Why I love my job – reason #1 (of N): Colour Science

In Dec this year I will complete 20 years working in the field of imaging – the first 9 years were spent in academia and the last 10 years in the industry. I can say unequivocally that I love what I do and it is probably THE main reason I’ve managed to stay within this domain. The  business of imaging/photography brings together so many diverse disciplines that there is never a dull moment and a constant need to keep learning.  So in this series of posts I am going to talk about the various components of this business. In no particular order they are:

  • Colour Science
  • Technology
  • On-demand, mass-customized manufacturing
  • Design
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Art & Craft of Photography
  • <Mystery reason #1>
  • <Mystery reason #2> :-)

In this post let me talk a little about colour science. This is a very tough problem since photography today means viewing pictures on all kinds of (uncalibrated) monitors (PC, laptop, camera, phone etc) and printing them on many different devices with varying technologies (laser, inkjet, silver halide, liquid toner, thermal, etc). In my opinion the problem has been exacerbated by the “colour industry” by not providing practical tools and systems that work in real world situations. The purist colour scientists have often architected for the perfect world not paying heed to performance, reliability and repeatability of colour management process in real world situations.

In addition, colour management and colour enhancement often get clubbed together and the tools meant to provide accuracy of colour are misused to enhance the picture and vice-versa. It is like a dog chasing its tail. In the world of film, all enhancement and reproduction were done through chemicals – chemicals in the film and chemicals used for producing print. Different types of film provided different enhancements (some provided more saturation, some more contrast etc). In the digital world all of this can be done on a per picture basis with very little control on the multitude of output device making this problem very complex.

At Canvera we try to keep things very simple. We break up the image colour management to ENHANCEMENTS and ACCURACY.

Image Enhancement

We have a default colour enhancement algorithm that does an image-adaptive mild touch-up to the brightness, contrast and colours of the pictures. We have multiple different settings and at times, based on the preference of a client ,we can make one of the other settings default for a given client (kind of like choosing a different film), including completely turning off the enhancements.

Accuracy of Colour reproduction

This starts with calibrating our monitors to sRGB colour. We use the X-Rite Display 2 to calibrate all our monitors, especially the ones used by our designers when they design photobooks and web pages.

i1 Display 2

i1 Display 2

On the printing side we calibrate all our printers (liquid toner, silver halide & injket) to sRGB so that no matter how many printers we have and who operates them all of them will produce the same colours at all times (there are limits to this, but that gets too technical). We use X-Rite i1iO to monitor and calibrate printers.

X-rite i1iO

X-rite i1iO

In our ideal world, all our clients would calibrate their monitors to sRGB (at a first order of approximation the monitor tends to look much darker than the typical settings of a monitor) and preview them properly before sending. Of course we don’t live in an ideal world so we have provided some basic tools. What we can guarantee on the print side is that for the same input we will always produce the same output. That way we can focus on the monitors and devices on which our clients and designers view and modify pictures.

Colour is a complex issue and I am sure we’ll write about it more. If there is anything in particular about Canvera’s way of working with colour or about colour science in general that you’d like to know more about please feel free to drop us a note.

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