Matching Difficult Color

soft proof screen shot- Art work by Joe Moynihan, used by permission

One of the most difficult colors to reproduce is a bright Azure blue (a bright mix of blue and cyan). I have tried many methods and color corrections and still have been unsuccessful in close color reproduction.   As you can see in the side by side comparison screen shot, the colors look great on the screen.  But when I print them, the inks and media drop the intensity of the blues and cyans becoming faded, muddied and flat.

 To visualize the effect of print I use a method called “soft proofing”.  I apply a soft (or visual proof) by going to the “view” menu in Photoshop and choosing “proof set-up”.  From that drop down menu I choose “custom” and then select the paper and printer profiles I have for my printer. (In this case it is Epson 9800 Dual Black inks Breathing  Color Chrome White Canvas)  The bottom screen shot shows the results on both of my test prints.  Before I even print them, I know the image on the Left will not even come close to the original despite it being closer in color on the computer screen.

 Because I have had this issue before with this color, I have managed to find a way to reproduce it coming fairly close. I usually work in RGB color mode and send all files to my printer in RGB. (Image>Mode>RGB color).  As this is the color mode of the computer and the color mode that the printer reads I always work in this mode.  However, achieving this brilliant azure blue in RGB is not possible. So I convert the color mode to Lab color and  I am able to create the correct color on screen and from the printer. Color correction can usually be done by the numbers but when it comes to colors that are out of gamut it sometimes takes intuitive reasoning and experimentation.  Don’t be afraid to experiment in Photoshop.  It is sometimes the only way to get the effect you want

To Photoshop or not…..

Among photographers there seems to be a perpetual question about the editing process. “Is it Photoshopped or not?” seems to be the issue. The quality and clarity of the image is secondary to how the image was processed. I was recently denied admission to a juried show because the requirement that no digital photo should be edited in Photoshop beyond cropping. The fact that my images are panoramas and stitched in Photoshop made them ineligible for this show.

Where this issue seems to stem is from film, or former film photographers, who feel that to use Photoshop or other imaging software is somehow “cheating” and all the imaging should be done in camera. Of course in film, the editing was done via filter choice, film choice, and darkroom procedures. How this differs from digital editing is that it much of the processing editing was done by the photo labs and the photographer had little input, other than his/her choice of film type or lens or filters for the lens. In the past, few photographers, other than professionals had the means of darkroom editing and had to rely on the labs to get it right. By taking the darkroom editing out of their hands they somehow felt it was solely their creation and did not have to acknowledge the roll played by the lab in the creation of their work. Professional photographers often worked closely with the labs, dictating editing steps and even using airbrush experts to create their work, if unable to do their own darkroom work. Ansel Adams said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

The fact is that digital images are all edited. When shooting in the Jpeg mode, most edits are done in camera by the camera’s software. The “preset” edits for jpeg images were developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (jpeg). People seem to be unaware that the digital camera is actually a “computer” designed for image capture. The software in the camera makes adjustments based on the parameters set by the user, and the developers of the software standards. When someone declares that they did not edit their work, but are shooting in Jpeg, they are letting someone else edit their work.

 If photographers want more control of the final output, they usually shoot in camera raw. The camera raw image is often flat and in need of adjustments. Many people who have upgraded to a DSLR camera find that they are disappointed in the outcome because they are looking at unedited photos and they are used to looking at jpegs. I can not tell you how often I have heard complaint from amateur photographers when they first shoot in camera raw that they got great photos from “the old camera” but lousy ones now.

When someone proudly declares that they did not edit their work in Photoshop, I have to wonder who did edit their photos. Did they chose not to edit because of some misinformation about the digital process and felt that letting the “Jpeg guys” do it is somehow purer or better than doing the work themselves? Or is it just a way to cover up the fact that they do not know how to use Photoshop and are trying to make this ignorance into a virtue?

Either way, you can make beautiful photos. But when the photographer takes control and does his/her own editing a true work of art can be created. Is it any less a great photo because it was edited by the artist instead of the computer software in the camera? Does doing the editing oneself make it better than relying on the software? I do not think either case is true. The image should be judged on its own merits, not how it was composed or created. It is time to end this debate and accept that some artists prefer to have control over the process while others are content to accept the image as created by the preset software. Yes, images are created in the camera and influenced by many factors. Be it lighting, composition, focus, aperture setting, shutter speed or digital editing it is the combination of factors that make a great photo. Just because many of those factors happen to be done outside the camera does not invalidate their influence on the final image. Why should artificial lighting be allowed in a juried photo for a show and brightening and contrast in Photoshop not be?

To quote Ansel Adams again, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

5 top questions you should ask your giclée printer

Finding someone to reproduce your artwork may seem like an easy thing to do.  Google “giclée” and 20 million hits come up.  You might narrow the field down by adding your region (“giclée Western Mass” has only 27,000 hits), but the numbers are still daunting.  Finding the right printer for your artwork is like finding the right doctor or the right insurance company.  I suggest that you work with someone who, if not local, is still close enough so you can meet with them and see their operation.  As an artist you put many hours into your work.  You want to find someone who appreciates your effort, respects your work and makes you the best possible reproduction.  Asking the right questions can help you evaluate the printer. The following is a list of questions that I feel are the most important.

  1. What is your back ground in printing? In art? In digital technology?
  2. Are you able to give references of satisfied customers?
  3. What techniques do you use for image capture, printing, finishing?
  4. What products or brands do you use for printing and why do you choose those products?
  5. Do you guarantee your work and do you stand behind your product?

This is not a complete list of questions but they are a starting point. You are building a relationship with your printer. You want to know and trust that individual to handle your work with professionalism and competence.  Your prints will reflect you as an artist and as a professional. Know your product. If your customers ask you about the digital or giclée process you want to be able to answer with authority and confidence.  No one expects everyone to be an expert, (that is why you go to a giclée printer) but you should be knowledgeable enough to be able to state why your giclée prints are worth the price you charge.

Top 5 reasons for updating to Photoshop Elements 9

I have been teaching basic Photoshop Elements now for a few years. I started with Photoshop Elements 2 and now it is now PE9.  It has gone through several iterations and, although each version has had added enhancements; I have never recommended an upgrade if someone had a recent version. But this time I think PE9 is a winner and well worth the update.

 I teach Elements but work with full Photoshop CS5.  Many of the tools were just not available to Elements users and I had to find “work-a-rounds” to make Elements work the way I wanted. Now PE9 has some new enhancements that make it closer to the power of full Photoshop.  That leads us to the first reason for updating.

  1. Layer Masks.  For the fist time Photoshop Elements has the ability to use layer masks.  It is the use of layers that makes Photoshop the program it is. By being able to make adjustments and add layers one is able to work in a non destructive environment and rework or make changes without changing the original.  Masks make that task easier and are critical for many Photoshop projects.
  2. Enhanced features in Organizer.  Now you can upload directly to Facebook or Flickr. 
  3. With Guided Effects you can get many special effects that used to take the pros hours, in just a few minutes following the step by step instructions,
  4. Content Aware Spot Healing Brush. This new feature is able to analyze your image and make corrections that blend perfectly with the adjacent areas.
  5. Price.  The full price of Photoshop Elements 9 is $99.  Far less that the $700 price for CS5, although higher than some other editing software products out there. But right now Adobe is offering a $20 mail-in rebate.  If you shop around you may find it discounted even more. (or use the convenient link on the right for discount from Amazon)  For all the power of Photoshop, a photo organizer, presets, and all the special features of Elements you can not go wrong.