Your Wedding Photos, Color Correction, and Avoiding Disaster With Your Prints

DemarcosMcquade-6Have you ever looked at a photographers prints and seen those dynamic colors you love and perhaps that is one of the reasons you hired him or her? Do you wonder how exactly they get that “magic” to happen in their photos and you want those in your wedding photos?

A couple of weeks just passed since your wedding day and your photographer calls and says he has your wedding photos ready for you to proof online! That “first look” is something you are excited about seeing all those memories that were captured.

But something isn’t just right! Perhaps the colors have a “blue or green” cast to them or the skin tones are just too red. So what exactly is the problem?

Before I can give you a really good answer, you first need to understand how colors are displayed in the digital age. The 3 primary colors of red, blue, and green are the foundation of all colors, as are the complimentary colors of magenta, cyan, and yellow. You can take any combination of primary colors (or secondary colors) and make your purples, oranges, or any color you desire. Your computer uses the same colors to display your photos. Those tiny little “dots” or pixels are controlled in brightness and intensity by your computer to let you see colors across a fairly large dynamic range of colors.

So you now want to print a couple of them on your printer and what you print is nothing close to what you see on your monitor. The problem is probably not the printer, but your monitor is not properly displaying exact colors of red, green, and blue. In other words, it’s not been properly calibrated by using a colorimeter to get the exact color measurements of your display and video card combination. Also, most home printers use cyan, magenta, and yellow with black to print your colors and the dynamic range is somewhat limited on your prints.

If, and that is a big if in some cases, your photographer edits your photos with a color calibrated monitor, your photos might not look the same to you as it does to him/her. No two monitors display color exactly the same unless they are calibrated to see red as red, blue as blue, and green as green- and every shade in between. But, your printer should properly print colors if your photos were edited with a calibrated monitor.

Now here is a little “secret” for you brides and one question you should be asking- “What software are you using for color calibration?” If they are, you can bet they know the name of the software and colorimeter they use. Also, find out if they use the ICC profile for the Lab they use for prints. If your prospective photographer either stumbles on the answer or doesn’t have a clue what an ICC profile is, find someone who does. Getting your photos correctly color corrected for printing requires knowing about how these things work for perfect prints.

So what in the world is this ICC profile? Every printer has a color range it can print and the ICC profile is created by the printer manufacturer to let your print program interact and give you correct colors. Pro labs ALSO create ICC profiles that your photographer can use for “soft proofing” of your images and if he/she is using a color calibrated monitor, will see the actually colors of prints coming from that lab! The professional labs also have a far greater dynamic range of colors they can print since they use not just “cyan, magenta, and yellow and black”, they also use red, green, blue and several shades of grey in their printing process. Not only do you get better colors from the pro labs, you get a far better quality print that will last forever.

So you took your DVD or flash drive down to one of the “1 Hour” photo labs to get a few more larger prints, and you guessed it- a few of them have “color casts” you don’t see on your monitor. If this is the case and your photographer used a color corrected monitor to edit, it’s probably they way that lab is correcting for colors, so let’s delve into that one a little.

To display a color range, your computer uses a scale between 0-255 and if you look in an editing program, you can find the dynamic range of red, blue, and green (and secondary colors in some software) displayed on that scale. Now, if you set all colors 1/2 way on red, blue, and green, you get what is called “neutral grey” or 18% grey. So what many of the one hour labs do, is try to determine what is “18% grey” in your photos and correct colors to their ICC profile to match your photo. Now if your photos have a lot of green and little red, there is no real way they can get a true 18% grey reading, so they basically have to “guess”. You end up with a color cast in your photos that leaves you disappointed. Add to it, some 1 hour labs don’t print in the greater dynamic range your pro labs do, so if you want precise color prints, order from your photographer or their pro lab. You will get those colors that really “pop” if you do.

Now here is another “dirty little secret” your photographer should know- if they are using his/her lab’s ICC profiles to edit your photos, the profile he uses is embedded in the metadata of the jpg file and his/her lab can see that and give you exact print colors! If you use another lab or 1 hour photo, they basically ignore it and attempt to find an 18% grey for color correction.

So what’s the bottom line here and to answer the questions I first posed? Look at your photos with your photographer if possible, order your prints from his or her lab or from them directly, and you will get those really dynamic images you want and desire from your photographer. And, if you do see those color casts with your monitor, you can almost bet that if your photographer used a calibrated monitor that your color display is “off” a bit. Add to it, you probably are not going to get the best quality prints from your 1 hour labs either- especially if you order larger than a 5×7. In the digital age of photography, all of these things are important and really do matter in the end product.

I hope I haven’t totally confused you or bored you, but true professional photographers put these things to real life application in your wedding photos and strive to provide you something unique and found only if they do apply these color correction techniques to your photos. The more you know, the more you can determine if this is the right photographer for you. Basically, this is one of the many things that separates the amateur from the professional and gives YOU the best product in the end.

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