Bright and Dark, Colors and Greys

There is a pretty good monitor calibration program built into Apple's Macintosh operating system.
There is a pretty good monitor calibration program built into Apple's Macintosh operating system.

A former student of mine emailed me this the other day: “I have taken you class and really enjoyed it. I have two questions. First when I view pictures on my laptop (HP) in CS5 they look good, I will lighten and darken then I go to print and they will not be the same color.  Is there a program or something I can put on my laptop to show true colors that I will get when I print? Second I was out this weekend and saw a beautiful tree all sprawling out, I put focus on a small limb on the tree in front and the tree I was after came out flat or not special.  What should I have focused on to show the mighty of this tree?”

Good questions.

  1. Color management is a significant part of digital image management. An important first step is to calibrate your monitor. If you don’t know how, there’s a nice tutorial here.
  2. Making an image lighter or darker will always have an effect on the way colors are rendered due to complexities in the relationships between color and brightness. With programs like Adobe Photoshop, I am happier when I adjust brightness using the levels dialog, although I also get pretty decent results with the curves dialog. If an image is particularly flat (low in contrast), for example, I take the highlight and shadow sliders in the levels dialog and drag them toward the middle of the histogram. I use the gamma slider more sparingly, since it can induce a lot of noise, especially in the shadows.
  3. Photographing a tree is the same as photographing anything else, in that you need to find a way to use the camera to express what you are seeing or how you are feeling. It’s not always easy, and it can be frustrating when you try to photograph a scene and are unable to translate it into a satisfying photograph. The only real remedy for that is practice. None of us succeed every time we pick up a camera, and we all have tons of failed images. So try not to lose heart and keep shooting and learning.
I love questions like this. It shows me that people really do want to learn how to make better pictures.

Whether it is a giant oak like this one my friend Michael is photographing at Oklahoma University, or a tiny trembling leaf, the final image should express your vision and feelings about the subject.
Whether it is a giant oak like this one my friend Michael is photographing at Oklahoma University, or a tiny trembling leaf, the final image should express your vision and feelings about the subject.
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1 Comment

  1. re: monitor calibration / colors for printing

    When choosing a new printing service, I’ve found it helpful to send out a couple of test images first, to see the results (before ordering hundreds of costly prints). It seems each printing service handles colors differently. I got more green when printing through SmugMug, and more red when printing through Walgreens, just to name a couple of examples.

    Even when editing purely for web viewing, there’s no guarantee what people on the other end will see. Your student should keep in mind that *other* people haven’t calibrated their monitors, and many are using web browsers that don’t color manage well…

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