Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A little knowledge is indeed dangerous ...

When I made the decision to switch from shooting JPEG to RAW, I went to the bookstore. Since I had Adobe Creative Suite 2 and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) came with that suite and it was well documented, I defaulted to ACR as my RAW converter. My first book was chosen based on page layout design - I'm a sucker for nice paper and visually exciting images and text placement. I chose The Art of Raw Conversion: How to Produce Art-Quality Photos with Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Leading RAW Converters. It provides high-level introductions to RAW files, color management, and workflow as well as overviews of the various RAW converters. I quickly realized that I wasn't going to be able to effectively use ACR with the knowledge I'd gained. I went out and got another book Getting Started with Camera Raw: How to make better pictures using Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. I started processing images. I liked the results but wanted to know more. I got a third book Adobe Camera Raw for Digital Photographers Only.

All the books talked about the importance of monitor calibration. Determined that I was serious about controlling my images - I purchased hardware and software for calibrating my monitor - Spyder3Pro. I installed the software and calibrated my monitor. About this time, the site - Sony's ImageStation - I'd been using to share photos and create prints and photo albums closed. Along with the site closure, the external drive I'd been using to archive RAW files crashed. Both of these events turned out to be blessings in disguise. I'd been selecting and arranging images for inclusion in a coffee table book. These images were sourced with my Canon 30D (so CR2 RAW files) and processed with ACR and Photoshop. None of the images were intentionally color managed - all color management happened by mistake. By mistake I mean that I'd set my color settings in Adobe Bridge following instructions from Deke McClelland's book Adobe Photoshop CS3 One-On-One. I was softproofing using ICC profiles for my target printers as I'd been taught in class. What I didn't realize and didn't know was that I was using multiple color profiles - the profile set in-camera Adobe RGB (1998), the ColorSync profile from my preview application Apple RGB and the profile set in Creative Suite CS3 sRGB IEC61966-2.1 with Preserve Embedded Profiles set and Profile Mismatches and Missing Profiles turned off. I was blissfully unaware of what all this inconsistency could do and incredibly lucky that generated Web images (CR2 converted to JPEG) and print images looked anything like what I'd shot in camera. Luck with color, however, doesn't last and mine ran out a couple of weeks ago (see my previous post.)

I spent countless hours searching the Internet and various digital photography forums to discover why skin tones in my images were experiencing oversaturated reds when previewed in Adobe Bridge and converted in ACR 4.3.1. The more I read the more I realized I knew just enough to be dangerous. I knew that monitor calibration wasn't my problem. What I didn't know that I'd inadvertently set multiple/conflicting color settings and was troubleshooting by viewing images in software that didn't manage color. As I learned more I discovered the scope and importance of color management - I found a few recommendations on books for newbies and purchased a couple immediately. Sadly I've discovered that the photos of performers under red spotlights all suffer from an oversaturated red channel. The thumbnail displayed on the back of my Canon 30D isn't color managed so I was misled. By default ImageBrowser doesn't apply color profiles (it does now and the images match those I saw in ACR) so I was further misled. On the bright side, I'm not the only digital photographer who is blissfully unaware of how to properly and consistently manage color.