Is Digital Photography Color-True?
In the beginning, photography is a passion and you are simply happy each time a picture comes out right. But the more it gets you under its spell, the more you wish for perfection. This applies to cameras and lenses as much as to finished prints.

Many experienced photographers have for instance waited years before switching from analog to digital photography. What was holding them back was not the initially high price. They were just as horrified by the indifferent quality of the photographs. Now the technology of digital photography has come so far that it no longer lags behind analog 35 mm photography.

Color fidelity
However, many photographers are still struggling with new uncertainties. You used to take a picture, take it along to the lab and get a print in return. If the colors weren't right, you could complain. If that didn't work, in principle you still had the option of having the photos corrected using an expensive printing process in a specialist laboratory.
Today the situation is rather different. Once you've taken the shot, you can check it immediately on the camera display. It then lands on the hard disk of your home computer as a file, where it is sorted, edited and stored, before ever being made into a print. Once you are used to it, this process works rather well. What doesn't work so well is the standard color display. Colors look different on the camera display than on your screen, and different again when printed.

Monitor calibration
Anyone who knows a bit about the subject also knows that in digital photography you can't get by without calibrating your monitor. If the screen has been calibrated to be color-neutral, you know that the colors are being displayed reliably. However, monitor calibration is only part of the solution. Correct screen colors cannot be equated with correct printer colors. For how can the printer know what the monitor is displaying? A color-true workflow therefore only works if the devices involved are communicating with one another. And to record their individual deviations from the ideal standard of the defined color spaces, we use so-called ICC profiles. Over the years, these have become accepted as the standard and any half-way decent operating system is able to integrate and use them.

Creating a color profile for your monitor is very easy with colorimeters such as Spyder3Pro or Spyder3Elite. However, you need to repeat the calibration regularly every two to four weeks, as monitor colors are continually changing. Only frequent recalibration will ensure color fidelity.

Printer calibration
For the photographer on the other hand, calibrating the printer takes a bit more time. With products such as Spyder3Print SR you can simply linearize any inkjet printer and produce good results on standard photo paper. Calibration involves printing out a test chart and scanning the test printout back in. This is then analyzed by the software and converted into a profile.

Download the PDF
You can download this article as a PDF and print it out. On the backside we included some photography tips. To open this file you'll need a PDF reader, like Adobe's Acrobat Reader.

If you work with different types of paper on a top- of-the-range photo printer, you should choose a product like Spyder3Studio SR, which allows you to create profiles for different sorts of paper, to calibrate your monitor and to RAW calibrate your images with SpyderCube. This may at first seem a bit over the top, but there is a good reason for it. Just think how differently an ink drop behaves on porous newspaper compared to plastic-coated photo paper. When the ink drop falls on to photo paper, it retains its shape and starts to dry. On the newspaper the drop grows into a spot and the edges start to fray. Multiply this effect a thousand times and then extend it to four, six or even eight colors merging into one another and you get an idea of what happens on one square centimeter of print paper and why even the tiniest differences in quality of the paper can have such a dramatic effect on the color representation.

Is Digital Photography Color-True?