I just finished a very painful phone discussion. An existing customer wanted me take some photos that would colour match. The kicker was that the photos have to be delivered on a couple of DVDs. I tried to explain to the customer how colour matching and calibration works but…

So I decided to spend the big bucks and bring the debunking unit. So please sit down, fasten your seat belt and get ready for the bumpy ride.

  • Colour Matching: when the colour of the photo exactly match the colour of the item under all lighting conditions.
  • Calibration: adjusting the contrast, the brightness and the colours of the monitor and the printer. It’s usually done with a combination of hardware, a colorimeter, some software to build the various profiles. It’s usually done by buying something like “Spyder 3”, “ColorMunki”… and an operating system that can read these profiles.

So how do you match the colours?

  1. You will need to control the white balance during the taking/making of the photo. That’s why there are external, stand alone colour meters such as the Kenko KCM-3100 colour meter.
  2. You must take photo in raw format.
  3. Does the object to be photographed match a Pantone registered colour? If yes, this significantly simplifies the process, because we already know the output.
  4. You will need to know the conversion of the white balance as it applies to the specific camera sensor. Nikon, Canon, Olympus will give different colours at the same colour temperature. The usual way, is to set a neutral grey card on the subject and using it as a reference point. A Gretag Macbeth colour checker chart is much better.
  5. You will need to calibrate the monitor with a colorimeter such like “Spyder 3”, “ColorMunki”…
  6. You will need to process the photos in the software:

    • Set the proper white balance
    • Set the proper tint
    • Set the proper exposure
    • Blah, blah…
  7. You will need to output the photos. and that’s where the real problems start:

    • If you are using a printer, make sure that you have calibrated the combination of the printer, the ink and the paper to have the right profile.
    • If you are selling, sending, redistributing the photos electronically, such as email, websites… you will need to calibrate the monitors of all the recipients/viewers.

Oops! What? How do we match the colours at the customer/recipient of the photos? Impossible if the output is in an electronic format, be it JPEG or TIFF because we can’t control all the others’ output devices such as their screens/monitors.

I just received today, my February 2010 issue of Popular Photography, and they claim on page 16 that only 27% of all the digital photos are printed and 75% of all the digital photos are saved or stored.