Gamut, dammit

March 19, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Rust Never SleepsRust Never Sleepsmedium format film 19x20 print on baryta paper

 

In photography, Gamut  generally refers to color space or, more accurately put, a range of colors. This would be a simple concept if there was only a single gamut to consider, but there isn't. Your camera, computer, printer, ink, and paper all have gamuts and (of course) they are not the same. Well, dammit, that's a lot of gamut! (You knew I just had to go there, didn't you?) (Just in case the headline wasn't a giant hint.)

 

My advice is to choose the widest gamut available on your camera and then shoot raw in order to maximize bit depth and to multiply your editing options down the road. If you later export a JPEG file or print the image, the gamut will be reduced accordingly. That's technology life. The reality is that what you see with your eyes looks better than the best images displayed on a computer monitor. 

 

Just as we pursue light to reflect and reveal color in nature, structures, and people, the same process applies to making prints from photographic images. We want to print the largest gamut possible by applying a multitude of minuscule ink dots on paper. And therein lies the challenge: they are dots of ink, not dots of light. In printing, we are trying to translate a backlit computer display made of millions of colors to ink dots on paper made with a limited number of ink cartridges. Although recent printer models are technological wonders, even they don't come close, at least not yet, to the color capabilities of a quality display.

 

But wait, there's more. It isn't just the printer that determines gamut, but also the ink and the paper and the interaction between the two. Yes, different papers exhibit different capabilities when it comes to printing in color. Super, isn't it? Before we go to far with this, let's also examine the basics, starting with what you see on your computer's monitor. You calibrated it, right? Because if you are using an uncalibrated display you are already lost before you've even started. You need to know that the colors you see are what they appear to be and will be reproduced when printed. This is particularly important for white balance. If your display is cooler or warmer than the actual shade and you adjust your white balance in post-editing, where are you now? Lost, I suspect or, at best, surprised by what gets printed. 

 

With display calibration sorted, we need to examine how the printer driver is going to send commands regarding color and paper to your printer. That's right, more color space management. (I know, you just wanted to make an 8x10 selfie for Aunt Ursula). Printer profiles (also referred to as ICC profiles) can help you out with this, easily. You just to download them from the paper manufacturer's web site for the printer that you are using, install them in the right place on your computer, and then access them from the print function on your software. I know that doesn't sound exactly easy which may be one of the reasons many contemporary photographers do not print their photographs. It isn't lack of passion or energy, it is fear. That's right, fear. Just like the day when the new photo copier was installed and you needed to make a copy and it was all different. Fear. Gawd, how we hate the unknown, especially when a machine makes us feel less smart than we are. (Same thing when the copier or the coffee machine need refilling...no, wait, that is something  entirely different.)

 

Time for a review -

Display calibrated - check

Paper profiles downloaded - check

Paper in the printer - check

Ready to print - not so fast, Skippy

 

You are ready to soft proof. A little computer magic from your photo editing software that has your monitor emulate what ink on paper will look like, using a specific ICC profile for the printer and paper that you are planning to use.  Easy (here we go again), but not exactly. Soft proofing is an emulation, not an exact recreation. Got that monitor nice and bright? Well, for the love of all things precious, turn it down. Prints rely on light reflected from ink on paper, so right there we have an issue, don't we?

 

With calibrated equipment, soft proofing, test printing, and a little experience under your belt, you'll be amazed at what spraying ink on paper at 360dpi can produce. Especially when you have selected the paper that best matches the vision you had when you pressed the shutter. Another easy variable to add to our print checklist. The process of printing sums up in (1) color management from computer to printer; (2) post-processing for printing (3) soft proofing and adjustment; (4) test printing; and, (5) ta-dah, final printing.

 

 

20x30 inch print

 

 

I teach what I know and I have helped photographers get their heads around the process of making inkjet prints of their digital photographs. Some of them make their own prints, while others have come back to have me make prints for them. The main thing is that they know how to make prints, which is a significant advantage. They know how to soft-proof and to make any adjustments they feel are necessary before making a final print. Going through this process is very different from simply sending a digital file to a lab to see what they send back, or going to a big box or drug store to make a print.

 

DXT17805Epson Stylus Pro 7900Jumbotron Printer with an amazing gamut from 10 inks including 3 shades of black!

 

 

If you are ready to have a profound photography experience, let me know.

 

 

 

 

See ya next week,

Bob

 

For Geeks Only:

If you want to learn more about the printer I use, an Epson Stylus Pro 7900, click here.

 


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