David Harrandine’s Colour Management workshop

A couple of weeks ago, Pixel Perfect ran two one day workshops on colour management. ‘Bingo!’, I thought: I’ve been meaning to iron out and speed up my workflow for a while – which I first wrote about six months ago (in ‘Improving workflow‘). I’ve been impressed with Pixel Perfect’s printing, and the rigour they insist on with colour management. Added to which, the price was good ($130, all day, catered) and they’re nearby: too easy…

Central Park

Perfect Colour Made Simple‘ was run by David Harrandine from Melbourne. He’s enthusiastic and very knowledgable: I can highly recommend him. The main theme of the day was the importance of non-destructive editing.

I got a lot more than I was expecting, but certainly came away with options for an enhanced workflow. My previous practice had been to use the Library module of Lightroom v2.7, and do any significant edits in Photoshop. Now it’s all Lightroom 3 (available for a 30 day trial). For all but the most serious retouching work, Lightroom’s got it all. It took a thorough demonstration to make me shift, even though I knew each edit was taking more time than it should. Some of Lightroom’s features are just too good to pass up:

  • The adjustment brush for local dodge and burn.
  • Integration with Flickr (new to version 3).
  • The white balance tool for RAW processing.
  • Efficient culling in the library module (which was always in Lightroom, but I’m now using the flags and stars more fully).
  • Straight forward control of capture and output sharpening; easier than using unsharp mask. Tip: presets for capture sharpening should be amount 25, radius 10 pixels. The low / medium / high output options takes resolution and calibration into account. Tip:larger prints generally need more sharpening.
  • Assigning vs. converting profiles: easier ways to deal with ‘mystery meat’ (where a file has no assigned profile).

I’m still working through the (also highly recommended) techniques in dpBestFlow too, but believe that my photographic workflow is now sorted.

There are a few things that only Photoshop can handle though. It’s still necessary for retouching and any serious ‘surgery’. Editing the colour balance with curves was something I’d never seen before, and a very powerful technique. And refine edge, which is new in CS5, is very impressive too.

As well as editing tips which occupied the second half of the workshop, David took us through the basics of colour management in the morning. This included establishing the ideal working space, i.e. using the widest possible colour space, rather than a device dependent one. Specifically, in profiling your monitor he recommends the following settings:

  • White point: 09 (90 to 120 cd/m2 is an acceptable range)
  • Black point: 0.4 (0.3 to 0.5 cd/m2 is acceptable)
  • Gamma: 2.2 (not 1.8 any longer)
  • Colour temperature: 6500K

We received a good overview of the differences between the various colour spaces. I’d previously assumed that the larger Adobe RGB space, which is my preferred working space, would be better because it’s bigger. Not so: in order to see what most people see online, particularly through a browser, the smaller sRGB is more suitable, i.e. it’s better to use sRGB when exporting to web. Abode RGB best for printing, particularly good for Lambda printing (as offered by Pixel Perfect). ProPhoto RGB is dangerous: 50% of colours are outside printers’ gamuts, and many are outside even high end monitors’ gamuts. It’s probably only useful for fine art, but needs to be tightly colour managed.

And what to do about bit depth? 8-bit or 16-bit? David suggests 8-bit is enough for all editing. 16-bit doesn’t increase the range of colours, just resilience throughout editing. It’s not worth the overhead of double the file size.

So after all of that, I’m still working through the course notes, and have sent off a batch to Pixel Perfect primarily developed in Lightroom. The image above (‘Central Park‘) is the first one I developed entirely in Lightroom v3. All that’s left to do now from the dpBestFlow workflow is to fix up the storage and backup situation, and spend more time shooting, and less time developing.

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Posted on August 27, 2011

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