
Here's a little snapshot of my desk when I arrived at work this morning:
We work with two screens - a 27-inch iMac Retina 5K, a computer we love because it multitasks like a woman and does everything we need it to do (we're not getting into a debate about PC vs Mac here - we're not saying it's the best, it's just what works best for us ;-)), and next to it we have our Eizo Flexscan monitor for colour management. A lot of professional photographers use Eizo screens because (without getting into too much technical detail) they are built differently from normal computer monitors and give a more faithful rendition of the look and colours you will get when you print your photos (as long as they are regularly calibrated, which is a topic for another day).
You can probably see from my photo that the image on the two screens (which is exactly the same image), look different. The image on the Mac screen looks much brighter and has a blueish colour cast, whereas the image on the Eizo looks less bright and the colours are warmer.
The fact that the Eizo screen is less bright is helpful for seeing what your image will look like in print. Think of it this way - when you look at a photo do you hold it up in front of a hugely bright light? No? Well that's essentially what you're doing when you're looking at an image on your computer screen at home, and if you were to try putting a print up in front of a big light you'd probably notice that the colours and everything look a lot brighter and more vibrant with so much light hitting them. But photos are printed on paper, which doesn't have a panel of lights behind it, so our Eizo gives us a much better idea of what our images will look like once they're printed.
If we were to edit our images using our Mac screen (which is currently uncalibrated), our photos would print looking darker than we expected, and that blue cast that our screen has would mean that we would edit our colours to make them look "correct" on the screen, but then when we printed everything would look too warm (yellow).
So we edit our images using our Eizo screen to ensure that our editing is on point and that the exposure and colours are accurate, rather than relying on a standard computer monitor that has its own brightness level and colour cast (as ALL monitors do). Now we're not saying that everyone interested in photography should go out and buy an Eizo, they are definitely a big investment, but for us as professionals it is vitally important that what we see on our screen translates to print. Whatever screen you do use though should be calibrated regularly, which we will talk about in another blog post.
Even when you look at our images on your screen at home they will look different from how they look on ours, because your screen has it's own brightness level and colour cast, and when you take your USB to a print lab their screen will show it differently too - so if you or they adjust the colours to look "correct" on a different screen you'll be undoing all the hard work we've put in to ensure the colours are accurate or as we want them to be for our professional style.
But ensuring the colours on the screen are accurate is not the only step in the colour management process. Just like computer monitors, printers all also have their own profiles and colour casts, so it is important that your computer is set up to work with the printer you're printing on. That's why we print most of our images in-house, and for any printing that we send out to different labs we have their printer profiles set up in our workflow so that we know what we are looking at on our screen will print accurately.
Most retail shops that print photos (with the exception of professional photo labs) just don't have the level of expertise or quality of equipment, and so printing with them is just like shooting in the dark - sometimes we might get lucky and get a hit, but most of the time the results will be a big miss.
This is why we are passionate about printing our images for our clients. We want to ensure that your digital file looks just as good printed and up on the wall as it does on our screen, which takes time, a lot of professional equipment, and expertise. There is a lot more to it than just pressing the "Print" button and so we feel that as professional photographers our job is not done when our session is over. We don't want to just hand you a USB and leave you to print your photos on your own - we just know how much more amazing they'll look when we print them for you x